A new look at George Washington, “focusing on his poorly documented and heavily mythologized childhood years.”
There is little Levy (History/Univ. of South Florida; Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home, 2013, etc.) could possibly have missed about Ferry Farm—the area across from Fredericksburg where Washington lived from age 6 to his early 20s—in his broad reading, writing, lectures, and participation in its archaeology digs. Washington’s father died in 1743, eliminating George’s chance to be educated in England. The author examines the cherry tree incident, a myth first proffered by preacher Mason Locke Weems. Weems took the opportunity of Washington’s death to quickly come out with a biography that sold well, especially in subsequent printings as he added more and more “incidents” attributable to local residents. Levy explains how Weems provided legitimacy to his work. His statement that the home at Ferry Farm was run-down and dilapidated helped him to establish the deeply rooted picture of Washington as a self-made man. His book was not authoritative or the best researched, but it is certainly the most enduring. It established a meaning to the land itself as he created a new history genre rife with morals, anecdotes, patriotic drivel, and general fabulism. He was way ahead of his time in marketing his book until its final printing in 1809. There is little of Washington’s childhood that is verifiable: his ancestry, the death of his father, that he was locally schooled, his near career at sea, and his life in different homes. This is a deep study of a history that can’t be proven. Levy can be wordy and repetitive, but many readers will admire the tenacity with which he searched for answers that just aren’t there.
An esoteric book that may enlighten devotees of Fredericksburg geography and the trees that symbolize the man.