Lesser Known Heroes in American History

Statue of Sybil Luddington, the brave girl that outrode Paul Revere!

American history is filled with heroes. From George Washington to Harriet Tubman, millions of children are taught about the brave people who make America what it is today. However, what the history textbooks don’t mention are hundreds, even thousands, of brave Americans who contributed to various events and fields over the years. Sadly, there’s a reason most of these people didn’t make it into most history books, and that’s because they’re simply a person of color, a woman, or both. History has a way of only focusing on the white men who “built” this country but fail to address the contributions many minorities and women have made. These people need to be more acknowledged, as they all played major parts in American history, but somehow almost no one knows about them. It’s time to bring these people to light. Here are just a few:

  1. Frank Wills

Frank Wills was a security guard who worked at the Watergate hotel in Washington D.C. One night, he noticed a piece of tape on the lock of an exterior door and removed it, as it was his job to do so. When he came back later, the tape was back, so he called the police, who discovered the first evidence of what would become the greatest political scandal of the modern age- the Watergate scandal. For a short time, Wills was a celebrity, but soon found he couldn’t effectively capitalize on that renown, and no one would even hire him as a security guard for fear of repercussions. Without the work of Frank Wills, the Watergate scandal might have never been exposed to the public, and Nixon wouldn’t have been discovered. It was because of Wills that that major event in history occurred.

2. Charles Deslondes

Charles Deslondes’ attempt to seize the city of New Orleans in early 1811 is just as incredible as Nat Turner’s famous slave rebellion. Deslondes, a slave, planned for years- had a political goal and an organized force. His goal was a highly orchestrated attempt with a realistic goal but was eventually defeated by superior firepower and greater numbers. Deslondes was brutally tortured and executed and his followers massacred. Many speculate the uprising is obscured in history books because the idea of organized slaves with sophisticated ideas about freedom and independence didn’t fit the historical trend.

3. Sybil Luddington

Sybil was 16 years old when she rode 40 miles on horseback in April 1777 to warn her father’s troops about a British attack on Danbury, Connecticut. A messenger brought news of the attack to Sybil’s father, Colonel Henry Luddington- started calling his troops together, but it was late at night and they were scattered across town. The messenger was worn out, so the colonel had Sybil to spread the word to his men. She traveled through rainy woods and over rugged roads until near dawn, and even outrode Paul Revere in his famous Midnight Ride! By then, most of the regiment had made it to the Luddington home. The British burned Danbury before the colonel’s men got there, but his troops still fought bravely. Later on, George Washington himself praised Sybil’s heroism for her role in the war.

4. Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a physical chemist and pioneering x-ray crystallographer. Using x-ray crystallography, she discovered what the structure of DNA looks like. In biology textbooks, Francis Crick and James Watson get most of the credit for his discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. However, this discovery wouldn’t have happened without Franklin

Her picture was taken without permission and stolen by another scientist, Maurice Wilkins, and shown to Watson, who decided to use it in his research. In 1958 Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize without any mention of or thanks to Franklin. Today, Franklin is being acknowledged more as the original discoverer of the double helix, however, the Nobel Peace Prize that is in Watson and Crick’s name should belong to Franklin.

5. Deborah Sampson

Deborah Sampson became a hero of the American Revolution when she disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary army. In 1782, Sampson disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff and joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. At West Point, New York, she was assigned to Captain George Webb’s Company of Light Infantry. She was given the dangerous task of scouting neutral territory to assess British buildup of men and materiel in Manhattan, which General George Washington contemplated attacking. For over two years, Sampson’s true gender had escaped detection despite close calls. When she received a gash in her forehead from a sword and was shot in her left thigh, she extracted the pistol ball herself. She was ultimately discovered in Philadelphia, when she became ill during an epidemic, was taken to a hospital, and lost consciousness. Receiving an honorable discharge on October 23, 1783, Sampson returned to Massachusetts.

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Amy Zhang

Injustice from the eyes of a high schooler. Activist. Lover of history. Here to educate and inspire.