Memories for Miriam, Alice, Theo, Delia, Tessa
and anyone else who would like to be here
February 22 is George Washington's birthday. He was born in 1732; that is, 275 years ago. He died in 1799.
American schoolchildren have always learned about George Washington. We studied about him every February when I was in elementary school. As General Washington, he was the leader of the American War of Independence. He organized the troops that fought for freedom. He arranged for the design of the American flag. And he did other important things.
After the war was over, representatives from the thirteen states made a constitution, which is an agreement for a government. These men decided that the new country would have an elected president instead of a king. This was an important new idea. In the country's first election, George Washington became the first president of the United States of America. Later, the capital city was given his name: Washington, D.C. Other cities, a state, and several universities are also named in honor of Washington.
George Washington lived in Virginia not far from where Miriam and Alice live. His home was next to the Potomac River. He had a big farm and a nice house. This farm was named Mount Vernon. You can visit the house and the farm and see how he and his wife, Martha Washington, lived more than 200 years ago.
After Washington died, people wanted to show what a wonderful man he had been. One thing they did to show this, was make up stories for children. The most famous story is about how Washington was always a truthful person, even when he was a little boy. Although people know that this story didn't really happen, they like to tell it anyway. Here is the story:
When George was about six years old someone gave him a little hatchet, which is a tool for chopping down trees. "One day," the story goes, "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."
George's father was very unhappy when he discovered the dead cherry tree. He asked George who had cut the bark of the tree and made it die. "I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet," said George. His father was very proud of him because he told the truth, so he forgave him for destroying the cherry tree.
This story and others were made up by a man named M.L.Weems. He thought this made-up story could show children that it is important to tell the truth and not hide it if you have done something wrong. He wanted people to think of George Washington as a good example of how to behave.
Here is the funny thing: people were so impressed by the story of George Washington and the cherry tree that they associated cherries with George Washington. So some people used to eat cherry pie to celebrate George Washington's birthday.