Legends and Truths about George Washington

Myth: George Washington chopped down a cherry tree

Truth: The story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and then telling the truth about it probably did not happen. The story was written after Washington died by a man named Mason Weems in a book about the life of Washington. It is very possible however that George Washington was an honest young boy and, if this story really happened, it would have been when he lived at Ferry Farm. There were cherry trees at the Farm then. Read the story by Parson Weems.

Myth: George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River

Truth: This is just another legend that has changed several times over the years but it may have some truth. When George was a boy, there were no silver dollars as we know them today. Even if there had been, George probably would not have owned one and he certainly would not have thrown one away! The same man who wrote the cherry tree story wrote about George throwing a rock across the Rappahannock River (not the Potomac, which is too wide). According to the legend, George and his friends threw rocks across the river while waiting for the ferry. In George's time, the Rappahannock River was about 300 feet wide, but George was a strong boy and probably could have done it. Other strong people have thrown a rock across the river at Ferry Farm in modern times.

Myth: George Washington had two children

Truth: George Washington had no children of his own. George married a wealthy widow, Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759. She had two children from her first marriage - a boy, John (nicknamed Jacky); and a girl Martha (nicknamed Patsy). George Washington never formally adopted these children, but he loved them and raised them as his own. So, if anyone ever says they are a direct descendant of George Washington, they are mistaken!

Myth: George Washington had wooden false teeth

Truth: George did have several pairs of false teeth during his lifetime, but none were made of wood. If you ever visit Mount Vernon, you can see a set of his false teeth on display in the Education Center (off-site link).

Myth: George Washington wore a wig

Truth: George was not known to wear a wig even though they were popular at the time. He often tied his own hair in a queue (pony tail). He also frequently powdered his hair which was fashionable then. Many wig curlers have been found in the archaeological digs at Ferry Farm. Look on this page for a picture of wig curlers. These probably belonged to his mother or sister who did wear wigs.

Myth: George Washington was born at Ferry Farm

Truth: George was born in 1732 at a plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, that had been in the Washington family since 1657. It is now called the George Washington Birthplace National Monument (off-site link). When George was 3 years old, his family moved to another family plantation named Little Hunting Creek, now known as Mt. Vernon (off-site link). purchased what is today called Ferry Farm in 1738 and moved the family there that same year. When Augustine died in 1743, George, just 11 years old, inherited the property. His mother, Mary,managed the property for him and lived there until 1772, when she moved to a small house in Fredericksburg to be closer to her daughter Betty. George sold the farm to Hugh Mercer in 1774.

Myth: George Washington had only 1 sister

Truth: George had two sisters. His first sister, Betty, was born just one year after George. In 1739, his second sister, Mildred, was born at Ferry Farm. Sadly, she died at the age of just 18 months. George also had a half-sister, Jane (by his father's first wife) but she died in 1735, when George was only 3 years old. Learn more about the Washington family genealogy.

There are many other common myths about life in Colonial America. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has an excellent article that describes some of these. (off-site link)