Telling the Truth – George Washington’s Hatchet (circa 1910)

Sometime around 1910, Inez presented to Ward a postcard in celebration of Washington’s Birthday.

On the face, a large hatchet is framed by cherries – an allusion to the famous story of the young Washington’s truthfulness.

An inscription, somewhat surprisingly, focuses on the famed hatchet – not the one who wielded it.

The image was copyrighted in 1908, but I cannot distinguish the artist or publisher.

The design is embossed; the postcard was printed in Germany.

The postcard, not mailed, does not yield any information about Ward or Inez.

I believe that they were schoolmates about 1910.

Here are two observations related to this postcard for Washington’s Birthday:

First, the celebrations of February 22 were quite different in the early twentieth century.

Washington’s Birthday was a popular holiday on which many folks exchanged celebratory greetings.

Although I am not a specialized collector of postcards, I have seen hundreds of postcards related to Washington that were mailed or exchanged by schoolmates on that day.

The connection of Washington to the design, creation, and protection of the new nation seems to have been more widely-recognized or promoted.

Second, even when this postcard was exchanged, the story of the young Washington and the cherry tree was known to be a myth.

It may seem ironic to boast of courageous truth-telling through a story that is inspiring but not factual.

And that paradox may explain why Washington’s Birthday is observed today in a fashion more subdued or nuanced.

Washington was an incredible product of the Enlightenment – knowledgeable of ancient history, devoted to the imitation of classical heroes, inquisitive, reasonable, and exercising a remarkable degree of self-control and good judgement.

Perhaps we do not need myths to acknowledge his achievements.


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