Apr 05 2012

David Barton Adds Another Lie to His Aitken Bible Story

Seriously, hasn’t David Barton lied about this one enough already? I guess compulsive liars are called compulsive for a reason. They just can’t stop lying!

A few weeks ago, in the video I made about some of the lies that Barton told Kirk Cameron in the former-child-star-turned-fundamentalist-wacko’s pseudo-documentary Monumental, I mentioned a Rev. John Rodgers as part of my debunking of Barton’s Aitken Bible lie. This is the one where Barton claims that Congress printed a Bible for use in schools in 1782.

Rev. John Rodgers was a Presbyterian minister who Robert Aitken used to help him try to sell his Bibles to Congress. Aitken, who had already made one unsuccessful attempt to get Congress to buy his Bibles (which nobody else wanted to buy), got Rodgers to write to George Washington asking Washington to ask Congress to buy Aitken’s Bibles to give to the soldiers.

Shortly after I posted my video, a new article about the Aitken Bible appeared on Barton’s website, with a brand new lie added to his already lie-riddled story. This new lie is about Rev. John Rodgers, who Barton transforms into a “close friend” of George Washington. Here’s what Barton wrote:

“Incidentally, on May 30, 1783, the Rev. John Rodgers, a military chaplain and close friend of George Washington, suggested to his Commander-in-Chief that one of these congressionally approved Bibles be given to every member of the Continental Army.”

The truth? Washington barely knew John Rodgers! They were barely even acquaintances, let alone close friends!

Rodgers, who was a Presbyterian minister in New York, did serve as a military chaplain — for all of about six or seven months when the British occupied the city in 1776. He then left New York for Georgia. When he returned to New York in 1777, he served for a brief time as chaplain to New York’s constitutional convention, but then left New York because it was too dangerous a place to be. I’m not speculating here that Rodgers’s reason for leaving New York was to move somewhere safer to make him out as a coward or anything. This is actually what it says in the 1813 biography of him from his own church.(1) Rodgers spent the remainder of the war away from New York, most of it in Connecticut, and then in New Jersey towards the end of the war.

Rodgers only met George Washington one time during the Revolutionary War, on April 14, 1776, when Rodgers, “in company with other friends of the American cause, waited on the General to pay him his respects.”(2) The Memoirs of the Rev. John Rodgers say that “a number of letters passed between” Rodgers and Washington, but there is almost nothing to be found in the Papers of George Washington, and certainly nothing indicating that they were in any way close friends. In fact, Washington doesn’t even appear to have remembered who Rodgers was as of 1788, writing in his journal on March 21 of that year:

“On my return home, found a Mr. Rogers of New York here who dined and proceeded to Alexandria afterwds.”

Does “a Mr. Rogers of New York” sound like the way someone would refer to a close friend?

And that 1788 entry is the only mention of Rodgers anywhere in Washington’s diaries. (There was another John Rodgers that Washington actually was friends with, but this was a different guy who owned a tavern in Maryland.)

The Papers of George Washington in the Library of Congress show almost no correspondence between Washington and Rodgers. All that’s there is Rodgers’s 1783 request for Washington to ask Congress to buy Aitken’s Bibles and Wahington’s reply to that letter, and a letter from Rodgers to Washington in May of 1789 asking for a donation when the Presbyterian church was collecting money for poor people.(4) Washington didn’t even personally answer this letter, but just had his secretary, Tobias Lear, send a $25 donation — six months later.(5) Now, that doesn’t sound like the way someone would treat a request from a “close friend,” does it? There is one more letter from Tobias Lear to Rodgers in August 1790, this time sending a donation from Washington for “the relief of distressed debtors confined in prison,”(6) which indicates nothing more than that Washington was on Rodgers’s list of people to hit up for donations for things.

But, to David Barton, a sparse bit of correspondence and a few casual encounters between a founding father and a minister — even when that founding father doesn’t appear to have even remembered who the hell that minister was the second time he met him — is red meat for revisionism! In Barton’s version of the story they will be “close friends!”


  1. Samuel Miller D.D., Memoirs of the Rev. John Rodgers, D.D., Late Pastor of the Wall-street and Brick Churches, in the City of New York, (New York: Whiting and Watson, 1813), 213-228.
  2. ibid., 208.
  3. Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 5, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979), 288.
  4. John Rodgers to George Washington, May 30, 1789, George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799.
  5. Tobias Lear to John Rodgers, November 28, 1789, ibid.
  6. Tobias Lear to John Rodgers, August 30, 1790, ibid.


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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    David Barton has shown time after time that “the truth is not in him.” He’s pushing a fundamentalist Christian, hard right conservative agenda. Minor details like logic and truth do not stand in the way of his mission to establish a theocracy in the US.

  2. 2

    I’m wondering if Barton’s lies are becoming widespread, or is it just the fundies who believe him?

  3. 3

    @ #2:

    Doesn’t matter who is believing it; trash is trash and should be called out as such. The more exposure the calling out produces the better.

  4. 4

    @#2 — This is an interesting from a sociological aspect. Barton’s revisionist history is directed at the fundies. By fundie, for fundie material. They will believe it without question. It is passed around among the fundie sub-culture, but that sub-culture is not kept in a leak-proof container. They interact with the larger society in all kinds of public places. They talk and the fundie memes get into the mainstream.

    A good example of this is the satanic panic of the 80s-90s. The whole idea of an underground satanic network came out of fundieland and managed to contaminate a huge portion of the GP with horrible disastrous effects.

    Barton and them are hoping to do even more damage to society than that by spreading their memes into our culture.

    That is why it is imperative that we are vocal and stomp out those memes whenever possible. Stomp hard, make sure that they are dead.

  5. 5

    What was Washington’s reply to Rogers’s request of 1783?

    “The Papers of George Washington in the Library of Congress show almost no correspondence between Washington and Rodgers. All that’s there is Rodgers’s 1783 request for Washington to ask Congress to buy Aitken’s Bibles and Washington’s reply to that letter,”

    Did Washington tell him to take a long walk off a short pier, or did he say I have seen the light, I’m your boy, and we’re going to shove bibles into every nook and cranny of this nation? JHC what was Washington’s reply?

  6. 6
    Chris Rodda

    @ boneforgod … Washington wrote a polite reply to Rodgers turning down his request. In his reply, Washington said that it would have been a nice thing to do but it wouldn’t be possible because the troops had already been discharged. This wasn’t quite true. There were still plenty of soldiers who hadn’t been discharged yet. It’s just impossible to believe that this was Washington’s real reason for turning down the request. This was right at the time when Washington had just stopped the Newburgh Conspiracy, where the officers were plotting a rebellion over being owed so much back pay. The soldiers hadn’t been paid in months, and in some cases years, because Congress had no money. In addition to the Newburgh Conspiracy, a mob of armed enlisted soldiers marched on Congress demanding to be paid, forcing the Congress to evacuate. There is just no way that Washington would have asked Congress to spend money on Bibles even if he actually had wanted to! Given these circumstances, it’s impossible to take Washington’s reply to Rodgers as anything more than him just politely coming up with a reason to say no.

  7. 7

    David Barton should go all out and close the circle on his bundle of lies and say George Washington and John Rodgers stayed in contact, although miles apart, via texting and email.

    Barton’s religulous followers might believe it.

  8. 8

    There was another John Rodgers that Washington actually was friends with, but this was a different guy who owned a tavern in Maryland.

    Tavern owner. Presbyterian minister. How could one be expected to tell them apart? Barton has made a very natural mistake!

  9. 9

    Thanks Chris, you’re good. History, propaganda, Orwell, Barton… some people are really nuts. I was encouraged to hear that Washington had a tavern owner as a friend.

  10. 10

    I was encouraged to hear that Washington had a tavern owner as a friend.

    Washington owned a substantial distillery. He didn’t start the business until only a few years before his death, but in 1799 (the same year he died), his distillery produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey.

    So I’m not surprised that Washington would have a tavern owner as a friend.

  11. 11

    Chris thank you for your fine research.

    Speaking of Washington and taverns last year I read “Decisions in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787″ by Christopher Collier. Per Collier in 1787 Philadelphia had 39 lawyers, 17 clergymen and 118 taverns. Nationally the rate of alcoholism was twice what it is today. And 45% of American women were pregnant when they married.

    Whenever I hear a religious right operative say “it’s time for the nation to get back to our Christian roots” I wonder exactly what roots he’s talking about.

  12. 12

    gee arronpound, I’m not surprised you weren’t surprised, as I was only “encouraged”. I was surprised that you surmised that I was surprised, even though I was only “encouraged”. Encouraged as encouraging you to pound another round at the tavern where Arron should flourish.

  13. 13

    Maybe two encounters and a letter to and from a person is how Barton defines being close friends so he can claim to have close friends.

  14. 14

    By that standard, Gerry Ford and I were old buddies, as I once attended a Ford political rally.

  15. 15

    David Barton looks like Barney on Raising Hope. http://imgur.com/a/sQePh

  16. 16

    One can see a scan of Washington’s letter to John Rogers here. The text of the letter is:

    To The Revd Doctor John Rogers.

    New Jersey

    Headquarters ? June 1783

    I accept with much pleasure your kind congratulations on the happy event of Peace, with the Establishment of our Liberties and Independence.

    Glorious indeed has been our contest. Glorious, if we consider the prize for which we have contended, and glorious in its issue; but in the midst of our joys, I hope we shall not forget that, to divine Providence is to be ascribed the glory & the praise.

    Your proposition respecting W Aikin’s Bibles would have been particularly noticed by me, had it been suggested in season; but the late Resolution of Congress for discharging part of the Army, taking off near two thirds of our numbers, it is now too late to make the attempt. It would have pleased me, if congress should have made such an important present to the brave fellows, who have done so much for the Security of their Country’s Rights and Establishment.

    I hope it will not be long before you will be able to go peaceably to New York; some patience however will yet be necessary; but patience is a noble virtue and when rightly exercised, does not fail of its Reward. With much regard and esteem.
    I am D? Doc?: Your most obd
    G Washington


    Seems like a polite & political brush-off, with a subtle dig about not having the courage to going to New York yet. Note the nod to “divine Providence”, as opposed to the God of Aikin’s Bible.

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