5 Michael Collins
When Neil Armstrong took his first small step on the moon, someone had to stay behind with the ship. That poor sucker was Michael Collins. When Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first landing on the lunar surface, Collins piloted the command module as it orbited the moon. Collins has since stating that he didn’t feel left behind during the day he spent orbiting the moon alone, even during the 48 minutes of each orbit when he was cut off from all radio contact. He says that he understood that his part was just as vital as the others and later said that he had been worried about Armstrong and Aldrin’s safety. He gets some serious hero-points for not being resentful even though he’s the one that nobody’s heard of.
4 Mary Bowser
Mary Bowser wasn’t forced to share credit for anything but mostly that was because an undercover spy rarely gets much credit. She was a freed slave who worked for the Van Lew family and was sent to Philadelphia by them to be educated. Elizabeth Van Lew knew how intelligent she was and that she had a photographic memory and so helped her get into place as a slave named “Ellen Bond” working for the family of Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy. It was easy for a domestic servant to become invisible and it was assumed that the slave “Ellen Bond” couldn’t read or write so nobody watched her too closely. Just by going about her chores in the house, she was able to pick up astonishing amounts of information and relay it through another spy who delivered baked goods to the house. Eventually the family got suspicious of her and so she made her escape, along with an attempt to burn down the Confederate White House. Although that didn’t work, she did get away. Of course, all the records have been destroyed and so much of Mary Bowser’s story remains speculation and we’ll never really know how much information she was able to sneak out.
3 Dr. Samuel Prescott
This is probably the most classic example of one man stealing the thunder of a bunch. But we won’t blame Paul Revere. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about the Midnight Ride made Revere the only rider from that night that most of us remember. But in fact, there were plenty of people who rode similar and even more strenuous countryside rides in the dead of night to set up signals for Patriots throughout the war. And even that night there were many riders who set off on their own routes after receiving the alert. And to go even more specific: Paul Revere didn’t even start out his ride alone. He and William Dawes took two separate routes to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams that the British were coming to arrest them. They both succeeded and then continued to Concord to where the militia’s arsenal was stored and they were joined on the way there by Dr. Samuel Prescott. They were soon captured by the British but Dawes and Prescott escaped. Dawes lost his horse in the process and only Prescott made it to Concord in time to warn the militia so that they were ready in the morning when famous battle of Lexington and Concord began. It’s almost pure luck that Prescott was with Revere and Dawes when they were captured. Although he was an active Patriot and was in Lexington to convey information for the militia, it seems that the reason he was out at one in the morning was because he was paying a romantic visit to his fiancé in Lexington.
2 Hercules Mulligan
You’d think that you’d have heard of someone who saved George Washington’s life — twice. But apparently for tailors that’s no big deal. Hercules Mulligan was an Irish immigrant who ran a clothing shop in New York and it seems that he was the kind of guy that people liked to talk to while visiting him for fittings. He was able to find out from his British customers about a planned campaign into Pennsylvania and about two separate British plans to capture Commander George Washington. What makes this even more impressive, was that the British never seemed to find out that he had been a member of the Sons of Liberty and the New York Committees of Correspondence and Observation or that his name had appeared publicly on Patriot broadsides all over the city or even that Alexander Hamilton himself had lived with the Mulligan family as a boarder. And whenever the British did get a little suspicious, the friendly Hercules managed to talk himself out of it. Now there’s a useful talent.
1 John Rolfe
It’s probably safe to blame Disney for this one. In 1995, the movie Pocahontas was released,based on a legend that then-twelve year old Pocahontas saved the life of Captain John Smith by putting herself in the way of her father Powhatan’s attempt to execute him. Although Pocahontas’ father was actually the chief of the tribal nations in Jamestown’s region of Virginia, the movie depicts Pocahontas as much older than twelve years old and involved in a romantic relationship with John Smith. But in fact, the Englishman she would eventually marry was John Rolfe. Unfortunately for him however, he’s much less of a romantic figure than Captain Smith the seafaring explorer. Rolfe was a widower who was part of a group of settlers that arrived in Jamestown when the colony was on the verge of collapse. Besides his fame as the husband of Pocahontas he is also credited with the economic salvation of the Virginia colony. He introduced tobacco as the nation’s first cash crop and to this day we’re still trying to break that stranglehold.