We're all familiar with the story - "I cannot tell a lie" - George's response when his father confronts the boy about his destructive use of a brand-new hatchet. But repetition to the contrary, there's no evidence this incident ever took place.
The anecdote was first published by the biographer Parson Weems in 1809, ten years after Washington’s death. Parson Weems, wrote a book called "The Life of Washington" where he created this myth as a way to show Washington's honesty. His nineteenth-century bestseller depicted Washington's virtues and provided an entertaining and morally instructive tale for the youth of the young nation.
The Weems text was widely reprinted throughout the 19th century, even included in McGuffey Readers.
Reportedly, the story came from an old neighbor who’d known Washington as a boy. Weems attributes the tale to "...an aged lady, who was a distant relative, and, when a girl, spent much of her time in the family..." who referred to young George as "cousin."
However, it is the only historical source of the story, and as a legitimate source, it isn’t very credible.
When doing research for the writing of my fictionalized biography for young readers, George Washington Surveyor, Soldier, Leader, I had access to a copy of George's diary which he kept while growing up. Within its pages, I found no mention of this incident ever having took place.
If you want to get insight into our first president's life between the ages of eleven and twenty, I suggest you pick up a copy of my soon-to-be-released book, George Washington Surveyor, Soldier, Leader.
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