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America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation

November 1st, 2010

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Book Overview:

Kenneth C. Davis, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller Don't Know Much About History, presents a collection of extraordinary stories, each detailing an overlooked episode that shaped the nation's destiny and character. Davis's dramatic narratives set the record straight, busting myths and bringing to light little-known but fascinating facts from a time when the nation's fate hung in the balance. Spanning a period from the Spanish arrival in America to George Washington's inauguration in 1789, America's Hidden History is an iconoclastic look at America's past, connecting some of the dots between history and today's headlines, and proving why Davis is truly America's teacher. Find out: Which Pilgrims arrived in Florida fifty years before the Mayflower sailed. What Supreme Court Justice went to prison. What traitor is honored with a statue for his bravery. Which fighting woman in colonial New England scalped her Indian captors.

Book Review

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out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12796 user reviews
History Books Kenneth C. Davis, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller Don't Know Much About History, presents a collection of extraordinary stories, each detailing an overlooked episode that shaped the nation's destiny and character. Davis's dramatic narratives set the record straight, busting myths and bringing to light little-known but fascinating facts from a time when the nation's fate hung in the balance. Spanning a period from the Spanish arrival in America to George Washington's inauguration in 1789, America's Hidden History is an iconoclastic look at America's past, connecting some of the dots between history and today's headlines, and proving why Davis is truly America's teacher. Find out: Which Pilgrims arrived in Florida fifty years before the Mayflower sailed. What Supreme Court Justice went to prison. What traitor is honored with a statue for his bravery. Which fighting woman in colonial New England scalped her Indian captors.
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  1. Gaylene J. Cranford
    November 3rd, 2010 at 05:16 | #1


    I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but what I’ve read so far astounds me. Sounds like we’ve been missing a lot of history in our watered down versions we brainwash our children with. I don’t know if this guy is really writing the truth, but if he is we should update our history books for schools. Why shouldn’t our children learn the truth, these people are all dead anyway.

  2. Acute Observer
    November 4th, 2010 at 21:26 | #2


    America’s Hidden History, Kenneth C. Davis

    Kenneth C. Davis is the author of the “Don’t Know Much About …” series of books. The six chapters in this book present little-known historical incidents, mostly from the 18th century. Most people get their knowledge from Hollywood entertainment. History textbooks provide simplified versions that meet the needs of school boards. Some books attempt to correct the errors in textbooks but usually have their own mistakes. These stories will entertain and educate you. You may consider reading some of the books in the `Bibliography’. Davis put his opinions in these stories (a distraction to me). Eliminating his opinions would have allowed another chapter for stories from the 18th century. The story about Shays is the best; “Hannah’s Escape” explains the attitudes of the settlers towards the warring Indians.

    “Isabella’s Pigs” refers to the livestock carried by the Spanish explorers in the 16th century. ["Two Years Before the Mast" told how it was done in the 19th century.] Davis wonders if these pigs carried diseases as well. [Don't most family farms today also contain pigs and chickens?] Davis doesn’t explain why Spain took the lead in colonizing America in the 16th century.

    “Hannah’s Escape” tells about life in the 17th century when settlers faced recurring attacks from Indians, whose life involved constant warfare among tribes. [Page 45 has a comment on the word "Salvages", as if he didn't know this came from the Spanish.] The Puritans increased and multiplied at an astounding rate (p.67). The corporate media will never tell you about the Pequot War (pp.70-72) or King Philip’s War (pp.73-76).

    “Washington’s Confession” begins in May 1754 when a young George Washington attacked French soldiers in the Pennsylvania woods (p.87). Did Washington join the Freemasons for political advantages (p.101)? The English (and Virginian) troops were defeated at Fort Necessity (p.110), and released on parole. In 1755 Washington was part of the defeated army that went to attack Fort Duquesne (p.113). Some of his captured soldiers were tortured to death. These experiences were part of Washington’s education (p.115). He married a rich widow and gained higher status (p.117).

    “Warren’s Toga” tells about Dr. Joseph Warren, a leader of the patriots. Victory in the French and Indian War was followed by restrictive laws and higher taxes (pp.132-133). The oppression resulted in rebellion (p.137). Infectious diseases like smallpox were spreading (p.138). [Poor nutrition due to oppressive taxes?] Warren’s death at Bunker Hill ended his promising career as a Revolutionary leader (p.156).

    “Arnold’s Boot” begins with the capture of the important Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, the water route between Canada and New York. The Quebec Act was considered a betrayal of Protestantism (p.190). America tried to enlist Canada on the American side (p.194). French support of the Revolution was critical (p.196). When the attempt to betray West Point failed Benedict Arnold defected to the British (p.199), and commanded the “American Legion” to attack Richmond Virginia and New London Connecticut.

    “Lafayette’s Sword” was awarded to Captain Daniel Shays after the victory at Saratoga. Ordinary people were oppressed by a devalued currency (p.216) and new regressive taxes (p.217). [Like today?] They wanted to take their country back from the merchants and bankers (p.218). Shays’ Rebellion led to the US Constitution (p.225). James Madison prepared a outline (p.226). Some wanted a Bill of Rights (p.230). America became the first democratic government (p.232).

  3. M. Evans
    November 5th, 2010 at 16:14 | #3


    Did you know that before he took up arms against the British and became our first President, George Washington, a young English officer ordered his Virginia militiamen to sneak attack a group of French diplomats during a time when both countries were at peace thus committing a war crime? The cowardly incident resulted in the start of the French and Indian War, but didn’t quite make it into my high school history book.

    To give away any more surprising stories for this review would surely do a disservice to the author and the reader. But take my word for it, this book is packed with many more interesting historic tales!

    Kenneth C. Davis, best-selling Don’t Know Much About History and other books in his Don’t Know Much… series, does a wonderful job of bringing to light all of the quirky, informative, but always amusing tales of the stoic, and yes, sometimes flawed, figured that shaped our nation’s fate.

  4. Kandy
    November 5th, 2010 at 23:24 | #4


    This is a great history book. Kenneth C Davis knows how to tell a enjoyable,informative,comprehensive history. My husband and I are reading it together and sharing what we have learned with our friends. If you want to know more about the history of America pick up this book.

  5. Seymour Morris Jr
    November 7th, 2010 at 12:29 | #5


    Having read several of the author’s previous “Don’t Know Much About…” books, I looked forward to his newest product with anticipation.

    Alas, this book does not meet a high standard. It’s a strange book, because it focuses only on a small part of America’s history (1565-1789) and it does so by telling six stories, none of them interrelated. The result is a book that is disjointed and lacks any kind of structure.

    The stories offer some nice tidbits of historical research, but fail to make a compelling point. The chapter on Benedict Arnold, for instance, fails to address the fascinating question, Why did he do what he did? Sure, he was disappointed and possibly enraged at not getting the recognition he felt he deserved, and he had an awful pro-British wife, but one wishes to know more… Similarly, the final chapter, on Shays Rebellion, was a wake-up call that forced the Founding Fathers to really work on creating the right kind of Constitution and republic form of government, but how close a call was it? Was our new country (actually a collection of squabbling states) in serious danger of collapsing entirely? The author suggests this was the case, but doesn’t support it vigorously. The reader is left hanging, wondering: What’s the point?

    Generally speaking, good history writing needs to be either extremely thorough, or fast-paced. This book, unfortunately, falls in the deadly middle and is boring.

  6. G. Poirier
    November 8th, 2010 at 14:03 | #6


    In six chapters, the author presents events in American history that span the period from the mid fifteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. Each chapter has a different focus but follows chronologically from the preceding one. The topics that are progressively highlighted in these different chapters vary from frontier survival and religious dogma to various military alliances and encounters to hotly debated political issues. The writing style is fairly fast-paced, lively and broadly accessible. I found some passages quite gripping while others much less so; but this depends on the reader’s interests. I also found the timelines in some chapters to be a bit difficult to follow. However, this book makes for fascinating reading in that it provides many interesting details that were mostly left out of our standard history textbooks. This book can be enjoyed by anyone, but American history buffs will likely relish it the most.

  7. David M. Dougherty
    November 9th, 2010 at 17:58 | #7


    This is the first book I’ve read by author Kenneth Davis and it will be my last. He has chosen six stories, but meanders far off the point in telling them and runs fast and loose with his facts and sweeping statements. This is a cute book for 8th graders, but does not add to the literature of colonial days or the beginning of our country.

    The first story is really about the Spanish Catholics exterminating the French Protestant presence in South Carolina to the last man, woman and child. OK, that happened and illustrates one of the worst features of Catholic dogma in that heresy must be ruthlessly stamped out, not by converting people, but by killing them, but his account is a popularized one that never scratches the historical surface.

    The second tells the story of the Puritan versus Indian confrontation in New England, sympathetically to the Indians. After the first two chapters I concluded that Davis was a anti-religion zealot. He cherry-picks his facts to put the colonists in a bad light, and makes sweeping and sarcastic statements that are only partially correct. The truth is much more complex, but then that wouldn’t be as interesting and wouldn’t sell books. The author’s style is that of a muckraking journalist (are there any other?) rather than that of an historian.

    The third essentially says that Washington was a criminal, made unforgivable mistakes as a 21-year old, and caused the Seven Years’ War through his fecklessness. Again, the truth is much more complex, although adoring historians have indeed skipped over this part of Washington’s life. His responsibility for the Jumonville massacre has been debated for years, but the most telling tidbit that Davis overlooks was that when Jumonville’s brother had Washington in his power, he did not extract vengeance.

    The fourth focuses on Dr. Warren, an often overlooked patriot today because he was killed at Bunker Hill in 1775. However, in many respects the author makes out the revolution to be more about money for the merchant class than for the farmers who fought the war. And, of course, the role of the Scotch-Irish in all this is missed, even though most of the principal actors in the 13 colonies on the patriot side were Scotch-Irish. Gee, why? Oops, the author doesn’t know.

    Aah, then comes a far-foreshortened story of Benedict Arnold. The author attempts to cover in 33 pages what many historians have been unable to capture in extensive tomes. And the author fails miserably except to point out that Arnold accomplished great things for the Patriot cause before he went over to the British. As if no one knew that.

    And last comes Shay’s Rebellion. Yes, being a soldier in the Continental Army was unrewarding and power and money rapidly went to the lawyers and businessmen in the eastern cities. So, how is that different today? Our country has NEVER rewarded its servicemen adequately for their sacrifices, but it still has done better than any other country. Lawyers, bureaucrats, odious politicians and businessmen always control things in peace time — soldiers and patriots are only needed in times of national emergency. Then the non-lawyers are called upon to sacrifice for the good of those in power. Still, we’re better than all others. This story was perhaps the most egregious chapter in which the author ran fast and loose with pejorative statements, misstatements of fact, and overblown rhetoric. In addition, the author diverts himself to the story of James Wilson, and tends to tar the founding fathers as greedy and unprincipled.

    The best treatise in this book was one in the last chapter that almost makes up for the garbage earlier. Unfortunately, this was by Akhil Reed of Yale, but kudos to the author for including it. The earth-shaking fact was that, “… before the American Revolution, no people had ever explicitly voted on their own constitution.” Of course, I would direct the reader to look closely at the Pennsylvania Constitution made before the US Constitution for a real appreciation of a people’s government. There are also other nuggets such as that most states had taxes that went to supporting each state’s approved religion — something later expressly prohibited in the Constitution. That goes far to understanding the off quoted principle (but inaccurate) of separation of church and state. Also that Washington ad-libbed “so help me God” when he was sworn in as our first president.

    All in all, this is a quick one-night read when bored, and hardly worth the price of admission.

  8. Steve
    November 10th, 2010 at 11:39 | #8


    I am an avid student of history, especially that which does not traditionally make it into the text books. Having enjoyed books like:

    Ku Klux Klan America’s First Terrorists Exposed (Shadow History of the United States)

    Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned (Don’t Know Much About…)

    …I was thrilled to see that Mr. Davis’s newest work AMERICA’S HIDDEN HISTORY was available…so I picked it up and read it cover to cover in one sitting!

    This book is as informative as it is entertaining, and the insights on our founding father alone makes it well worth the price.

    Once again, my highest recommendation for this collection of unique Americana.

  9. Kent
    November 11th, 2010 at 03:26 | #9


    High School American History is what it is, a large composition of dates and names with little dimension of cause and effect. Since then I’ve heard tid bits from conversations, radio talk shows, tripsing around Jamestown, and book reviews. I listened to Mr. Davis on a radio talk show and his interview intrigued me into reading this book. The stories, related or not, gave me a perspective into these short biographies that brought my previous exposure of those topics into focus. I had heard that George Washington didn’t ask for a salary as President, but instead asked the Congress to pay his expenses. That wasn’t evident in the book, but the personality of the man Davis describes make such a request plausible. Just as I had learned and heard that Benedict Arnold wasn’t a turncoat initially; I never knew why (but then I have never read his biography) but now I do. It’s well written if you view each section as vignettes. I was a little confused at how he laid out the chapters at first, but then I got it. He gives you a time-line of European and American events, then he gives you the big picture and then he starts the story telling. For a quick fun read, I recommend his book.

  10. Noel Rita Moser
    November 11th, 2010 at 10:33 | #10


    America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation

    This is a very interesting book and sure opens up a lot of what really went on in our early history. Not all was as well as we were told in school, or what the history books we had told us.

  11. David Donelson
    November 11th, 2010 at 12:19 | #11


    Untold tales are interesting, but the real value to me was what these tales revealed about the characters in them. Kenneth Davis did a great job of putting their lives and actions in a meaningful context.

    Living not far from the Hutchinson River Parkway, I was fascinated by his take on the tale of Anne Hutchinson. I’d heard it before, of course, and knew the basics. What Davis told me, though, was that she had advised some of her male disciples not to join a militia at war with local Indians, making her an organizer of some of America’s earliest conscientious objectors. He also pointed out that it was after her trial that the Puritans in Boston banned Roman Catholics, Quakers, and other sects. Her younger sister, who became a Quaker, was whipped for blasphemy. Another of her followers who joined the Quakers, Mary Dyer, was arrested, stripped in public, and lashed. Later, the defiant Dyer returned to Boston, refused to leave and was executed.

    Davis gives us equally illuminating tales of George Washington as a headstrong and ambitious young man who committed a war crime, what Paul Revere really did during the Revolution, and how Daniel Shay stood up for his rights only to be crushed like a bug–making American stronger in the process.

    America’s Hidden History reads as if it were told from the inside, full of first-person accounts and other source material that give us a clear, relatively objective view of what our founding fathers (and mothers) were like.

    Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds: A Novel of Scandal, Love and Death in the Congo

  12. Maria E. Uribe
    November 11th, 2010 at 12:56 | #12


    If you enjoy watching out-takes, and behind the scenes incidences of movies and television programs, this is definitely the book for you. Interestingly, the book portrays how many of our history making moments occurred if only by chance, and not without the many challenges that at times could have resulted in an unfavorable outcome. America’s Hidden History as the name implies packed with little known facts that elucidate how certain events gradually served to make our country what it is today, is not only an engrossing narrative but also, a pictographic account of our nation’s infancy.

    Most historical accounts portray an epitome of perfection, every action carefully choreographed to reach the desired results. Not so says Kenneth C. Davis. Not only, do the readers discover the actual accuracy about the event, Mr. Davis also offers a provocative depiction of the idiosyncrasies behind the person responsible for that particular event.

    A delightful read, not only was it informative, but a distinctly singular way to look at America’s history, and the people behind it. George Washington, Paul Revere and Benedict Arnold emerged not just as historical figures, but also as human beings whose passion, patriotism and greed came to play an important role in the place they earned in history.

  13. Rhetta Akamatsu
    November 12th, 2010 at 08:54 | #13


    Kenneth Davis knows that history is complicated.

    American history textbooks and oral history give us perfect role models in our historical figures and an unfolding story in which we were always on the side of right and any bad things that happened were the other people’s fault.

    In reality, it’s never that simple. And we don’t even usually know even the basic facts.

    For instance, most people know that Columbus discovered America and then a couple hundred years later the Pilgrims arrived.

    But how many people know about the wine-making French Huguenots, who were here before the Pilgrims?

    And the Pilgrims were stern and God-fearing people, but they came here for religious freedom and our country was built on that priciple.

    Ask Anne Hutchinson about that.

    And I bet you have no idea how blood-thirsty the Pilgrims could be.

    You will after you read this book. Be prepared for a shock.

    And as for the Founding Fathers, well, of course, they were all virtuous, highly intelligent, dignified men who came together in one accord to build our country and create a foundation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of us, regardless of social station.

    Except people are all more complex than that, and nobody’s motives are completely pure. Plus, everyone makes mistakes.

    Like the one that a young, inexperienced George Washington made that ended in murder and started a war.

    The truth is that the Founding Fathers all had different ideas and conflicting goals, for themselves and for the nation. The way the country was formed was through brawling, back-biting, lying, greed, and arrogance, much like politics today.

    The amazing thing is that the country was formed, became what it has, and has thrived for over two hundred years.

    American History, as told by Mr. Davis, is a vibrant and entertaining subject. No student who was presented with these forefathers and foremothers would ever be bored.

    And about those foremothers..did you know that the first statue of a woman in America was built to honor a woman who escaper her Indian captives by taking their scalps with a hatchet?

    Do the names Anne Hutchinson, Mary Rowland, and Hannah Dustin ring a bell?

    Well, they will after you read their amazing stories in America’s Hidden History.

    I believe that this book should be required reading in every high school and college American History class.

    As the mini-series John Adams on HBO also showed, seeing our heroes as flawed human beings does not make their accomplishments less.

    But maybe knowing our own real history can help us to better understand ourselves and avoid some of the mistakes of the past.

    One thing that is very clear from reading this book is that respect for the lives of others is a relatively new concept. The Indians and the Pilgrims did not value each others’ lives at all. Neither did the Spanish, French, Catholics, non-Catholics, British, colonists, or anyone else in that entire period of history. The concept of “one world” or a “global village” could not have even existed at that time, it seems.

    It was always “us against the world,” whoever the “us” happened to be in that time and place.

    Thomas Jefferson is quoted in this book as having said:

    “. . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

    How far have we really come?

    Read America’s Hidden History. You’ll be informed, entertained, instructed and enlightened. And it won’t hurt a bit.

  14. buck
    November 14th, 2010 at 11:49 | #14


    The writer gives more background than other historical books on the same subject…such as Washintons’ bungles and the womens role in the times of the Puritans. I am still reading the book, but have enjoyed the “other side of the story”.

  15. Kurt A. Johnson
    November 15th, 2010 at 10:38 | #15


    In this interesting history book, author Kenneth C. Davis tells six “untold” stories from American history. The six stories are: 1) Isabella’s Pigs, which discusses Reconquista-era Spain, and the birth of Spanish America; 2) Hannah’s Escape, which discusses early colonial America and the relations between the colonists and the Native Americans; 3) Washington’s Confession, covering George Washington’s early and not-so-glorious military career; 4) Warren’s Toga, which discusses the beginning of the American Revolution; 5) Arnold’s Boot, the story of that all-American villain, Benedict Arnold; and 6) Lafayette’s Sword, which moves past the Revolution to discuss Shay’s Rebellion.

    Hmm. Even in trying to write the above description, I had to leave out a lot. In fact, this book is rather rambling, as the author moves from event to event, frequently moving off on tangents. The stories have no overarching theme, but were apparently selected at the author’s whim.

    But, that said, Mr. Davis does tell an interesting story, and quite often I found myself learning something new. So, overall I found this to be a good book, not a great one by any means, but one that I am glad that I read.

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