7 Untrue Historical “Facts”

The Mayflower Brought Over The First English Colonists and Six Other Untrue Historical Facts

The first English settlement in 1607 by George Popham, Fort George. (photo from the archive Simancas Spain – courtesy Maine’s First Ship)

On the internet you can absorb a lot of “facts” that are completely inaccurate. A skeptical reader should ask where is the information coming from? What is the source?

Unfortunately many mistaken or untrue beliefs, facts and quotations were originally put down in printed books. Sometimes there was shoddy research involved, other times hearsay was used as evidence and other times outright fabrications were entered as fact. Over time, some false facts have been repeated to the point where they become sources of truth.

That is why if you take the time you can discover some entertaining books out there that delve into history and provide context to factual events. These are books written not to provide revisionist history, but corrected history based upon thorough research end evidence.

Tom Burnham’s The Dictionary of Misinformation (1975) Thomas Y. Crowell Company is just such a book.

Burnham researched hundreds of stories, quotations and facts to compile a “dictionary” of reference, rumination and pure delight based upon “misinformation, misbelief, misconstruction and misquotation.”

Here are seven untrue historical facts that we found interesting:

Henry Ford created and introduced the assembly line in automobile factories
In 1902, Ransom E. Olds of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company produced 2,500 cars using an assembly line method. Wooden platforms on casters passed between lines of workmen who added parts until the car was completed. The previous year Olds built just over 400 cars.

Henry Ford improved upon the idea using a conveyor belt system, which brought various parts to the production line. Ford’s innovation cut the time to produce a Model T down from a day and a half to 93 minutes.

The First English colonists ventured to New England in 1620 aboard the Mayflower- 
In 1607, under the leadership of George Popham, 120 persons established a colony at what is now the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine. The colonists built a fort, houses, a stockade, and a storehouse.

Harsh circumstances abounded: an alliance with local Indians soon fell apart.  An Indian attack on the colonists caused thirteen deaths.  The site of the small settlement was exposed to brutal winter winds and a particularly severe early winter set in, resulting in food supplies giving out.

The colony’s sponsor in England passed away, and George Popham died on February 5, 1608. When a supply ship finally arrived the following June, the remaining colonists abandoned the settlement and returned to England.

Revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale’s dying words were:  “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” –
School teacher Nathan Hale was hung by the British in New York City for being a spy on September 22, 1776. American General William Hull claimed to have heard about Hale’s last words from a British soldier who witnessed the hanging. Hull’s daughter immortalized Hale’s words in 1848 when she published her father’s memoirs.

But an eyewitness account from British officer Frederick Mackensie, is what we might call on the spot reporting. Mackensie wrote the following in his diary:

“He (Hale) behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.”

Condemned men freed as a result of mechanical failure –
Although it is believed by many that if a gas chamber or lethal injection fail to carry out their designed task or a rope break during a hanging, that the prisoner must go free because he cannot twice be put in jeopardy for the same offense, it is simply not true.

This is a confusion between the trial and the sentence. Under the Constitution, a man cannot be tried twice for the same offense. However once he has been convicted and sentenced, the sentence must be carried out even if their was a failure at an earlier attempt.

BVD underwear brand stand for “Baby’s Ventilated Diapers” or “Boys’ Ventilated Drawers” –
As much as an acronym for BVD underwear might make sense, BVD is named after the three organizers of the company; Bradley, Voorheis and Day.

Mrs. O’Leary’s cow started the great Chicago fire of 1871 –
A fire that lasted from October 8 – October 10, 1871, destroying much of the city of Chicago, had to have a starting point. The blame was put on a Mrs. Catherine O’Leary who was milking a cow in her barn at 173 DeKoven Street, (near or where the fire did actually break out) when the cow allegedly kicked over a lantern setting off the great conflagration. In truth Mrs. O’Leary was in bed at the time having milked the cow  some time earlier. A reporter for the Chicago Republican newspaper named Michael Ahern admitted years later that he made up the O’Leary story to add color to his account of the fire.

The signing of the Magna Carta –
The event which so many hail as the first step to English democracy did not take place. The Magna Carta was not signed; it is even a matter of considerable doubt whether King John could write. It was, however, sealed.

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