The purpose of history class is to teach children to think like historians. Although not a career most kids are clamoring for, a historian is an expert in history and a person to whom others look to for detailed, fact-based answers about the past. Despite this very clear definition, history teachers don’t teach actual history. They teach by the book, and history textbooks are filled to the brim with lies. So, any kid hoping to become a historian will have to relearn basically everything he was taught in school.
In kindergarten, you were probably taught that George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree. His dad got upset and confronted young Washington, who proclaimed “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” The cheery tree story is supposed to teach kids about the honesty of our founding fathers, but the whole story is a lie. It’s among the first of many myths that are taught in every history class from primary school to high school, and even some at the collegiate level. The truth is, you can’t believe everything you’re taught in school.
If you’re beginning to feel betrayed, this isn’t even scratching the surface of the innumerable lies you learned in history class, and it’s not as morbid as some of the others. History classes routinely sugar-coated, glossed-over, and omitted terrible acts of violence and horrible atrocities. These are just 15 of the most shocking lies you’ve been told, but there are many others.
15. There Were Thirteen Original Colonies
Supposedly, the original settlers laid claim to thirteen colonies. That’s the story we’ve all been told. Jamestown (later to be expanded and called Virginia) was the first British colony and Georgia was the last. Delaware was settled sometime in the middle, right? This can’t be disputed because there were thirteen stars and stripes on the original American flag to represent these thirteen colonies, and Betsy Ross would know how many colonies there were…
Except, Betsy Ross probably didn’t even design the first flag. There’s a lot more evidence to suggest that Francis Hopkinson designed the original flag. And, it probably had twelve stripes because there were only twelve colonies. Delaware wasn’t a separate colony. It was considered a part of Pennsylvania, and wasn’t even named Delaware until Revolutionary War times. To put this into perspective, most of the original colonies were settled by 1681, and The Revolutionary War began in 1775.
14. Columbus And The Conquistadores Were Discoverers
History books revere Columbus as a great explorer, the first to discover America and that the earth isn’t flat. None of that is remotely close to the truth, as Siberians were the first explorers to land in North America, and Columbus and his crew knew the earth was round as they sailed in search of the West Indies. The only thing Columbus really discovered was that indigenous people had really great manners. Unlike Europe, which was basically rank and starving, the Americas were mostly a peaceful paradise without waste and slavery. It was a far cry from war ravaged Europe, but that didn’t stop Columbus from pooping all over it.
Columbus and the conquistadores believed that the natives hid secret treasures. They butchered their way across Central and South America seeking mythical fountains of youth and cities made of gold. It was genocidal slaughter for the sake of a fool’s errand. Those who weren’t killed for sport were enslaved and would die in work camps, internment camps, or buried in mines.
Bet you didn’t learn any of that in history class. Basically, Columbus was a rotten human being, and any reverence to him is revolting. Although Columbus has earned his place in history, the false narrative that continues to be taught in public schools is insulting to the memory of the people he destroyed.
13. Abraham Lincoln Was Anti-Slavery
Despite evidence to the contrary, most history teachers consider Abraham Lincoln the great emancipator of slaves. Do you remember learning about a tolerant (heroic even) president in favor of racial equality? Truly, Lincoln wasn’t anti-racist at all; in fact, he only freed southern slaves to strengthen the Union. Only southern slaves, not northern ones, and he didn’t even free all of the southern slaves. Only slaves owned in Confederate territories were freed under the Emancipation Proclamation.
In regards to emancipation he wrote, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.” If he could have kept slavery and won the war, surely he would have. Perhaps then, history books wouldn’t favor him as they do now.
At the very least, history teachers could share some of good old honest Abe’s views on African Americans. It was Lincoln’s grand scheme to resettle freed slaves. Basically, he was the first white guy to think, send them back to Africa. Proof that Lincoln strongly supported black resettlement can be found in both the Library of Congress and British National Archives, as well as in the book: Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement.
12. Helen Keller’s Legacy Was Learning To Communicate Despite Her Disabilities
You know the story of Helen Keller, right? She was the blind and deaf girl who learned to read, write, and speak. She’s every history teacher’s darling because she overcame her disabilities. Too bad history class ignores Keller’s true and more valuable legacy. She was able to read, write, and speak by twenty years old, which is incredible and inspiring, but, she spent the next sixty-four years trying to make people understand the very specific needs of disabled people, which makes her one of the forefathers of equal opportunity and a radical socialist. That’s something that should be shared with students.
Her icon status is due in part to heroification, which is how history classes diminish people or erase the more controversial parts of their lives. Instead of providing classrooms with a true depiction of Keller, her entire life’s work is left out of textbooks because it doesn’t fit into the one-dimensional character they’d created to help encourage students.
11. Pocahontas Saved John Smith’s Life
The story of Pocahontas is simple. John Smith, heroic British adventurer, came to the new world and sought an amicable relationship with the Powhatan natives. The chief wanted him dead despite his good intentions. Brave Pocahontas threw herself in front of her father’s club, saving him from death. And, they all would have lived happily ever after if any of it were true.
Pocahontas wasn’t even her real name. It was Matoaka. Pocahontas is a nickname, which loosely means “spoiled” or “naughty.” And it’s highly unlikely she saved Smith’s life. She would have been 10 or 11 at the time, and Smith never even recorded the incident until 17 years later. Matoaka was taken prisoner by the British and, as a condition of her release, was forced to marry John Rolfe. (He’s the person you can thank for commercializing tobacco.) He brought her back to England, renamed her Rebecca, and they had a son.
Matoaka did not live long. She was 21 when she died on a boat. She didn’t even get to see her son grow up. The story of Pocahontas seems more like propaganda than the truth, but history teachers are still packaging it as the truth, which is terrible if you consider it promotes the rhetoric that Native Americans were savages who deserved the war and famine Euro-Americans wrought on them. The Powhatan Nation puts it this way, “Of all of Powhatan’s children, only ‘Pocahontas’ is known, primarily because she became the hero of Euro-Americans as the ‘good Indian,’ the one who saved the life of a white man.”
10. The My Lai Massacre Was An Isolated Incident
For whatever reason, history teachers tell their students that America lost the Vietnam War, but it shouldn’t really matter because it wasn’t really our war. If Vietnam is taught in schools at all, it’s glossed over with a sad irreverence because it’s not seen as relevant to US History or even world history. It didn’t gain anything, and human lives were all that was lost.
Most history textbooks don’t touch on the My Lai massacre, which was when American soldiers brutally murdered as many as 500 Vietnamese citizens, including women and children. If it’s mentioned at all, it’s painted as an isolated incident. Moreover, students are rarely told that the US Army attempted to cover-up the incident (and others just like it). Whistleblowers ensured the media found out, and this was fuel for the antiwar movement, which if properly taught would help students better understand the nuance and complexities of war.
Unfortunately, without a clear picture of the Vietnam War, kids are left with more questions than answers and little-to-no understanding of the antiwar movement. What could be used as an example of the failures of military and government, is swept under the rug almost as strategically as Vietnam War crimes.
9. Witches Were Burned At The Stake In Salem
The Salem Witch trials began after a handful of young girls reported (lied about) episodes of screaming and violent seizures. The village doctor, clearly a man of quality education, diagnosed the girls with black magic, which promoted massive arrests of witches and sorcerers (warlocks?). Hence where the term witch hunt comes from.
Some of the arrested parties were forced to perform in trials, such as the prayer test. The suspected witch would be asked to recite prayers as proof they were not witches. Any error was considered conclusive evidence of guilt, but so was a recitation without error. Passing trials was considered a devil’s trick. Basically, they were screwed either way. Most of the trials were like this: even if they passed, they failed. And, sometimes they died simply because the trial itself was too dangerous, such as the many accused who died during swimming trials.
It was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t period in time, but no one was damned to burn at the stake. Those found guilty of witchcraft were hanged. Giles Corey, an old man accused of sorcery, refused to enter a guilty or innocent plea. He was crushed with heavy stones, but everyone else hanged or died in jail awaiting trial.
8. Hitler Invented Concentration Camps
Is America to blame for Hitler’s copycat behavior? Absolutely not, but it’s sad that our terrible treatment of Native Americans inspired the holocaust and its subsequent concentration camps. Hitler studied American Indian reservations, and praised our method of starving natives or engaging in disproportionate battle (disproportionate because Euro-Americans had guns, and natives rarely had guns. Bullets beat arrows almost every time). He openly admired reservations, and rigorously studied them to ensure his own plans for genocide went accordingly.
If that’s not frightening enough, consider that the American eugenics movement greatly influenced Hitler’s attempt to create a Master Race. The Nazi youth march was duplicated from the Harvard University Crimson Fight Song, and Paul Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda creator, found his inspiration in Madison Avenue’s most effective advertisers.
7. World War I Was Fought To Defend Democracy
You probably learned that World War I was a somewhat heroic endeavor in defense of democracy. As you’ve probably guessed, this isn’t true. Sure, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany to make the world “safe for democracy,” but the truth is it was a war for resources, markets, and territories. At the time Germany was rising in power, including gaining a sort of market dominance in the Balkans. This didn’t sit well with France and Britain.
Britain and France were eager for war. They tried to intervene by saying France had naval obligations in Belgium, and when that didn’t work they made up a treaty obligation. In truth, there was no clear obligation, but that was never investigated. What is known is that Germans tried to guarantee Belgian integrity, but that didn’t stop the European war machine which was already churning.
Remember, WWI was called “the war to end all wars.” It earned that moniker because it destroyed Europe. Not only was there physical damage (collapsed buildings and destroyed landscape), there was terrible economic consequences. It was social and economic chaos. Perhaps if Germany didn’t enter such a terrible period of social unrest, massive unemployment, and widespread starvation, the population would not have fallen so easily to Hitler’s brainwashing.
6. America Was A Feral Wilderness When The Pilgrims Arrived
Pilgrims were surprised to find that American wilderness wasn’t so wild. Records from the time detail a tamed wilderness with natural trails for driving their carriages and that there were already formed garden plots. They don’t thank the Native Americans for this carved out paradise, and seem to have thought it was magic which tamed the forests…
In truth, Native Americans weren’t as primitive as your history book would like you to believe. Remember that when pilgrims arrived they had log houses and other structures that were well-formed architectural marvels. I doubt your history book details that pilgrims decided they wanted these cleared spaces for themselves, so they drove the natives out of their villages and took these structures for themselves; yet, without assistance from the natives they would not have survived.
Still not convinced that natives were thriving when Euro-Americans arrived? As early as 1250, natives had prosperous cities, including Cahokia. Historians believe Cahokia was where St. Louis is today, and it was bigger than London was at that time. The city was very sophisticated for the time period and included an urban center, central plazas surrounded by thatched-roof homes, and trade routes in every direction. Devine intervention had little to do with the trails and gardens the pilgrims came upon.
5. Irish Immigrants Were Slaves
The term “Irish slave” or “white slave” originated sometime in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was intended to humiliate Irish laborers because being equated to an actual slave, an African American, was horribly insulting. Slavery never ends, but an indentured servitude was a temporary position. Yes, most died before their servitude ended, but that doesn’t equate to being owned, as in actual slavery.
This isn’t to downplay the plight of Irish people in the colonies, but to call them slaves is a stretch. Slavery, as it was in the United States (from the original colonies until slavery was abolished), was hereditary chattel slavery, which is something Irish people did not have to suffer. And, most Irish people came here voluntarily.
Irish people were subjected to a number of human rights violations. They were kept in bondage, kept as indentured servants, and forced into involuntary labor. But, their children were never auctioned off as slaves, and they were allowed their families and degrees of body autonomy.
4. Everyone Thought The Titanic Was “Unsinkable”
No matter how many movies claim it to be true, the Titanic was never advertised as unsinkable. It simply didn’t happen. Richard Howells, from Kings College London, says it’s a retrospective myth. “If a man in his pride builds an unsinkable ship like Prometheus stealing the fire from the gods…it makes perfect mythical sense that God would be so angry at such an affront that he would sink the ship on its maiden outing.”
No one said the Titanic was unsinkable until sometime after it sank. History class packaged up a lot of Titanic lies, including that The Unsinkable Molly Brown was actually named Molly. She wasn’t. A musical based on her life changed her name to Molly. In reality, her name was Margaret Brown, and her friends called her Maggie. Most of what else is reported about her is true, such as that she demanded her lifeboat return to the wreckage and search for survivors.
3. Einstein Was Terrible In School And Failed Math
Einstein excelled in school, especially in mathematics. He was a mathematical child prodigy who at 15 years old mastered integral and differential calculus. So, you probably have little chance of developing Einstein-level skills unless you’re a prodigy too. If your hobbies are catching Pokémon on the weekends and not developing alternative Pythagorean theorem proofs, then you’re probably not an Einstein.
In high schools and colleges across the country, you can find motivational posters proclaiming Einstein’s educational struggles. One reads, “As a student, he was no Einstein. Confidence. Pass It On.” The point of this lesson is that problems can be solved the longer you stick with them. In essence, if you can work at your own genius; maybe, just maybe, you’ll turn out like Einstein…
When asked about this strange rumor, Einstein laughed. He said, “I never failed in mathematics.” He admitted that in primary school, he was “far above the school requirements” in mathematics, which put him at the very top of his class. He was never a failure, but he’s still pretty inspirational nonetheless.
2. Some Black People Fought For The Confederacy
This is a lie perpetuated beyond history class; many books depicting the time period talk about black soldiers fighting bravely for the south. Except they didn’t because who would fight for the very thing they dreamed to escape? They were slaves, so of course they had a presence on the battlefield, but there’s no evidence that they fought – even slaves could not be forced to fight on behalf of the south, and freed slaves certainly did not fight for the south.
People confuse slavery for fighting. They were forced to cook, clean, and labor. Just as they were forced to work in homes and in fields, they were slaves on the battlefields too. This is very different than fighting or taking up arms. What is taught suggests that black people willingly fought for the south, and this couldn’t be farther from the truth, and is the sort of dishonest sugar-coating that doesn’t belong in textbooks anywhere.
1. The First Thanksgiving Was A Bountiful Feast Shared With Natives
Thanksgiving is taught from kindergarten to middle school as a harvest festival that was celebrated by Native Americans and Pilgrims in 1621. Happy pilgrims and happy natives broke bread, and it was a peaceful and grateful time. This image of Thanksgiving is the single biggest piece of cultural propaganda to come out of a time period rife with patriotic myths.
The true Thanksgiving was nothing like the lie we perpetuate every year when we sit down at our tables to eat turkey and stuffing. We believe we’re celebrating a peaceful meal between culturally different people, but truthfully we’re celebrating the massacre of 700 Pequot Indians. In 1637, Massachusetts Colony Governor, John Winthrop, decried there should be a festival to honor the returning hunters, colonial volunteers, who had slaughtered native men, women, and children in Mystic, Connecticut. Winthrop called the celebration, “Thanksgiving.”
For Native Americans, they cannot so easily dismiss or whitewash the first Thanksgiving. They celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November too, but their day is not called Thanksgiving Day. It’s called Day of Mourning, and they gather to mourn the genocide of the Pequot people.