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Persistent American History Myths

Debunking Common U.S History Myths

An overview of common misconceptions about historical figures and historic events in American history - that is to say, United States History.

For some odd reason, it seems that history and myths often go hand and hand.

It is a rather strange phenomenon because important events in history are well documented, which makes them relatively easy to verify.

Despite the simplicity of being able to confirm a historical fact, there are still a couple of persistent myths about American history; here are a couple of the most prevalent and annoying history myths:

Abraham Lincoln held no particular "affection" for slaves.

Abraham Lincoln held no particular "affection" for slaves.

Historical Myths about George Washington

The Facts As We Know Them

We know many historical facts about George Washington.He was the first president of the United States, he served as a commander in the Contenental Army during the American Revolutionary War, his vice president was John Adams.

The first president of our country married a woman named Martha Custis, and George and Martha lived on a Virginia estate called Mount Vernon.

Furthermore, he chopped down his father’s cherry tree, he was a tall man who had wooden teeth, and he is the Father of our Country.

All of that is kosher, right?


Somewhere in our own history, probably during those carefree years of elementary school, we learned that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree.

When Washington was questioned about the dastardly deed by his father, he proclaimed “I cannot tell a lie,” and he promptly confessed.

During those same gloriously ignorant primary school years, we also learned that the Father of our Country had wooden teeth.

Well, I’m sorry to murder some of the innocence of your youth, but we know for a fact that George Washington did not have teeth made of wood, and there is absolutely no historical evidence to support the existence of the cherry tree story.

I know, it is quite disheartening to think that George Washington might have actually been capable of telling a lie; but, it is what it is – or what it was.

George Washington

George Washington

Historical Myths about Christopher Columbus

The Facts As We Know Them

Everyone knows who Christopher Columbus was.He was an Italian explorer, He has a birthday holiday named after him (Columbus Day), he sailed the ocean blue in 1492 for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Three of his ships were named The Nina, The Pinta, and The Santa Maria, and he believed the earth was flat.

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Because he thought he was sailing to S.E. Asia, he mistook the Bahamas (San Salvador Isle) for The East Indies and named its inhabitants Indios (Indians), and Christopher Columbus discovered America – Duh!

OK, well, just slow down on the "duh’s" – a lot of those “history facts” are actually history myths.

First of all, Christopher Columbus does not have a birthday holiday named after him – Columbus Day is a celebration of the anniversary of his arrival in the Americas (October 12, 1492).

By the time Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492, he and many others had already known that the world was spherical from ancient Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy).

And finally, Christopher Columbus did not “discover” America, nor was he the first European to sail to North America – Lief Erikson and his fellow Norsemen would probably fight him to the death for the latter title.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

Historical Myths about Abraham Lincoln

The Facts As We Know Them

Abraham Lincoln was one of the most beloved American Presidents in U.S. history, and his whole life is an open book of historical facts.

He was the 16th President of the United States, he was an unusually tall man, he was married to Mary Todd, and he was a humanitarian who started the civil war to put an end to slavery.

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – and with that, he freed the slaves.

His life was cut short when he was shot and killed by an actor named John Wilkes Booth as he attended a play at Ford’s Theater.

Who doesn’t know all of that?

Surprise Surprise! Not all of the above Abraham Lincoln facts are accurate (c’mon, you ought to be used to this by now).

Abraham Lincoln was a great American President because he successfully reunified a badly torn country.

But, Abraham Lincoln was no William Lloyd Garrison (abolitionist), and he never had any plans to outlaw slavery in the interest of humanity.

The main purpose for the American Civil War was to save the Union, as demonstrated in the line he wrote to Horace Greely in 1862: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it." Yep, that is what he wrote - he said it, and if he was alive now, he'd probably sat it again (I can't help loving Samuel L. Jackson).

Furthermore, the Emancipation Proclamation did not “free the slaves,” at least, not all of them.The proclamation freed the slaves from the states under which the Union had absolutely no control.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Concluding Word about Myths and History

To be fair, these history myths seem to be losing steam over the years. However, I am writing this article because someone I know actually believed in one of these myths, and argued with me to the death about its validity.

I blame part of the misconceptions on the tendency of earlier historians to glorify American history heroic figures.

You know how it goes... growing up, we all thought that the cowboys were good and the Indians were bad because they were so blood thirsty.

Well, any reasonable human being would be blood-thirsty if someone came into their home, raped and killed their wives and daughters, massacred their sons and fellow countrymen, and then forced them to live in tiny, hostile regions of their own territory.

The other part is probably due to the common practice of history teachers to willfully transform History into the most boring, monotonous subject ever – which in turn, makes History students go off into fantasy land as soon as their teacher begins to open his/her mouth.

What do you think?


State Library of Pennsylvania Abraham Lincoln Collection


Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 21, 2011:

Glad you're dispelling these myths! I find it surprising how many people still think these facts are true.

Rachelle Williams (author) from Tempe, AZ on September 19, 2011:

cmon now phillyfreeze69, of course Daniel Boone slayed bears with his bare hands. He did it because:

Daniel Boone was a man. Yes a big man.

With an eye like an eagle and as tall as a mountain was he.

Daniel Boone was a man. Yes a big man.

He was brave, he was fearless and as tough as a mighty oak tree.

From the coonskin cap on the top of ol Dan to the heel of his rawhide shoe

The rippin'est roarin'est fightin'est man the frontier ever knew.

Daniel Boone was a man. Yes a big man.

And he fought for America to make all Americans free.

What a Boone. What a wonder. What a dream comer truer was he.

Phillyfreeze69 on September 19, 2011:

Very enlightening Hub Rachelle, growing up in Kentucky I read stories of the exploit of Daniel Boone during the frontier days. This I know, you do not slay a bear with your bare hands!...I have seen videos of Grizzly, Black, and Brown bears in their natural habitat and it ain't going to happen!

Rob from Oviedo, FL on September 18, 2011:

Fun facts. I knew all of these already but it's good to get the word out and let people who don't know, find out the truth.

It's true Lincoln's main objective was to save the Union, above anything else, but to be fair to Lincoln, he did say in the same letter "If I could save the Union by freeing ALL the slaves, I would. If I could save it by freeing SOME of them, I would."

Basically, Lincoln's position was that America was hypocritical for calling itself a free country when we had slaves here, and he wanted to change that. He didn't want his country to be seen as dealing in half-truths.

Good work. I always like historic hubs.


Rachelle Williams (author) from Tempe, AZ on September 18, 2011:

Thanks so much for the positive comments guys. And yes jblais112@aol the conqueror always gets to be the author of the history of the war. I guess cleaning up some of the fairy tales we learned when we were kids is part of the purpose of higher education...

Dexter Yarbrough from United States on September 18, 2011:

Hi Rachelle! This is an enjoyable, fact filled hub that I hope many others will read! Great, great information! Voted up, up and away!

David Sproull from Toronto on September 18, 2011:

Voted up! Interesting and entertaining, and even a little educating. :-)

FitnezzJim from Fredericksburg, Virginia on September 18, 2011:

Many of us would prefer that History be about a search for facts, not just facts that support one authors view of the world, nor myths that support any one view of the world. For some reason, the concept of 'bearing false witness' does not apply to some historians, nor to politicians for that matter.

Dilip Chandra from India on September 17, 2011:

Interesting Hub, Voted up...

jblais1122@aol from Kansas City, Missouri, USA on September 17, 2011:

Very much voted up. I enjoyed your hub. I have been a firm believer that only the winners get to write history. Note your reference to the "Indians". History as taught at the primary level is, in part, the fantasy of the winners. It is not limited to North America. Spain did claim all of the New World after their "discovery". Britain did the same. All of the colonies technical borders were westward to the end of the continent.

I became disheartened with "American History" when I first learned that CC was not the first European to visit here. I believe that some group of neolithic Europeans may have beaten him here about 9000 years before. An Irish monk, a group of Knights Templar, and, of course, Leif and company all surely preceded him.

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