Historical Facts and
National pride, political
opportunism, moralism, and a variety of other motives have given rise to a
plethora of historical inaccuracies and exaggerations of reality which have led
to popular beliefs or myths of history that do not fit into the category of
historical fact. This section examines some of the myths and realities of
popular history and some sources that may have given rise to these myths.
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Did Columbus discover America in 1492?
The question of who discovered America is a loaded
question in our ultra-sensitive, politically correct society.
Multi-culturalists challenge the idea that a white male "discovered"
a contintent that had been inhabitated for forty-thousand years by peoples with
diverse and long-established cultures. Of course, the original discoverers of
"America" were its very first inhabitants: the "native"
Americans. A popular theory holds that the first humans in America came about
forty-thousand years ago, before the ice-age, from northeastern Asia and
travelled down what is now Alaska and Canada into the modern United States and
eventually into Central and South America. At the time of this great migration,
the Continents of North America and Asia were linked together where the Bering
Strait (between Siberia and Alaska) now exists. The Europeans were late-comers
to the landmass that they chose to call the "New World" and what we
refer to today as "America" (named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian
cartographer). Norsemen, or Vikings, were possibly the first Europeans to
arrive on the Continent around the end of the first millenium (1000 A.D.). Leif
Erickson, among others, ventured from Greenland and Iceland in search of
greener pastures. There are less reputable legends of Irish and Welsh explorers
who supposedly reached these shores, but there is no evidential proof that
these actually occured. The most famous voyage, the one most North American
school children learn, is that of Christopher Columbus in 1492, who
"sailed the ocean blue" with his ships the
Pinta and the
Santa Maria and discovered a new
continent. Columbus himself would have disputed this claim. He believed to his
very death that he had not discovered a new continent, but had in fact
discovered a new route to the rich East Indies (The term "Indian" is
a reflection of this belief). Columbus never landed on the continental mainland
of North America. He actually landed, and spent his time, in the Carribean
Islands (islands which he called "Hispaniola"). Despite his
modern-day detractors and all the present hoopla, Christopher Columbus did open
a new age of European exploration to this hemisphere and thus altered the
course of history for millions.
discover: Verb 1.) To
obtain knowledge of through observation or study. 2.) To be the first to find,
learn of, or observe."
- The American Heritage
Dictionary, Third Edition, Copyright 1994 by Houghton
Certainly it may be said that Columbus
"discovered" America in the first sense of the definition. One has to
make a gigantic semantic stretch to claim that he "discovered"
America using the second sense of the word "discover".
The American colonists were overtaxed by the
British in the 1760s and 1770s, prior to the American Revolution.
Actually, by modern standards, the taxes levied by
the Mother Country on the American colonies prior to 1775 were not excessive.
For example, under the Tea tax, which was imposed on the colonies in 1773, the
average colonist would have had to consume a pound of tea per day for a year to
pay a $1 tax for the whole year. The underlying feeling that the Mother Country
was seeking to take more direct control and undermine the liberties of the
colonists was perhaps the more immediate cause for the excitement and high
pitch of emotions that led to the Revolution and ultimately to the colonists'
fight for independence. (Sources: Independent research from various sources,
and also from: "The American Revolution",
Arts and Entertainment Home Video and
Channel, Documentary. Cat. # AAE-13001)
Lincoln write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope?
No. Lincoln worked on the address both
beforeand after his trip to Gettysburg from
Washington,D.C. using official stationery for
part of thespeech. The train ride would have
been too bumpyto do any writing."
Did George Washington chop down a cherry tree
and admit it later with the words "I cannot tell a lie..."?
Very probably not. The source of this myth traces
back to a biography of George Washington written after Washington's death by
Parson Mason Locke Weems who, lacking information of George's childhood, made
use of allegory to portray aspects of George Washington's character.
more on the creation of this legend click on this link!)
(Source: "George Washington, Founding Father", A&E Home Video, c.
1994 A&E Television Networks, #AAE-10440).
Did the Emancipation Proclamation issued by
President Lincoln free the slaves?
Actually, Lincoln's Proclamation did not free a
single slave. The Proclamation only applied to those states that were in open
rebellion to the Union. Those states under Union control were not included in
the document. Lincoln believed that it was not within the purview of the Chief
Executive to free the slaves in the states that were under Union control; that
power resided in Congress. The Proclamation did give hope and courage to many
southern slaves, however. It was not until the 13th Amendment passed in 1865
that slavery became Constitutionally illegal in the United States.
Did the Dutch get Manhattan for $24?
Dutch settlers had already been living on the
island when Peter Minuit arrived in the spring of 1624. Minuit promptly met
with the natives and gave them two cases of trade goods - which possibly
consisted of some metal pots, cloth, some hatchets, and beads - worth about
sixty Dutch guilders. At the contemporary rates of exchange, sixty Dutch
guilders were worth approximately 2,400 English cents, hence the $24 figure.
What was the First Thanksgiving?
"The event we now know as "the First
Thanksgiving" was in fact neither the first occurrence of our modern
American holiday, nor was it even a 'Thanksgiving" in the eyes of th
Pilgrims who celebrated it. It was instead a traditional English harvest
celebration to which the colonists invited Massasoit, the most important sachem
among the Wamapanoag. It was only in the nineteenth century that this event
became identified with the American Thanksgiving holiday. "
On July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years from the signing of the
Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, the document's primary author,
and John Adams, a key signer of the Declaration, died within a few hours of
each other. Moments before his death John Adam's exclaimed: "Thomas
Jefferson lives on!" Many took this as a sign that the new nation was
sanctioned by God and had a divine destiny.
here to learn more about this important event.)
Ô Andrew Jackson (term of office: 1829-1837) was the
first US president to ride on a train.
Ô James Monroe (1817-1825) was the first president to
ride in a steamboat.
Ô John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) was the first
president to have his photograph taken.
Ô William Henry Harrison (1841), the 9th US president,
was the first president to die while in office. He caught pneumonia during the
inauguration ceromonies on March 4, 1841 and died just 31 days later. He was
succeeded by his Vice-President, John Tyler.
Ô John Tyler (1841-1845) was the first president to
marry while in office. He also had more children, fifteen altogether, than any
other president. He had his last child when he was seventy years old.
Ô Grover Cleveland is the only President who served
two, non-consecutive terms.
Ô Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) had the first bathtub
installed in the White House. Fillmore's successor Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
had the first furnace installed in the White House. The telephone was
introduced to the White House by Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881).
ÔTheodore Roosevelt was the first President to ride in
ÔThe "Teddy Bear" was named after Teddy
ÔTheodore Roosevelt was the youngest President to take
office (Age 42).
ÔThe Executive Mansion became officially known as
"The White House" during TR's Presidency.
Ô President Theodore Roosevelt was the first American
to win a Nobel Prize, winning the Nobel Prize for Peace for his negotiating an
end to the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.
ÔTheodore Roosevelt was the first President to take an
official trip outside of the United States as President. He and his wife toured
Panama and inspected the construction of the Panama Canal.
Ô President Lincoln had a dream about his death on the
night before his assassination.
Ô Approximately two weeks prior to President Abraham
Lincoln's assassination, John Wilkes Booth, the assasssin of Lincoln, slept in
the very same bed in which President Lincoln died.
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ÔAccording to the 1790 survey, the population of the
United States in 1790 was 3,929,625 of which 697,624 were slaves and 59,557
were free African Americans. Philadelphia was the largest city with 42,000
people and New York was the second most populace with 33,000. (Source:
"Don't Know Much About History; Everything You Need to Know About American
History but Never Learned.", by Kenneth C. Davis, Avon Books, New York,
copyright 1995, p. 98)
ÔAlexander Hamilton was born in 1757 in the West
Indies, the illegitimate son of a shopkeeper mother whose father deserted them.
ÔThomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State of
the United States of America.
Ô Thomas Jefferson was 33 years of age when he drafted
the Declaration of Independence.
More Historical Tidbits:
Ô A book written by a
struggling author named Morgan Robertson was published in 1898 entitled
"Futility" about a "fabulous Atlantic liner", the largest
ever built, which crashed into an iceberg on a cold April night. The ship of
70,000 tons displacement and 800 feet in length went down into a cold, watery
grave, bringing down with it most of its 3,000 passengers. About fifteen years
after this novel was written, on a cold April night in 1912, the Titanic, a
fabulous Atlantic liner, the largest ever built, of 66,000 tons displacement
and 882.5 feet long, crashed into an iceberg and sunk, killing many of its
3,000 passengers. The similarities between Robertson's fictional ship and the
Titanic do not end here. In addition to the similar displacement and length,
"both vessels were triple screw, and both could make a speed of 24 to 25
knots. Both could carry more than 3,000 people, and both had lifeboats for only
a fraction of those aboard." Robertson called his ship the
"Titan". (Source: "The Saint Paul
Pioneer Press", Thursday, March 19, 1998,
Section 4A, C, "Q and A"). Follow this link:
Smoking Gun -The Titanic Files. Documents relating to the Titanic tragedy.
Ô The Founding Fathers of the United States
Constitution may have been influenced by the Iroquois Confederation in their
ideas and principles of government and a free society. The Iroquois
Confederation, which consisted of five Native American tribes (the Seneca,
Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida and Cayuga, and later a sixth, the Tuscora joined the
confederacy), had an oral constitution called the Great Law of Peace. This
Great Law enjoined the sachems (tribal leaders) to fill "their hearts with
good will, and their minds...with a yearning for the welfare of the people of
the League. With endless patience, they shall carry out their duty. Their
firmness shall be tempered with a tenderness for their people." Both
Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were interested in the ways of the
native Americans and on one occassion Jefferson wrote: "Indian society may
be best, but it is not possible for large numbers of people." The Iroquois
Confederacy may have influenced the forming of the American Confederacy in 1777
and the principles on which the Iroquois Confederacy was established may be
found in the United States Constitution. (Source: Minneapolis Star and Tribune,
Monday, June 1, 1987, Section 1A).
Ô The origin of the colloquialism
" dates back to the
1830s with the facetious spelling of the phrase "all correct" as
"Oll Korrect" and abbreviated simply as O.K. The popularization of
the word most likely came from the 1840 U.S. Presidential election in which
supporters of the incumbent Presidential candidate Martin Van Buren called
themselves the O.K. club, using the slogan "O.K." for Old Kinderhook
because Kinderhook, New York, was Van Buren's birthplace. Ever since, the term
"o.k." has been widely used to mean anything that is alright or good
or to signify assent or agreement. Despite the success of "O.K." in
the American/English language, however, Martin Van Buren lost his bid for
re-election to the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, who ran on the slogan
"Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" (John Tyler was Harrison's
Click here to learn more about the etymology of the word "o.k."
Ô The term "democracy" has its origins from
a union of two ancient Greek words "demos", meaning the people, and
"kratia", meaning authority or government. The term did not appear in
the English language until the early sixteenth century. Democracy as an
official and widespread term used to describe the governing structure of the
United States of America did not really come into vogue until the early 20th
Century when Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I with the
call to make the world "safe for democracy". The term had been used
throughout the nineteenth century, but mainly as a partisan term, because
during the 1844 Presidential Campaign, the Democratic-Republicans officially
changed their name to "the American Democracy". After 1860 the two
main political parties in the United States were the Democrats and the
Republicans. Even the term "republic" was not the official term used
to describe the form of government of the United States. According to some
sources, there was no official title for the form of the U.S. government other
than "The United States" until at least into the early twentieth
century. (Read excerpts
from Charles Beard's "The Republic" which discusses how the term
democracy came into widespread use as a word to describe the U.S. form of
* Maybe it's begging the question to look for similarities
surrounding tragic events of monumental historical importance, but the
similarities between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations should not go
unmentioned. Lincoln and Kennedy were elected to Presidential office exactly
100 years apart. The assassins, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, were
born 100 years apart. The assassins were both known with their middle names and
both - Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth - have fifteen letters. Lincoln
had a secretary named Kennedy and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln. Both
Presidents were succeeded by Vice-Presidents named Johnson. The name Kennedy
has seven letters and so does Lincoln. Both Presidents were involved with civil
rights issues. Both Presidents were relatively young when taking office. Both
First Ladies were present at the scene of the assassination. Both assassins
escaped the scene of the assassination. Both Presidents had a particular liking
to President Thomas Jefferson. Both Presidents died of gunshot wounds to the
head. There are many other simililarites. Whether this is coincidence,
conspiracy, mystery, or something else is left for your speculation.
* Recent archaelogical evidence has been buttressing the
claims of human evolutionists. The so-called "missing link" has been
purported to have been discovered. Leaky's discovery of Lucy, an
was short of proving evolutionism because it could not establish a direct link
to modern humans. Recent finds are coming very close to proving this link.
Sites have been found intact with crude tools, weapons, and other implements
with bones that suggest a direct line of descent from the modern
homo sapien. (See
recent issues of National Geographic for more information or visit online @
or History: What is myth?