Date: Thu, 3 Jul 1997 10:46:00 -0400 From: "Barry A. Popik" Subject: JULY FOURTH SPECIAL: Uncle Sam (part one) "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy A Yankee Doodle do or die A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam Born on the Fourth of July." --Tom Lehrer (Just kidding! George M. Cohan, of course!) Who was Uncle Sam? Uncle Sam is obviously an extension of U. S. (United States), whom he personifies. The creation of Uncle Sam--the famous name and the portrait made famous by cartoons--deserves serious scholarship. In this Part One, I'll survey the existing scholarship and provide some important discoveries. Part Two will cover the most famous Uncle Sam of the "I WANT YOU!" poster. If I have the time and strength for other parts, I'll discuss the Uncle Sam caricature in great depth, the farce of Congress's Uncle Sam declaration and the Indiana faux-Uncle Sam, and the names of American soldiers (Sammies, Teddies, Yanks). This survey is obviously incomplete; I did not get a chance to drive to some towns in upstate New York and to Vermont because of the serious illnesses and deaths of both my father and mother. I have that rescheduled for later this year, and I'll tell you then what that yields. Only a handful of scholars have studied the subject. The best scholar is Albert Matthews, who worked with the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. He did a monograph on Brother Jonathan (an earlier representative figure of the U. S.) in 1902 and one on Uncle Sam in 1908. His work pioneered the field and still remains important. Frank Weitenkampf's UNCLE SAM THROUGH THE YEARS: A CARTOON RECORD (1949) provides the best complement to Matthews' work. Jessie F. Wheeler of the Troy Public Library examined Albany-Troy area papers and wrote an Uncle Sam series for the local newspaper. I examined her unpublished papers in the New York State Library in Albany. Alton Ketchum combined these three sources (and left out what he didn't like) in his UNCLE SAM: THE MAN AND THE LEGEND (1959) and "The Search for Uncle Sam" in HISTORY TODAY, April 1990, pp. 20-26. In 1961, Congress officially declared that Troy, New York's Samuel Wilson is Uncle Sam. No one has done any other serious research. Everything is based on one single item about the War of 1812 that is unattributed and appears as late as 1830!! The following was in the New York Gazette of 12 May 1830 (pages 39-40 in Ketchum): A Neat Communication--Origin of "Uncle Sam" Much learning and research have been exercised in tracing the origins of odd names and odd sayings, which taking their rise in some trifling occurrence or event, easily explained or well understood for a time, yet, in the course of years, becoming involved in mystery, assume an importance equal at least to the skill and ingenuity required to explain or trace them to their origin. "The Swan with two necks," "the Bull and Mouth," "All my Eye, Betty Martin," and many others, are of this character--and who knows but, an hundred years hence, some "learned commentator" may puzzle his brain to furnish some ingenious explanation of the origin of the national appellation placed at the head of this article. To aid him, therefore, in this research, I will state the facts as they occurred under my own eyes. Immediately after the declaration of the last war with England, Elbert Anderson, of New York, a contractor, visited Troy on the Hudson, where was concentrated, and where he purchased, a large quantity of provisions--beef, pork, etc. The inspectors of these articles at that place were Messrs. Ebenezer and Samuel Wilson. The latter gentleman (invariably know as _"Uncle Sam"_) generally superintended in person a large number of workmen, who, on this occasion, were employed in overhauling the provisions purchased by the contractor for the army. The casks were marked E. A.--U. S. This work fell to the lot of a facetious fellow in the employ of the Messrs. Wilson, who, on being asked by some of his fellow-workmen the meaning of the mark (for the letters U. S., for United States, were then almost entirely new to them) said "he did not know, unless it meant _Elbert Anderson and Uncle Sam_"--alluding exclusively, then, to the said "Uncle Sam" Wilson. The joke took among the workmen, passed currently; and "Uncle Sam" himself being present, was occasionally rallied by them on the increasing extent of his possessions. Many of these workmen being of a character denominated "food for powder," were found shortly after following the recruiting drum, and pushing toward the frontier lines, for the double purose of meeting the enemy, and of eating the provisions they had lately laboured to put in good order. Their old jokes of course accompanied them, and, before the first campaign ended, this identical one first appeared in print--it gained favour rapidly, till it penetrated and was recognized in every part of our country, and will, no doubt, continue so while the United States remain a nation. It originated precisely as stated; and the writer of this article distinctly recollects remarking, at the time when it first appeared in print, to a person who was equally aware of its origin, how odd it would be should this silly joke, originating in the midst of beef, pork, pick, mud, salt, and hoop-poles, eventually become a national cognomen. There are problems with this. For starters, "U. S." would have been widely understood by the War of 1812, as Matthews comments in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, vol. XIX, pp. 21-65 (1908). In a footnote on page 39, Matthews states his research "is based on an examination of newspapers published 1812-1815 in Portsmouth, Salem, Boston, Worcester, Hartford, Troy, Albany, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington." So he covered NY, MA, CT, NH, and Washington, DC. That's a lot of work, but still not enough. What about Providence, RI? Detroit, MI (scene of a battle)? New Orleans, LA (scene of a battle)? North Carolina? Vermont (scene of much action)? Plattsburgh, NY (VERY important)? WHAT ABOUT CANADA????? It occurred to me that no scholar anywhere has checked the Canadian papers. Not at all! Albert Matthews wrote a Postscript in the same journal, October 1908, pp. 250-252 that contained additional information (some by Jessie Wheeler of the Troy Public Library) that cast strong doubt on the Samuel Wilson origin. Ketchum mentions none of this information in his book. I looked at the bibliography. Matthews' Postscript is not in the bibliography!!!! Unbelievable! To be continued. Gotta leave to join my sister and clean up the family house. Anybody want 50 chess trophies free? They make fine doorstops or paperweights! Anybody want to buy the family home? Fine for running tours. "Yes, folks, this was his room. He wrote THE ADULT AND THE ADOLESCENT from this desk. It got mixed reviews at first.....See this window? On a clear day from this window, you can see the Empire State Building....."