Did George Washington Really Drop Out In Elementary School?

America's first president has inspired a whole mythology of false information. So much so, that the misconceptions often become confused with fact. That cherry tree a young George Washington chopped down? We cannot tell a lie, he never said it.

The tale came from Mason Locke Weems, a biographer of the president's who promoted Washington's honesty by creating a legend around the six-year-old, his hatchet, and a cut cherry tree, according to Mount Vernon's website. While untrue the vignette did help reinforce the idea that Washington embraced irreproachable ethics, a deeply rooted value system with early origins.

The president's false teeth never came from a tree either. Washington did struggle with decaying choppers and Google Arts and Culture reports that his fake set was created from gold, brass, carved hippo ivory, and even human teeth ... but not wood. 

Some stories, though, have a basis in fact. Allegedly Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River, a myth that reinforces the president's specialness and strength. Parke Curtis, Washington's grandson, stated that the incident did occur, but not exactly as some tell it (via Mr. Nussbaum website) The river this occurred at though was the Rappahannock, roughly a 250-foot-wide waterway near Washington's childhood home, and an easy space to toss something across. The president was about 62 years old when the first silver dollar was created so it's likely that a rock when airborne instead of a coin.

There's also that notion that Washington received little schooling.

A humble man becomes president

It is true that the first U.S. president left formal schooling behind him at 11. When his father, Augustine, died, according to History.com. Unlike his half-brothers who studied abroad in England, Washington became an adult early and helped his mother manage the family and the tobacco farm. The eldest of six in his father's second family, he also began working as a land surveyor by the age of 16. His lack of education haunted him for the remainder of his life.

He did read extensively and spent much time observing the Virginia elite, said the Mount Vernon website. Through this, he learned how to behave in polite society and began networking with well-known people. One book he used, "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" instructed him on balancing confidence with humility. These skills were imperative in the 18th century when understanding etiquette was a key part of becoming successful. 

He also learned about riding, hunting, fencing, poise, and other matters from his half-brother Lawrence, who had married into the powerful Fairfax family. While other Founding Fathers sometimes mocked Washington's level of formal education, according to GeorgeWashington.org, his eagerness to learn, his polite behavior, and his humble manner helped him in his career and, ultimately, made him the head of a nation.