Sunday, January 2, 2022

"George Washington and the Cherry Tree" from American folklore

Parson Weems' Fable (1939) by Grant Wood

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This article is designed for younger readers, with activities more suitable for children. It is from American folklore.

In 1800, a man named Mason Locke Weems (1759-1825), usually referred to as "Parson Weems," wrote a story about George Washington, the first President of the United States. Weems said it was told to him by an old lady who was a "cousin" of Washington's. Today we know the story didn't really happen. But we keep telling it for the lesson it teaches, and because it makes Washington look like a good man.

The story the old lady told goes like this:

When George was about six years old, his father gave him a hatchet. Like most little boys, he liked his hatchet very much. He went around chopping everything he saw.

One day he was in the garden, chopping the sticks his mother used to hold up her vegetables. But when he got bored with this, he cut the trunk of his father's favorite cherry tree.

The next day, his father saw what happened to the tree. He went in the house and asked in an angry voice, "Who cut my tree! It's probably going to die!"

At first no one answered. But then George came into the room, carrying his hatchet. "George," his father asked, "do you know who killed that beautiful cherry tree in the garden?"

It was a difficult question, but after a minute George looked at his father and said, "I can't tell a lie, Pa. I cut it with my hatchet."

"Run to my arms, dear boy," his father said, hugging him. "A tree is only a tree. But to have a son so brave and so honest is worth more than a thousand trees, even if their flowers were silver, and their fruit was gold!"


Some words to talk about:

  • chopping: cutting by hitting with something sharp
  • hatchet: a small ax, a tool for cutting trees and other wood
  • hugging: putting your arms around someone and squeezing (nicely!)
  • trunk: the main part of a tree, that holds up the rest
  • is worth more: has more value; is more important


Choose the best answer. Correct answers are in the first comment below.

  1. Why did George Washington cut the trunk of his father's favorite cherry tree?
       A. He was bored after cutting some other things.
       B. He was angry with his father.
       C. He hated the vegetables his mother was growing.

  2. What did George's father think would happen to the tree after George cut it?
       A. He thought the tree would die.
       B. He thought the tree would have golden fruit.
       C. He thought the tree would needed to be cut.

  3. Why didn't George answer right away?
       A. He was afraid his father would punish him.
       B. He didn't want his mother to know he had cut the sticks in her garden.
       C. He wasn't in the room when his father asked the question.

  4. What did George say before telling his father that he cut the tree?
       A. "Please don't punish me, but..."
       B. "I can't tell a lie, Pa..."
       C. "The tree looked sick, so..."

  5. What did George's father say after he told the truth?
       A. He said that he was going to punish George.
       B. He said that George had to work in his mother's garden.
       C. He said it was better to have an honest son than a wonderful tree.


These questions do not have "right" or "wrong" answers. They only ask your opinion.

  1. Why do we keep telling stories about famous people that we know are not true?
  2. Why would a father give a boy a dangerous "toy" like a hatchet?
  3. Would you always tell the truth, even if you might get punished for it?

1 comment:


    Questions to Answer: 1. A; 2. A; 3. C; 4. B; 5. C

    Questions to Think About do not have any single correct answer. However, any answers you give should be supported by what you read or by things you know ("I think... because...").