Monday, July 02, 2007

Did You Know - American Myths


You've probably believed these stories since you were a kid. Most Americans have, because they were taught to us as sacred truths. Well, here's another look at them.

HILL OF BEANS The Myth: The Battle of Bunker Hill—where the Americans first faced the Redcoats—was the colonists' initial triumph in the Revolutionary War.

The Truth: Not only did the British wallop the Americans in the encounter, the whole thing wasn't even fought on Bunker Hill. The American troops had actually been ordered to defend Bunker Hill, but there was an enormous foul-up and somehow, they wound up trying to protect nearby Breed's Hill, which was more vulnerable to attack. They paid for it—when the fighting was over, the Americans had been chased away by the British troops. Casualties were heavy for both sides; about 450 Americans were killed, and a staggering 1,000 (out of 2,100 soldiers) Redcoats bit the dust.

PILGRIMS' PROGRESS The Myth: The Pilgrims were headed for Massachusetts.

The Truth: They were headed for "Hudson's River." Because of poor navigation and unexpected winds, the first land they sighted was Cape Cod. They tried to sail south, but "dangerous shoales and roaring breakers" prevented it. So they reluctantly turned back. By this time, the crew of the Mayflower (no, the ship wasn't manned by Pilgrims) was sick of them and hustled them off the boat as fast as they could.

The Myth: The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Background: This tale originated in 1741, more than 100 years after the Pilgrims arrived. It has been attributed to a then-95-year-old man named Thomas Fraunce, who claimed his father had told him the story when he was a boy. However, his father hadn't landed with the pilgrims—he reached America 3 years after they did.

The Truth: The Pilgrims first landed in Provincetown, Massachusetts.


The Myth: American independence was declared on July 4th. Background: Because the Declaration of Independence is dated July 4th, people associate that date with American independence. In fact, independence was declared first...and was confirmed with the document a few days later.

The Truth: The Continental Congress declared independence on July 2nd. One of the Founding Fathers, John Adams, is quoted as having written his wife on July 3rd: "The 2nd day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable... in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival."

• Note: Actually, the first Independence Day celebration—by the Continental Congress—was on July 8th, 1776.


The Myth: In a hushed hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, each signer of the Declaration of Independence proudly and publicly took his turn affixing his signature to the document. Background: This tale was apparently concocted by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who wrote about it in letters after the event.

The Truth: Only 2 people—John Hancock and Charles Thomson —signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. It wasn't until about a month later, on August 2, that the majority of the delegates signed it. And it wasn't until 5 years later, in 1781, that the last signature was finally added.

• How public was the signing? The Continental Congress would only admit that Hancock's and Thomson's names were on the document. Everyone else signed in secrecy. It wasn't until the following January that the signers' names were made public.


The Myth: "Yankee Doodle" was originally a patriotic song.

The Truth: It was composed in England as an anti-American tune. The phrase "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni" referred to a foppish English group called the Macaroni Club, whose members wore ludicrous "continental" fashions they mistakenly believed to be elegant. The British laughed at "Yankee Doodle dandies," bumpkins who didn't know how silly they really were.

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