It’s Independence Day weekend, and while we prepare for summer grilling and firework displays in celebration of the holiday, it’s okay to take a step back and reflect upon the history of the United States of America. Nearly 250 years old, people of this country grow up learning commons stories detailing the historic accounts of some of the nation’s most famous figures in history. Some of the stories however, turn out to be nothing more than fables when looking at the facts. This is why, in honor of the 4th of July, I’ve decided to compile a list of 7 Common Misconceptions of American History:
Washington’s Wooden Teeth
We’ll start off with an easy one. Famous American Revolution general and the first President of the United States, George Washington is known famously for having false teeth. Contrary to popular belief however, wood was never used in Washington’s dentures nor was it commonly employed by dentists in his era. In fact, throughout his life Washington had a number of full and partial dentures that were composed of a variety of materials including bone, hippopotamus ivory, human teeth, brass screws, lead, and gold metal wire – but never wood.
Columbus Discovered America
First becoming a holiday in Colorado in 1906, each year we celebrate Columbus Day in honor of the discoverer of America – Christopher Columbus. Besides the fact that North America was already settled by natives when Columbus arrived in 1492, it turns out the Spanish explorer was not even the first European to step foot on the continent. In 1965, archeologists discovered conclusive proof that the Vikings arrived 500 years before Columbus. They found the ancient Viking settlement at Newfoundland. Although their settlement did not last very long, this is proof that European people had traveled to North America prior to Columbus.
Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride
Listen dear readers and you shall hear, of the myth of Paul Revere. Yes, Paul Revere was a real person, but he did not make his famous midnight ride alone crying out into the night, “The British are coming!” In reality, the American patriot was a single member of a larger group of people that rode in silence to avoid army patrols while spreading the word. Additionally, the messengers used the phrase “the Regulars are coming out” as a warning. Calling the enemy “the British” would have made little sense due to many colonists remaining loyal to the crown still at this time.
Washington and the Cherry Tree
As the story goes, a young George Washington once chopped down his father’s prized cherry tree with a hatchet. Confronted by his father, Washington stated that he “could not tell a lie” and confessed his misdoings. It turns out that this entire tale was fabricated by biographer Mason Locke Weems to embellish some of the first President’s more noble qualities. The entire story was made up! The cherry tree myth showed readers that Washington’s public greatness was due to his private virtues.
Ben Franklin Discovered Electricity
Often credited with discovering the revolutionary concept of electricity, Benjamin Franklin, in fact, did not. Scientists had been studying the concept of electricity years before Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment. This misconception arises from Franklin’s hypothesis that lightning held an electrical current. To see if he was right, he tied a metal key to a silk rope on a kite that he flew on a stormy June night in 1752. His famous stormy kite flight led him to develop many of the terms that we still use today: battery, conductor, charge, positive, and negative – but he did not discover electricity.
Betsy Ross Did Not Sew the First American Flag
This myth originates from 1870, nearly 100 years after the first flag was supposedly sewn, when William Canby, a grandson to Betsy Ross, told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that his grandmother made the flag at the request of George Washington. In reality, there is no credible historical evidence that Betsy Ross (also known as Elizabeth Claypoole) made or had a hand in designing the American flag before its 1777 debut. Historians have been unable to find any mention of the flag in letters, diaries, newspapers, or bills of sales. The only evidence in favor of Ross comes from her grandson’s accounts. While Ross did make flags in Philadelphia in the late 1770s, it is all but certain that the story about her creating the American flag is a myth.
The Signing of the Declaration
This one is a given: The Fourth of July is when America first declared independence from British rule.
You might be surprised to learn that this is untrue! It was actually two days earlier on July 2nd. It was on that day that the Continental Congress voted for independence. The final language of the United States Declaration of Independence was approved and distributed on July 4th and 5th, but was not actually signed until August 2nd, 1776.
Whether or not July 4th should or shouldn’t be the day we choose to celebrate the nation’s independence, enjoy this weekend with friends and family, and remember the history and heritage behind the United States of America.