Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cherry Artz

                                                   George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

In 1533 my very great Grandfather William Gilpin married a woman by the name of Elizabeth Washington. Several generations later in 1732 George Washington was born and several more generations later I was born making George Washington, the first President of the United States, my 15th cousin 7 times removed.

His official birthday is February 11 but we celebrate it on February 22. My birthday is officially February 5th but I celebrate it from the 1st through the 9th. So we have much more than genetics in common.

Discovering this immediately made me think of the legend of 6 year-old George, the hatchet and the doomed cherry tree. You remember the story it is told and retold to young school children all across America each year.

When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was extremely fond. He went about chopping everything that came his way.

One day, as he wandered about the garden amusing himself by hacking his mother's pea sticks, he found a beautiful, young English cherry tree, of which his father was most proud. He tried the edge of his hatchet on the trunk of the tree and barked it so that it died.

Some time after this, his father discovered what had happened to his favorite tree. He came into the house in great anger, and demanded to know who the mischievous person was who had cut away the bark. Nobody could tell him anything about it.

Just then George, with his little hatchet, came into the room.

"George,'' said his father, "do you know who has killed my beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? I would not have taken five guineas for it!''

This was a hard question to answer, and for a moment George was staggered by it, but quickly recovering himself he cried:

"I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.''

The anger died out of his father's face, and taking the boy tenderly in his arms, he said:

"My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees! Yes - though they were blossomed with silver and had leaves of the purest gold!''

This tale was written by Mason L. Weems and published in 1809 ten years after Cousin George's death. The reason for this tale as well as others could have been to illustrate the larger than life and heroic qualities George exhibited later in his life. This moral tale that appeared for many years in the McGuffey Reader text book has become a part of American Mythology.

Parson Mason Weems
This portrait of Parson Weems appears above the mantelpiece at the Weems-Botts Museum in Dumfries, Virginia.

In honor of the cherry tree this week we present Cherry Artz

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