Historical Facts: 10 examples that many people often get wrong

What are some of the most common examples of misinformation in history that many people often still hold to this day? With regard to our Founding Father George Washington, there are plethora of myths and untrue statements about his personal life that seem to have been wrongly passed off as truths.

From stories about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree when he was a child to Isaac Newton being inspired to write his ground-breaking theory about gravity after an apple fell on the English scientist’s head, worldhistoryedu.com takes an in-depth look at the 10 common examples of historical inaccuracies held by many people.

Victims of the Salem Witch Trials were not burnt

As it has been popularized by pop culture that people accused of witchcraft in 17th century Massachusetts were burnt at the stake. That was far from the truth. The unfortunate victims accused of wizardry or witchcraft did not go to the grave through that medium; instead, they were hanged and given a quick death.

There were very few cases where other execution techniques were used; for example, crushing the victim with heavy boulders and other barbaric forms; however, majority of the over two dozen alleged witches were put to death by hanging.

Salem Witch Trials

Giles Corey was pressed to death during the Salem witch trials in the 1690s

Christopher Columbus was not the first European to set foot in the Americas

Famous explorers

Christopher Columbus (born: 1451; died: May 20, 1506)

Would it come as shock if someone told you that the famed Italian navigator and explorer Christopher Columbus wasn’t the first European to “discover” America? First of all, the word “discover” neglects the fact that for several thousands of years indigenous populations and civilizations thrived in the Americas. A question that begs to be answered is: how can one claim to have “discovered” a place that was swirling with numerous thriving Native American tribes?

Secondly, and perhaps the more important point, Christopher Columbus’ voyage across blue ocean of the Atlantic to the Americas in 1492 was about 500 years after the Vikings had stumbled upon the Americas. In the 11th century CE, a Norse explorer called Leif Erickson sailed to the Americas, more specifically New Foundland. As homage to Leif Erickson’s incredible feat, the 9th of October was selected to be Leif Erickson Day.

The Declaration of Independence was not signed on the 4th of July

Another very huge historical fallacy is the date of our Declaration of Independence. We have celebrated countless 4th of July celebrations; however, did you know that the actual document was not signed on July 4? Historians have long held that the signing was not complete until around the 2nd of August. Considering how events were unfolding at the time, it would have been physically impossible for all the delegates to the Second Continental Congress to sign a document whose terms were only finalized on July 2.  Therefore, the signing was not completed on the 2nd or the 4th.

Napoleon Bonaparte was not that short

The term “Napoleon Complex” was derived from how extremely short French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was perceived to be. The truth of the matter is Napoleon was not a very short man, considering the fact that the average height of a male back then was 5’5″; and Napoleon was in the region of  5’6″ or 5’7″

It is unclear how some historians came to describe Napoleon Bonaparte as a short man, considering the fact that at 5 feet 6 inches, the emperor was not that short in his time. Perhaps due to mistakes that occurred in converting French units of measurement to English units, the Emperor Napoleon, a man who conquered most of Europe, was commonly described as a 5’2” man. Perhaps it was simply a case of British propaganda machinery spreading erroneous facts about the French emperor who at the time was a thorn in the flesh of Britain.

Abe Lincoln’s sole goal in the Civil War was not to end slavery

America’s 16th president and perhaps the greatest person to hold that office, Abraham Lincoln did not battle his fellow countrymen in the South so as liberate the millions of African American slaves at the time. Instead, Abe Lincoln was driven by one core objective: the unity of the nation.

To accomplish that goal of his, he was even prepared to do whatever it took to keep the Union intact. Even if it meant letting the millions of African American slaves stay in bondage. The Union soldiers were not fighting and putting their lives on the line to bring an end to the horrors of slavery; rather they were shedding their blood so as to keep nation united. According to many historians, the announcement of emancipation of slaves (i.e. the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863) during the American Civil War (1861-1865) was just a by-product of the bloody war.

Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 letter to the New York Tribune

More: Abraham Lincoln’s Greatest Achievements

America’s first president didn’t have fake teeth made out of wood

From “cherry tree” myth to Washington residing in the White House, our modern world is rife with hilarious myths and falsities about some aspect of the life of George Washington, America’s first president.

It comes as no surprise that the Father of America’s democracy will be wrongly associated with those myths, as it is a classic case of a great reputation begetting numerous myths. For example, it has often been erroneously stated that the Virginia-born patriot and leading Founder Father of our nation had a wooden fake teeth. General Washington undoubtedly had some really bad teeth problems, as did many of the people back then. Besides, who could blame them? It was the 18th century, a time when oral hygiene was not a major issue. However, it has been emphatically stated by the popular historic estate Mount Vernon that our first president never used dentures made out of wood. Instead George Washington, like many other people of his time, used dentures made out of materials such as gold, lead, elephant or hippopotamus ivory, and human teeth. The latter was most likely secured from Washington’s African American slaves. Yes, that’s right! Washington and his wife Martha owned slaves.

According to Mount Vernon, one of the leading authorities on George Washington’s personal life, wood was not a substance used in the making of dentures in Washington’s era. The George Washington wooden false teeth myth is clearly as false as any false teeth (pun intended).

As at the time George Washington was sworn into office, the former general had just one tooth. Therefore, he used dentures that were made of any other material but wood

Read More: The Wooden Teeth Myth and other common myths about George Washington

“The British are coming”

Often times, the biggest culprit when it comes to erroneous historical facts are the quotes by famous historical figures.

One mention of the phrase “The British are coming” and our minds instantly go back to the days of the American Revolution, particularly the famous words yelled out by Massachusetts-born patriot as he rode through the midnight to warn the town of the approaching British forces.

However, that was not how it happened. Paul Revere’s midnight warning to his town’s people wouldn’t have included the word “British” because Revere himself was a British, likewise his townspeople. At the time that Revere took that ride [on April 18, 1775], many of the colonists still considered themselves British citizens.  It would take about a year [in 1776] before those patriots severed the colonial bond and started seeing themselves as Americans and not British.

The phrase “Let them eat cake” is wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette

French Queen Marie Antoinette (born: November 2, 1755; Died: October 16, 1793)

Marie Antoinette, the pre-French Revolution French queen and wife of King Louis XVI, never uttered the infamous phrase “Let them eat cake” in response to rioting French peasants that were blighted by starvation and other economic hardships.

Although this legendary phrase sounds like something an utterly out of touch, late 18th century queen like Marie Antoinette might have said, the phrase was actually said by a different French queen – Marie-Therese of Spain, an archduchess of Austria and the first wife of Louis XIV of France.

So, why is the phrase so often wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette, one of the most unremarkable, but highly fascinating women figures in European history? Catapulted to a position of immense power and later immense adversity, Marie Antoinette seemed like the perfect bourgeoisie queen to take credit for this phrase. Bear in mind, a great chunk of the frustration from the peasants during the French Revolution was directed at the very privileged and light-hearted Queen Marie Antoinette.

More: 9 Major Causes of the French Revolution

The apple that never fell on the head of Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton – One of the most influential scientists of all time

The 17th century English mathematician, astronomer and physicist Sir Isaac Newton is regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time. However, it has often been erroneously stated that the scientist developed his groundbreaking theory of gravity after an apple fell on his head. It is indeed true that his inspiration for the theory came after he witnessed an apple fall from a tree.

Hitler didn’t have only one testicle

As a propaganda song, the British concocted a story to demean the German Führer as an incomplete man who had just one testicle. It turns out that the German dictator had two testicles, even though one of them was undescended. According to historian Peter Fleischmann, the leader of Nazi Germany suffered from a medical problem known as cryptorchidism, a condition which causes the right testicle not to descend. How did Fleishmann know this? Following Adolf Hitler’s arrest in 1927 over the Beer Hall Putsch incident, a medical examination was conducted, and it was from that medical record that we know that Hitler did indeed have two testicles.

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