Who Cut down the Cherry Tree? Clergyman and Author Mason Weems Part 1

About the clergyman and author Mason Weems and his work Life of George Washington which included the famous cherry tree incident.

MASON WEEMS (1760-1825).

Clergyman, author, bookseller.

That George Washington zealously felled a cherry tree at the tender age of 6 is American history. What most Americans don't know is that this touching portrait of American honesty is the product of Mason Locke "Parson" Weems's lively pen. The cherry tree escapade is but one of the tales in Weems's Life of George Washington; with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen, a largely fictitious, or at least lavishly embellished, account of our 1st President's life and times. To say that the good parson had a flair for exaggeration would surely be an understatement, but what he did have was an eye for what the reading public thrived on, and what would sell a book. This is not to say that Reverend Weems was deceitful, only that the extreme vivacity of his character was easily translated to the printed page.

Born in Maryland in 1760, Weems was the youngest of 19 children. He studied medicine, then took up theology, and in 1784, he and another were the 1st Americans to be ordained in the Church of England after the American Revolution.

For 8 or 9 years, Weems preached with a passion in small Maryland churches, using a fiery style that appealed to the emotions. Not wholly satisfied with this life, he took up the printing and selling of religious works, and from there came into the employ of the pioneer Philadelphia publisher, Matthew Carey.

Weems reveled in his new trade as a traveling bookseller, which he was to continue for the rest of his life. He wrote quite a number of "improvement books" with such titles as Hymen's Recruiting Sargeant, or, the New Matrimonial Tat-too for Old Bachelors--The Philanthropist; or a Good Twenty-Five Cents Worth of Political Love-Powder--God's Revenge against Dueling--God's Revenge against Gambling--God's Revenge against Adultery--The Immortal Mentor; or Man's Unerring Guide to a Healthy, Wealthy and Happy Life. The virtues of the last were attested to by George Washington himself, who wrote that he had "perused it with singular satisfaction" and found it "invaluable." Although Weems boasted that he had preached for Washington at Mount Vernon, in truth they had never met.

In 1795, Weems married, and he and his wife Fanny had 12 children. He loved her very much, but was to spend a great deal of time away from home, so devoted was he to his task of spreading the Lord's word.

His favorite (and also best-selling) item was the Bible, in his words, "smooth, fair and spotless as a young Bride." He wrote of his work in New York, "I have been soliciting Purchasers of the Bible the whole day long, and have not been able to find one!!! The town is deluged with Bibles and Deism."

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