We like to think of mythology as stories that are neatly in the past, but that’s just not true. Mythology is happening now. It’s actively being created and perpetuated in this moment. And nothing quite brings that out as much as holidays. So here are a few fun myths about the Fourth of July.
1) It’s the day the U.S.A became a nation. John Adams would disagree with you. Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Britain on July 2, 1776, when it approved a resolution and delegates from New York were given permission to make it a unanimous vote. It took two more days to draft the paperwork, and several weeks for the news to spread to all of the colonies and for all the signatures to be collected (a good chunk of the names were signed August 2nd.).
2) The Liberty Bell Rang in Independence. No, it really didn’t. That’s also not when the bell cracked. That story we all grew up with was just that, a children’s story written in the 19th century. The bell wasn’t even a major symbol for America or freedom until the abolitionist movement.
3) No one actually knows who sewed the first flag. Betsy Ross’s descendants claimed she did in the 19th century but there’s literally no proof to substantiate that. We do know that she never lived in the Betsy Ross house and that the design for the flag was not her making, but Frances Hopkinson’s.
4) The entire story behind the writing of the national anthem is a myth. Frances Scott Key was not a prisoner sitting in a lonely cell watching the American Flag get lit up by the rockets red glare. He was on an American truce ship engaging in negotiations with the British over a prisoner. Granted, there were British guards making sure his ship didn’t sale away and reveal any strategies they may have overheard. He did see the flag though, in the morning, through a spy glass.
5) If it wasn’t for the French, we wouldn’t have won. Like, at all. They weren’t late in the game and unhelpful. Our history books LOVE to downplay the French influence in the war. They provided 90% of our firepower. 90%. That’s not a small or unhelpful amount. It wasn’t our amazing guerrilla war tactics that won the war either, sorry Mel Gibson. Native Americans by and large sided with the British. They had the guerrilla warfare thing down. Also, since the patriots were actually the minority of the colony, even if you wanted to believe the British and the Native Americans weren’t familiar with Guerrilla warfare, over half of the country were loyalists and would have had the same experience fighting the patriots did.
Mythology is as active in our culture as it ever was for the Greeks. And we have just as hard of a time separating fact from fiction as our ancient counterparts.