Sure, everyone remembers the names of Abraham Lincoln, Henry VIII, and Marie Antoinette. But there were many historically significant people whose names aren't as well known, even if their stories are worth remembering.
Like forgotten Americans who shaped history or unsung heroes who changed the world, the folks on this list don't get the name recognition their stories deserve. Some of them may have been well known in their time but have since become almost forgotten; others remain beloved figures in their home countries but aren't familiar to people from other parts of the world. But whether subjects of forgotten history or under-circulated stories, all of these people lived compelling lives, did exceptional things, or made wild choices.
So read on and vote up the people from the past whose stories should be remembered.
- 1589 VOTES
Joe Medicine Crow Became His Tribe's Last War Chief During World War II
When the United States entered World War II, Joe Medicine Crow - an anthropology student and member of the Crow Nation - joined up and shipped out to Europe. In the chaos of war, Medicine Crow performed acts of bravery that eventually earned him status as his tribe's last war chief, a designation based on specific requirements. Among his exploits: stealing a Nazi's gun and safely leading a band of soldiers behind enemy lines.
But Joe Medicine Crow's war bravery was just a small part of his story - he was also a Crow historian and leader. As Nina Sanders shared with Smithsonian, Medicine Crow was an important voice for his community:
Dr. Medicine Crow connected us to our heritage through his stories. He lovingly wove the Apsáalooke narrative into the historical western account. He made us part of history books. He showed us that Indian people and our stories are relevant.
Though Britain's King George V is rightly credited with helping his country pull through World War II, he certainly wasn't the only European royal caught up in the global conflict. Monarchs in Norway and Sweden, for example, are also remembered for their wartime choices.
But Romania's Michael I remains an unsung royal hero during the war. Michael first inherited the Romanian throne in 1927 when he was only five years old. As a young king whose role was supposed to be merely ceremonial, Michael watched with horror as Romania, under the influence of military dictator Ion Antonescu, became a puppet of Nazi Germany. So in 1944, Michael overthrew Antonescu and pledged Romania to the Allied cause, acts that likely reduced the length of the war.
- 3565 VOTES
Robert Smalls Stealthily Took Control Of A Confederate Supply Ship And Steered It To Freedom
Robert Smalls, an enslaved 23-year-old in Charleston, SC, labored on the Confederate supply ship Planter during the Civil War.
But in May 1862, he escaped to freedom. When the ship's captain and some officers were off the boat, Smalls and several members of the enslaved crew took over the ship. They sailed it out of Charleston Harbor - picking up Smalls' enslaved family along the way - and right into the Union lines.
Smalls then presented the ship to the US Navy and secured freedom for himself and the 15 other enslaved souls who were with him. Impressed with Smalls' daring, the US Government awarded him part of the value of the ship.
After the war, he had a career in politics.
- 4404 VOTES
Ching Shih's biography has it all - it's the ultimate rags-to-riches story mixed with the thrill and adventure of a swashbuckling tale. Ching Shih was a sex worker on a brothel ship before she met and married Ching Yih, a powerful pirate operating in the South China Sea.
After her husband's passing in 1807, Ching Shih took over his ships and became the leader of some 70,000 or more pirates. She also required the pirates under her command to live by a code of conduct that forbade them from sexually assaulting any female prisoners.
Nzinga became Queen of Ndonga - which is now part of modern-day Angola - in 1624, a time when the Portuguese were deeply involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade (the Portuguese would ultimately enslave millions of Africans.) In order to ensure that her own people didn't become enslaved, Queen Nzinga tentatively aligned her kingdom with Portugal.
Portugal soon betrayed her, however. In response, Nzinga fled Ndonga and ruled from Matamba, where she could direct efforts to oust the Portuguese. She also made Matamba a place of safety for all Africans escaping the slave trade.
Like many compelling historical figures, Nzinga's life is a blend of fact and legend. One legend states that, when Portuguese negotiators refused to provide a chair for her, she sat on one of her subordinates so she would be at an equal height with her European counterparts. Among the wilder legends: that she had a group of male paramours who would engage in fatal fights with one another for the honor of accompanying the queen to her bed.
- 6312 VOTES
According To Legend, Jemima Nicholas Held Off French Invaders With A Pitchfork During The French Revolutionary Wars
In 1797, Great Britain and France were still at war in the wake of the French Revolution. In an attempt to take the British city of Bristol, French and Irish troops landed near Fishguard, Wales.
The French invasion didn't exactly go as planned. The troops met with Welsh resistance - at least partly in the form of Jemima Nicholas. According to legend, Nicholas, armed with a pitchfork, managed to intimidate and capture 12 soldiers.
Ultimately, the invasion ended in failure for France. But Jemima Nicholas secured fame as a Welsh folk hero.