We all have at least one person from our past that we remember incorrectly. Maybe you pictured your bully about 50 pounds heavier than he was, or your favorite teacher with 10 percent fewer chin hairs. Your seventh grade girlfriend didn't really have double-Ds in retrospect, did she?
Well, history is like that. As a culture, we get a picture in our head and it sticks, no matter how wrong it is. For example ...
5 The Signing of the Declaration of Independence Wasn't an Event
If you're wondering why Americans set off all of those fireworks on the Fourth of July every year, it's not because they want to upset their dogs -- it is, of course, the day the American Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. John Trumbull's iconic portrait of the event is pretty much how we picture the signing: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams are presenting John Hancock with the document, everyone else is waiting around for their turn to sign their names on the dotted line and start independencing.
Instead of his last name, Hancock was originally just going to draw
a hand holding a giant dong, but Franklin convinced him otherwise.
How else could the signing of the Declaration of Independence have possibly looked? It's not like we'd expect them to sign with their feet.
How We Got It Wrong:
Let's start with the date. No one signed jack on the Fourth of July. The committee that wrote the document presented it to Congress on June 28, at which point the Congress put it aside while they spent a few days debating if they had the guts to break off with England. It wasn't until July 2 that Congress came to a consensus and voted for independence. Then Congress spent a few days editing what was actually no more than the press release of the event, the Declaration of Independence. It just so happened that the final (unsigned) product wasn't ready for publication until the 4th, but by then Americans already considered themselves not-English for two straight days. The Declaration was like the wedding announcement published in the local newspaper a week after the actual ceremony. Or better yet, the divorce announcement, if people were tacky enough to publish those.
"We hardly talk anymore, and when we do, it's like there's an ocean between us."
As for the actual signing of the document, it took months. Historians argue that all 56 signers were never in the same room at once, and some of the representatives on the document hadn't even been elected by July 4. It wasn't until an August 2 session that John Hancock got the ball rolling with his signature, and other congressmen followed suit in the very tiny space that was left. But that process wasn't a one-day event either -- signers were still laying down their John Hancocks up until freaking November.
So what we're saying is that American employers should give everyone those five months off.
20th Century Fox
We'll admit that "Our Independence Trimester!" doesn't hold the same weight.
4 Manhattan Wasn't Purchased for $24 Worth of Beads
Among the many terrible atrocities white people have been accused of committing is what has to be the world's biggest real estate swindle. The story goes that in 1626, the Dutch pulled a fast one on American Indians living in Manhattan by offering them $24 in dinky beads for the whole shebang.
Fast forward a few centuries and that island is the most valuable real estate on planet Earth, and the natives don't get a penny of the profits. Poor, bamboozled Indians.
Karl Ferdinand Wimar
"Man, fuck this. Next time we're asking for stuff we can actually use ... like blankets."
How We Got It Wrong:
The traditional version of the Manhattan purchase is like a juicy piece of gossip missing the key facts, so we filled them in with tropes that we're familiar with. Let's say you see a slutty neighbor creeping around with a married man (or woman). The quickest conclusion you or any other reasonable person would come to is that the two are boinking. You don't need to see actual semen to get to that assumption, you just put two and two together.
It's kind of the same thing with the purchase of Manhattan. Let's start at the beginning. We know that the Dutch settlers were instructed to pay for the land they settled, not just take it by force. So kudos for that, we guess. But there was a glitch. Like 99 percent of the people you meet in Manhattan today, the Canarsie Indians didn't actually live there. They were borough Indians who shared Manhattan as hunting grounds with other tribes. When the Dutch and the Indians made their exchange, the natives probably thought they were letting a new group join their hunting grounds, and maybe they'd even strike up a future strategic alliance.
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
They were basically like the shittiest Survivor contestant ever.
As for the exchange itself, we have no reason to think beads were involved at all. The only evidence we have from the purchase is one single letter written by a Dutch merchant to the West India Company mentioning buying the land for the value of 60 guilders. That could have meant 60 literal pieces of Dutch currency or goods valued at 60 guilders. A later trade between similar parties included kettles, ax heads, duffel cloth, hoes, drilling awls, and, yes, beads -- all of which were considered a "high end technology transfer."
"Hey, man, when you said they gave us a bunch of hoes, this isn't what I had in mind."
Two hundred and twenty years later, a New York historian took that original price of 60 guilders and converted it to $24. And for some reason, that's the number that stuck all these years. Dutch historians claim the equivalent is more like $1,000. It was still a bum deal, of course, but no one thought they were getting the short end of the stick at the time.