(BPT) - One of the great legends of the nation's first president was created by biographer Parson Weems. In his account, George Washington chops down a cherry tree and later admits the act to his father, claiming he 'cannot tell a lie.' According to author Steve Yoch, not only is this story made-up, but it's also in direct contrast to young Washington's behavior.
Yoch says Washington didn't have the loving father concocted by Weems. His largely-absent father died when he was only 11 and he was raised by an oppressive mother. 'Washington didn't grow up with a caring, doting, and loving mother,' says the author of the new book 'Becoming George Washington.' 'Mary Washington was a harsh, unforgiving and overly demanding mother with whom Washington had a difficult relationship during his entire life. He certainly didn't benefit from a home where honesty was rewarded with kindness and understanding.'
In fact, Yoch says Washington may have 'stretched the truth to the breaking point' while he was a major in the Virginia Regiment. While leading a small troop of men in response to a French incursion into the American colonies, Washington's party encountered a French diplomatic mission under the command of Captain Jumonville. Unfortunately, says Yoch, Washington lost control of the Native Americans under his command. Things got so out of hand that a Native American chief lopped off the top of Jumonville's head and reached into the dead man's skull pulling out his brains and extorting his braves to massacre the disarmed French. A significant number of the French soldiers were slaughtered in the ensuing chaos.
According to Yoch, rather than taking responsibility for his actions, Washington downplayed the carnage and wrongfully asserted in letters that the Native Americans under his command led the attack: 'This little skirmish was by the . . . Indians, we were auxiliaries to them, as my orders to the commander of our forces [were] to be on the defensive.' Washington went on to claim that, despite being on a diplomatic mission and having papers to confirm their peaceful status, the French were 'spies of the worst sort' who 'ought to be hanged.' Any assertion that the French were on an 'embassy' was a 'mere pretense,' and the French 'never designed to have come to us but in a hostile manner.'
Yoch says that Washington's careful lies and exaggerations allowed him to avoid responsibility for the error and maintain his military position. In fact, Washington was congratulated by the local Masonic Lodge and was given a letter of congratulations by the governor.
Yoch also says that Washington's actions so enraged the French, they led directly to the French and Indian War. In response to the murder of their comrades, an experienced and well-equipped French force confronted Washington. In short order, Washington's troops were surrounded and on the verge of annihilation in a fort badly designed by Washington and aptly named Fort Necessity. With little choice, Washington was forced to surrender and retreat in disgrace.
Once again, rather than taking responsibility for the defeat, Washington attacked his superiors for inadequate support and even went so far as submitting a report with a false claim that they had killed '300 number of the enemy' and marched out with their 'beating drums and colors flying.'
Yoch says there's a pattern throughout Washington's life of claiming victory but blaming others for defeat. 'It's difficult for many people to accept this reality given the legend concocted by Parson Weems relating to the Cherry Tree,' says Yoch. 'But the truth that Washington lied and blamed others for his own failure is irrefutable. His lies and willingness to blame others moved his military career forward.'
When the revolution began, Washington was immediately recognized as a logical choice to lead the fledgling Revolutionary Army. Ironically, it may have been Washington's lies, not telling the truth that helped position him to become one of America's Founding Fathers.
To learn more about George Washington and his early years in the French and Indian War, visit www.becominggeorgewashington.com.