15 Historical Facts Americans Get Wrong

If you think you’ve got American history all figured out, you are in for a surprise. It turns out that a lot of the “facts” we learned in school or from pop culture aren’t quite as factual as we thought.

From the Pilgrims’ fashion choices to what really went down during the Boston Tea Party, I’m about to set the record straight on some of America’s most misunderstood historical moments.

Pilgrims’ Clothing

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Contrary to popular belief, Pilgrims didn’t wear all black with big buckles on their hats and shoes. That image comes from much later, around the 19th century. In reality, Pilgrims wore colorful clothing, typical of the early 17th century. They only wore their best black clothes on Sundays and for special occasions. The buckles weren’t even in fashion during their time!

Independence Day

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July 4th isn’t actually when the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776. The document was officially adopted on July 4th, but most signatures came in August. John Adams thought July 2nd would be the day Americans celebrated independence.

Paul Revere’s Ride

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Paul Revere never shouted, “The British are coming!” This would have been weird because most colonists still considered themselves British. He actually said something like, “The Regulars are coming out.” Also, Revere was one of many riders that night, not the sole hero.

Salem Witch Trials

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No one was burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials. Most of the accused were hanged, and one man was stoned to death with heavy stones. The burning of witches was more common in Europe. Hollywood movies have given us the wrong idea about how the Salem trials ended.

Christopher Columbus

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Columbus didn’t prove the Earth was round. Most educated people in his time already knew this. He also didn’t discover America first – indigenous people had been living there for thousands of years. Vikings had also reached North America centuries before Columbus. He never even set foot on what’s now the continental United States.

Abraham Lincoln and Slavery

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Abraham Lincoln didn’t free all the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. This only applied to slaves in Confederate states, which were rebelling. It didn’t free slaves in Union states or Confederate areas under Union control. Slavery wasn’t completely abolished in the U.S. until the 13th Amendment in 1865.

War of 1812

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The War of 1812 wasn’t just an American victory. The British burned down the White House and much of Washington, D.C. The U.S. tried to invade Canada and failed. The war ended in a stalemate, with both sides agreeing to return to how things were before the war.

First Thanksgiving

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The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a big, planned celebration. It was likely a three-day harvest festival, common in both English and Wampanoag traditions. Turkey probably wasn’t the main dish—the Pilgrims likely ate deer, fish, and wildfowl. The Pilgrims didn’t even call it “Thanksgiving” at the time.

Boston Tea Party

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The Boston Tea Party wasn’t just about taxes. The tea being dumped was actually cheaper than before, even with the tax. Colonists were angry because the British East India Company was given a monopoly on tea sales. Many of the “rebels” were actually tea smugglers protecting their business.

Revolutionary War Support

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Not all Americans supported the Revolutionary War. About 15-20% of colonists were loyal to Britain. Another third were neutral or didn’t care. Only about a third of colonists actively supported the revolution. It was more like a civil war than a united fight against Britain.

Betsy Ross and the Flag

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There’s no solid evidence that Betsy Ross designed the first American flag. This story only became popular about 100 years after the Revolutionary War. While Ross was a real person who made flags, her grandson was the one who spread the story of her designing the first stars and stripes.

Cowboys and the Wild West

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The “Wild West” wasn’t as wild as movies make it seem. Most cowboys didn’t constantly get in gunfights. Many were Hispanic or Black, not just white guys. Their work was mostly boring, involving long cattle drives. The famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral only lasted about 30 seconds!

Edison and the Light Bulb

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Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. He improved upon existing designs to make a more practical and longer-lasting bulb. Many other inventors had created working light bulbs before Edison. His real genius was in developing a whole system for electric lighting, including power distribution.

The New Deal and the Great Depression

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FDR’s New Deal didn’t end the Great Depression. While it helped many people and created important programs, the Depression didn’t really end until World War II. The war created jobs and boosted the economy in ways the New Deal couldn’t. Some historians argue that specific New Deal policies may have even prolonged the Depression.

First Moon Landing

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While Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon, he wasn’t alone. Buzz Aldrin joined him on the lunar surface about 20 minutes later. Many people forget about Aldrin or think he stayed in the spacecraft. Also, Armstrong’s famous quote had a small mistake—he meant to say, “One small step for a man.”

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Mary Apurong

Mary Apurong is an experienced editor and ghostwriter who enjoys writing and reading. She loves researching topics related to life and creating content on quotes, gardening, food, travel, crafts, and DIY. Mary spends her free time doing digital art and watching documentaries.

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