Many time-honored patriotic tales turn out to be more fiction than fact. On the 4th of July—marked in 2012 by a continent-spanning Google doodle—here’s a look at some memorable myths from the birth of the United States.
1. The Declaration of Independence Was Signed on July 4
Independence Day is celebrated two days too late. The Second Continental Congress voted for a Declaration of Independence on July 2, prompting John Adams to write his wife, “I am apt to believe that [July 2, 1776], will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
Adams correctly foresaw shows, games, sports, buns, bells, and bonfires—but he got the date wrong. The written document wasn’t edited and approved until the Fourth of July, and that was the date printers affixed to “broadside” announcements sent out across the land. July 2 was soon forgotten.
(Related: “U.S. Independence Celebrated on the Wrong Day?”)
In fact, no one actually signed the Declaration of Independence at any time during July 1776. Signing began on August 2, with John Hancock’s famously bold scribble, and wasn’t completed until late November.
(Related: “Fourth of July: Sun Farthest From Earth Today—So Why So Hot?”)
2. Paul Revere Rode Solo
Patriot Paul Revere really did hit the road on the night of April 18, 1775, to alert the countryside that British troops were on the move. But the image of an inspired, lone rider isn’t accurate. Revere was part of a low-tech—but highly effective—early-warning system.
The system did include lanterns at Boston’s Old North Church, from whose steeple the church sexton, Robert Newman, held two lanterns as a signal that the British were coming. However Revere wasn’t watching for them that night.
Revere and fellow rider William Dawes, who was sent by a different route, successfully reached Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that they’d likely be arrested. But Revere and Dawes were captured by the British with third rider Samuel Prescott soon afterward.
The liberties later taken with the Revere legend weren’t mistakes but deliberate mythmaking by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who intended his famous 19th-century poem to stoke patriotism on the eve of the Civil War. The ride’s real story is told at Paul Revere House, the Boston museum where Revere once lived and from which he left on that fateful night.
Brian Handwerk – National Geographic News