(StatePoint) If you think your history lessons in school were completely factual, you may be mistaken.
“Much of what you know about history may be limited or even wrong,” says Marc Wilson, author of “Kidnapped by Columbus,” a new historical novel. “All too often, legends, poems and myths are emphasized in favor of more complex truths. History is usually written by the victors, not the victims.”
What that in mind, here are four historical facts that may surprise you.
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue,” says the famous poem that most Americans know. But Columbus never landed on or even saw North America, and when he sailed in the Caribbean and along the coast of Central and South America, he kidnapped natives to act as guides in his search for gold and the Garden of Eden.
At the end of his first voyage, he kidnapped six natives from the island of Hispaniola and took the “Indians” to Spain to prove that he’d reached India. Native Americans have been mislabeled as “Indians” ever since.
“While many around the world hail Columbus as a hero, even honoring him with a U.S. federal holiday and naming cities after him, his actions led to the exploitation and deaths of millions of people. He was a great sailor and explorer, but he traded in slaves and brought devastating diseases to the New World. He opened the door for Cortez to conquer the Aztec Empire, and for Pizarro to conquer the Inca Empire,” Mr. Wilson adds.
Washington’s Cherry Tree
As the myth goes, young George Washington couldn’t tell a lie and confessed to his father that he damaged his cherry tree. However, one of his biographers, Mason Locke Weems, had no such problems with the truth and invented this whopper in the fifth edition of his Washington biography, entitled “The Life of Washington” in 1806.
And Washington never wore wooden dentures, either. He had different dentures made from gold, ivory and even lead.
Napoleon: Not Short
Napoleon wasn’t actually short. At the end of his life he was measured at 5 feet 2 inches — which sounds short until you learn this was in French inches, which are longer than British inches. In today’s inches, the fiery tyrant actually stood around 5 feet, 7 inches, which was slightly taller than the average European man of his day. He also employed tall soldiers in his personal guard, which made him seem shorter by comparison.
Jackie Robinson: Not First
Jackie Robinson was not the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues. While he was the first in the modern era, breaking into the National League in 1947, way back in 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings as catcher. The team was part of the American Association, one of three major leagues of its day. Baseball maintained segregation for many decades after this and Robinson became the first player to end this segregation in April, 1947.
So, how can those interested in history go about arriving at the truth? From, historical novels to primary source materials, reading beyond the textbook can give you a more complete and accurate history.