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Historical Myths Debunked

As family historians, our goal is to root out any false traditions or tall tales from our family trees. Although oral traditions and family legends can help lead us to factual events, they should always be verified before they are accepted as accurate. Likewise, there are also many misleading and erroneous historical accounts. For this article, let's get to the bottom of these stories. But remember, every legend contains a kernel of truth.

John Smith and Pocahontas. Retold in elementary-school classrooms and immortalized in an animated Walt Disney film, the actual interaction of John Smith and Pocahontas was not at all the glamorous love story it is sometimes made out to be. For one thing, Pocahontas was only ten years old when she saved Smith's life, according to his account. But even that may not be accurate. John Smith's earliest account of his encounter with Pocahontas dates 1616, almost ten years after the supposed event. Many historians argue that John Smith's accounts of his adventures in Virginia were embellished to exaggerate his own heroic escapades, so we may never know.

Paul Revere and William Dawes. Paul Revere was the rider immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1861 poem. But on the night of 18 April 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren actually sent two riders to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were marching from Boston to Lexington. Paul Revere and William Dawes both made the ride from Boston, and along the way they were joined by Samuel Prescott, a local physician. Two lanterns were hung in the steeple of the Old North Church to transmit the message in case Revere and Dawes were captured.

Ferdinand Magellan. Although Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan is commonly credited with being the first man to circumnavigate the globe, he was actually killed by natives in the Philippines. It was his second-in-command, Juan Sebastian Elcano, and the surviving crew, who made it all the way around the world.

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