- Not everything you learned in school about US history is 100% accurate.
- While many consider Christopher Columbus the discoverer of America, he actually never stepped foot in North America.
- Many believe the Fourth of July is a day to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They’re wrong.
- Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.
Some things you’ve learned in school may have since been proven false, and that is especially true when it comes to US history.
Many say history is written by the winner, leaving much of the truth out. In recent years, historians and experts have been coming forward to reveal the true stories around some of America’s biggest historical events.
From the first Thanksgiving to the moon landing, here’s everything your teacher may have gotten wrong about American history.
MYTH: Christopher Columbus discovered America.
TRUTH: As early as primary school, most of us learned that Christopher Columbus discovered America, but that is not accurate. In fact, the Spanish explorer never even entered North America. On his four trips across the Atlantic, starting in 1492, Columbus explored the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas and Cuba.
He also couldn’t have discovered America because Native Americans were already living there. In fact, Columbus is not even the first European to explore the Americas. That honour goes to the Norse explorer Leif Erikson who sailed to the Western Hemisphere over 400 years earlier.
Then why is Columbus such a notable figure in American history? It’s most likely because he started a new age of exploration and his trips to the New World led to colonization.
MYTH: Christopher Columbus sailed on the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
TRUTH: “In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is a common children’s song most learn in school. The song also mentions his three ships, which are usually known as Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
However, his ships were likely not named any of those things.Historians know that the Santa Maria’s real name was La Gallega and the Niña’s real name was the Santa Clara. It is not known what the Pinta’s actual name was at the time.
MYTH: Pocahontas and John Smith fell in love, uniting two cultures.
TRUTH: For starters, Pocahontas wasn’t even her real name. Her official name was Amonute. Pocahontas was her nickname, which meant “playful” or “ill-behaved child.” That’s right, Pocahontas was just a child, about 11 or 12 years old, so it is very unlikely there was any romance between her and John Smith, a grown man.
In his journals, John Smith wrote that Pocahontas saved his life when her family tried to execute him. He also wrote that during his captivity, the two became close and taught each other their languages, but never mentioned anything romantic happening between them.
MYTH: The first Thanksgiving was a peaceful and joyous meal shared between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
TRUTH: In school, most were taught that the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and sought help from the Native Americans to survive in the New World. In 1620, the two groups supposedly came together for a three-day feast to celebrate their relationship and new lives together. But many historians say this was not the case.
The two groups had a lot of hostile feelings towards each other. The Pilgrims viewed Native Americans as savages, and stole their farmland. They also killed more than 90% of the native population with smallpox, brought over on the Mayflower.
These hostile conditions, historians believe, did not lead to a celebratory first Thanksgiving. In fact, some say the Native Americans were not even invited to the feast.
MYTH: Witches were burned at the stake at the Salem witch trials.
TRUTH: While most associate the Salem witch trials of 1692 with witches burning at the stake, the truth is that not a single person was burned. Of the 20 people who were convicted of practicing magic, 19 were hung near Gallows Hill and one person was tortured to death.
But throughout history, many referenced burning witches at the stake, so it caught on. For example, a magazine in 1860 wrote, “The North … having begun with burning witches, will end by burning us!”
MYTH: Paul Revere rode horseback through the streets of Massachusetts yelling, “the British are coming!”
TRUTH: Paul Revere did ride horseback to warn that the British were fast approaching Lexington, but he was not screaming. Instead, he was much more discreet since British troops might have been hiding nearby. He also wasn’t alone. He was first joined by two other patriots, with 40 more joining by the end of the night. Lastly, he would never have called them “British” because many of the colonists still considered themselves British. At the time, he would have used the term “Regulars” to warn patriots about the invasion.
We have Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to thank for this misconception. He wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1861 and got most of the facts wrong.
MYTH: George Washington had wooden teeth.
TRUTH: The first president of the United States, George Washington, did not, in fact, have wooden teeth. But he did have a lot of dental issues. The former war general wore dentures made of ivory, gold, and lead. But wood was never used in dentures and it was definitely not found in Washington’s mouth.
No one truly knows how or why this rumour started. Some historians say that the ivory may have been worn down, therefore having a grainy, wooden appearance, confusing early observers.
MYTH: The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.
TRUTH: While many believe we are celebrating the Declaration of Independence’s signing on the Fourth of July, it was actually signed in August of 1776. The confusion lies in the fact that July 4 was the day the final edition of the document was agreed upon. It was the deadline the Continental Congress gave itself and wrote down, though it wouldn’t be signed for another month.
MYTH: Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
TRUTH: In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison was widely considered a genius after he invented the light bulb. But some say Edison is not the sole inventor. In fact, there were over 20 inventors who had created the incandescent light bulb before him. Additionally, it’s rumoured that he borrowed (or stole) details from those other inventors.
So, why does Edison get all the credit? In part, he was a great salesman, and he knew how to outpace everyone else who was working on the light bulb. Edison was lucky enough to receive the important patents he needed to be solely credited for the invention.
MYTH: Slavery largely happened in the South.
TRUTH: Many associate slavery with the South, but the truth is that slavery existed in every colony before the Revolutionary War. In fact, Massachusetts was the first colony to legalise slavery, and New York had over 1,600 slaves in 1720. Equally upsetting is the fact that presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both owned slaves.
MYTH: Neil Armstrong said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” when he landed on the moon.
TRUTH: If you examine the famous line uttered by Neil Armstrong in 1969, you realise it doesn’t really make sense. Because “man” and “mankind” essentially meant the same thing, if his famous line was accurate, what he basically said was, “that’s one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind.”
Upon returning home, Armstrong clarified that he did say “one small step for a man,” which makes much more sense. Peter Shann Ford, a computer programmer, said he found proof that the missing “a” was actually just lost in transmission back to Earth.
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