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!”
- 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.
- ibid., 208.
- Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 5, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979), 288.
- John Rodgers to George Washington, May 30, 1789, George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799.
- Tobias Lear to John Rodgers, November 28, 1789, ibid.
- Tobias Lear to John Rodgers, August 30, 1790, ibid.