Cherry Trees & Silver Dollars ~ Legends Of George Washington - Stafford VA
N 38° 17.720 W 077° 27.077
18S E 285634 N 4241426
Quick Description: Did George Washington chop down a cherry tree? Did he throw a silver dollar across the river? If he did, it was at Ferry Farm.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 6/4/2011 5:30:50 PM
Waymark Code: WMBN22
When archaeologists uncovered evidence of George Washington's boyhood home at Ferry Farm on the bank of the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, Virginia in 2008, it was said that if young George chopped down a cherry tree or threw a coin across the river, it happened there.
The 'cherry tree' legend first appeared in 1809. Mason Locke Weems wrote in The Life of Washington that 6 year-old George was in the habit of chopping at everything with his prized hatchet. One day, while he was in his mother's garden, he hacked at a cherry tree and damaged it. The tree died as a result and Augustine Washington asked his son if he knew what had happened to it. George told his father, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet" at which time Augustine forgave his son for telling the truth.
SO... did it really happen? The Mount Vernon Estate says probably not and the Free-Lance Star reported in a 2008 article that no hatchet has been found among the farm implements and tools that have been uncovered.
BUT... Weems says the anecdote which was related to him by an "excellent lady" is "too true to be doubted" and archaeology digs continue at Ferry Farm. Whether a hatchet has been uncovered or not does not disprove this legend. Indeed, there are cherry trees in the garden at Ferry Farm today.
The legend of George throwing a silver dollar across the river originated from Recollections and Private Memoirs of George Washington by George Washington Parke Custis, published in 1859. (Some stories say the river was the Potomac, but that has been widely dispelled. The Potomac is more than a mile wide.) Custis, who was George's adopted son, never mentions a silver dollar, but says it was a stone his father threw across the Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg. Ferry Farm lies across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg.
SO... did it really happen? One thing for sure, it definitely wasn't a silver dollar. They weren't in existence at the time. Besides, George was notoriously cheap, so it is highly unlikely he would be throwing money away. Some versions say it might have been a Spanish coin which was worthless during that time, but more than likely, it was a piece of shale found along the bank. George was very strong and the Rappahannock is 250' wide, and just as George could not lie to his father, Augustine, would George Custis lie about his father? Nonetheless, attempts have been made. On February 22, 1936, the city of Fredericksburg challenged baseball great Washington Senators pitcher Walter 'Big Train' Johnson to duplicate the throw. The Big Train used silver dollars and he cleared the river on 2 out of 3 tries.¹ In 2006, the feat was again matched by a local high school catcher.²
The coordinates are to #9-The Rappahannock River on the self-guiding tour at Ferry Farm. The Stone Legend is mentioned in the pamphlet for this stop.
¹ D.C. Baseball History
² Free-Lance Star