13 Historical "Facts" You Thought You Knew

Created on Sep 15, 2016 by Kathy Pinna

The truth about Daniel Boone's hat, a Vice Presidential candidate who pardoned a witch, living descendants of a pre-Civil War President, the last Civil War widow died in 2003. . . what we consider as historical facts often isn't true.

Which of the following did you know and what surprises you? Did you know that toilets that flush date back to the 26th century BCE, but pre-sliced bread is less than a hundred years old?

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What we thought we knew about history... moment please

General Grant owned slaves, General Lee did not

General Grant inherited one slave, who he freed. His wife owned 4 slaves.

When the American Civil War started, Confederate General Robert E. Lee owned no slaves. Union General U.S. Grant (and future President) did. Sort of. The dates are confused but both men had inherited slaves through their wives and continued to own them through various times of the Civil War.

General Robert E. Lee did own his father-in-law's slaves until 1862 when they were emancipated per his father-in-law's will.

1840's President John Tyler has 2 living grandsons

Our 10th President (1841–45), John Tyler, has 2 living grandsons as of 2016 (both were born in the 1920's) . He had a son at age 63 and that son had his sons in his 70's. That is one fertile family!


Daniel Boone never wore a coonskin cap

Not only did Daniel not wear a coonskin cap, he detested them according to his son, Nathan. Instead, Boone wore a felt cap. But the image of Daniel Boone in a coonskin cap persists.

Pre-sliced bread is not even 100 years old

Otto Rohwedder invented pre-sliced bread in 1927. He made the first machine to slice and wrap bread and won a patent for the process. After only six years, more sliced bread was sold than unsliced. Flushing toilets were first used in the Indus Valley Civilization around the 26th century BCE but it took a few millennia more to think of pre-sliced bread!

The Last Civil War widow died in 2003

The last widow of a (Union) Civil War veteran died in 2003. Her name was Gertrude Grubb and she married John Janeway in 1927, when she was 18 and he was 81. She received a $70 pension check every two months until her death in 2003.

One woman stopped the Equal Rights Amendment

Phyllis Schlafly campaigned against equal rights for women and won.

By 1973, only thirty states had ratified the ERA - the amendment needed 8 more states for ratification. One woman, Phyllis Schlafly, organized a campaign to defeat it. She said that it would repeal such protections as alimony, exclusion of women from the draft, and mothers getting preferential child custody. While five additional states eventually ratified the amendment, Schlafly’s campaign was successful in three more states not taking action. Women still do not have equal protection under the law.


Over 200 women have run for President

Bella Abzug

While Hillary Clinton is the first woman to be nominated for President by a major Party, over 200 women have run for President in the past. From Victoria Woodhull in 1872 (almost 50 years before women could even vote) to the Green Party's Jill Stein this year - women haven't given up!

Shirley Chisholm made a 1972 run for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Napoleon Bonaparte wasn't a short man

Napoleon was taller than the average Frenchman of his time. His height was 5' 2" in "French feet" - which in English measures 5' 7". It may be that the imperial guard, who were selected for their above average height, contributed to the perception that he was short. So much for the "short man complex"!

Immigrants' names weren't changed at Ellis Island

Officials at Ellis Island kept no records - they only checked ship manifests created at the point of origin. There was simply no paperwork which would have created changes in names. At this time in New York, however, anyone could change the spelling of their name simply by using the new spelling.

Orson Wells didn't panic the nation

Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds didn't cause widespread panic. Only a very small share of the radio audience was even listening to the show. Isolated reports of scattered incidents and increased call volume to emergency services were played up the next day by newspapers that were eager to discredit radio as a competitor for advertising. Both Welles and CBS, which had initially reacted apologetically, later came to realize that the myth benefited them and actively embraced it in later years.

Albert Einstein didn't flunk math

Einstein never flunked a math exam in school. When he saw this claim, he said: "I never failed in mathematics... Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus" He did fail his first exam for Swiss Federal Polytechnic School (in 1895) but he was two years younger than other students (he did well in math and science). He passed on his second try.


Governor pardons witch after 300 years

Grace White Sherwood was convicted of witchcraft in 1706, essentially because her husband died and she worked their farm alone (she never remarried). She also wore britches (her husband's pants) while working. She was thrown (tied up and hooded) into a nearby river and survived the ordeal. She was then sentenced to prison, from which she was released 8 years later. She lived alone until her death at age 80.

On July 10, 2006, 300 years after her trial, Virginia governor Timothy Kaine (current Vice-presidential candidate) pardoned her.

"Xmas" is a Christian term

"Xmas" did not originate as a secular plan to "take the Christ out of Christmas". X stands for the Greek letter chi, the starting letter of Χριστός (Christos), or "Christ" in Greek.The use of the word "Xmas" in English can be traced to the year 1021 when monks in Great Britain used the "X" while transcribing manuscripts into Old English.

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