|The Breed's Hill Gazette September 2009|
By Dan Shippey & Michael Burns
Ten Persistent Myths About the American Revolution
Frustrated historians often claim that the average American knows almost nothing about the Revolutionary War--and that most of what they do know is wrong. There are so many misconceptions, inaccurate quotes, and downright lies told about the American Revolution that it is hard for those who study the period to share their knowledge with the average person. There’s a fine line between sharing what you know and telling someone they are wrong. Funny thing, people don’t like to be told they are wrong. During the last election and inauguration I kept finding my jaw on the floor as newscasters stated “facts” that I knew were wrong to millions of unsuspecting viewers. Not one of my helpful e-mails to various news departments got a response or a correction.
So, here is our unscientific list of the top 10 myths that we run into here at Breed’s Hill Institute, along with the truth. Be warned, however; the next time you hear someone spouting one of these in public, it is not wise to blurt out “That’s wrong!” This is especially true if the speaker is a teacher, a tour guide, or physically larger than you.
People died younger back then.
Q: How can
statistics lie? A: Easily. Today, with modern medicine, we do have
greater a life expectancy and survival rate when ill.
Still, that does not mean that a 40-year-old living in 1775 was
considered an old man. The problem arises from averaging out ages.
This is an easily understood
and fairly harmless misconception. Congress voted for
believed to be poisonous in 18th century
Most people in
Paul Revere yelled “The British Are Coming!” during his famous midnight ride.
The leading cause of death for women was childbirth or burns.
Women did die during childbirth at a higher rate than do 21st century women, but the leading cause of death for men and women in Revolutionary America was disease. Stories of women’s dresses catching on fire were so horrific as to be much talked about, but the number of recorded cases was never high.
People bit off the ends of clay pipes to avoid germs when they passed the pipe around.
Ahhh, but they didn’t
know about germs yet in the 1700’s. In fact, most 18th
century hygiene is a bit scary by today’s standards. Clay pipes had
long stems because they kept the heat away from the face. Most old
clay pipe stems are excavated broken because they were fragile.
Pipes, like most things in colonial
A closet tax existed in the American colonies.
I have no idea
where this myth started, but I have heard it repeated many times.
The story goes that a closet was counted as another room and
increased the tax on your house. In truth there are no records of
regulations or taxes placed on closets in colonial
Doctors used leeches to bleed patients.
Doctors did use
leeches, but not for any major bleeding. The 18th century
doctor believed that the body held about 12 pints of blood (it only
holds 8-10 pints). Dr. Benjamin Rush believed you could bleed a
patient of 6-8 pints over a few days. For that kind of bleeding you
are going to have to open a vein. A leech drinks less than a
teaspoon of blood (There’s a fact that doesn’t come up everyday).
Leeches were used as cure alls for anything from fevers to facial
discoloration but not for bleeding.
Leeches were used as cure alls for anything from fevers to facial discoloration but not for bleeding.
Americans won the war by using guerilla tactics.
There were some
battles fought in the Revolution that used non-traditional, Native
American style, or guerilla tactics, but they were not the norm and
not decisive battles. The war was won when the American army learned
to fight like a European army, learned to pick its battles, and got
some major assistance from the French. That is all very simplified
because the war lasted eight years and
The Revolution was fought over high taxes.
The tax rate was
OK, that’s 10.
But before we go I’d just like to say…George Washington did not have
wooden teeth, he was not the richest man in
Pictures can lie
For past articles, click HERE