Date: Fri, 4 Jul 1997 08:39:11 -0400
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: JULY FOURTH SPECIAL: Uncle Sam (part three)
(Part Three continues Part One)
When I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a new mall opened in
the heart of Troy, New York called the "Uncle Sam Atrium."
"USA--get it?" said a fellow editor of the college newspaper. "Isn't
Soon afterward, a Samuel Wilson "Uncle Sam" statue was dedicated. It
was a few steps away from the XXX Cinema Arts Theatre, or "Skinema" as we
called it. Near the new statue were concrete benches with concrete chess
tables. I sat on the bench, looked at the statue, and then looked at the
chess board. They were all positioned the wrong way! It would be impossible
to use them....
Albert Matthews's "UNCLE SAM"--A Postscript, at Proceedings of the
American Antiquarian Society, October 1908, pp. 250-252, contains the
following two items:
(Troy Post, 20 August 1816)
"Uncle Sam's Pedigree"--Uncle Sam is a cant phrase, significant of the United
States, as John Bull signifies England. The origin of it seems to be this:
In the year 1807, there was authorized by law, the raising of a regiment of
Light Dragoons. The initial letters U.S.L.D. were painted on their caps,
meaning the United States Light Dragoons. A countryman passing by, inquired
of a by-stander what they were, and received for an answer, "they are UNCLE
SAM'S LAZY DOGS, don't you see it on their caps?" This story soon got
amongst the soldiers, and they have ever since denominated the United States
(Troy Post, 19 August 1817)
_"Uncle Sam"_--This expression, which originated during the war, from the
initials "U. S." on the soldiers' knapsacks, has come into general use. The
Indians at the west, from hearing it often used, have imbibed the idea that
it is actually the name of the president; and while at Sacketts' Harbor, a
considerable number of Indians and Squaws crowded around the president,
wishing, as they expressed it, "to shake hands with UNCLE SAM."
In his original paper of April 1908, pg. 33, Matthews writes:
Meanwhile, however, we get our first glimpse of Uncle Sam. An article
half a column in length, headed "For the Troy Post," was printed in that
paper of September 7, 1813, and began as follows:
"'Loss upon loss, and no ill luck stiring (sic) but what lights upon
UNCLE SAM'S shoulders,' exclaim the Government editors, in every part of the
Country. The Albany _Argus_ of last Tuesday laments the disasters and
disappointments of our Border War, in most pathetic strains &c. &c."
In a note is given this explanation:
"This cant name for our government has got almost as current as 'John
Bull.' The letters U. S. on the government waggons, &c are supposed to have
given rise to it."
Matthews summarizes this in the Postscript, pg. 251:
We have, then within a period of four years (1813-1817) no fewer than
three accounts in the Troy newspapers of the origin of Uncle Sam, and in none
is there any allusion to the Samuel Wilson story. It is difficult to believe
that had the Wilson story then been in existence it would have escaped the
attention of the editor of the Troy _Post_.
So where did the U. S. = Uncle Sam come from? The army meat? The army
helmets? The army knapsacks? The army wagons?
A wonderful illustration of the initials "U. S." on a wagon is in the
Library of Congress's book CATALOG OF AMERICAN POLITICAL PRINTS, pg. 61,
1834-3. The lithograph was published in New York City and is titled "ANDREW
RESOLUTE UNCLE SAM'S FAITHFUL TEAMSTER, TAKING THE PRODUCE OF THE
ANOTHER STOREHOUSE, AND GIVING UNCLE SAM HIS, REASONS FOR SO DOING."
note states that "Several figures look on and comment as a horse-drawn
covered wagon pulls away from a warehouse and adjacent United State Hotel.
In the center below stand Andrew Jackson (holding a coachman's whip) and
This is not in Alton Ketchum's 1959 UNCLE SAM book, nor is it in his
1990 HISTORY TODAY "Search for Uncle Sam" article. The incompetence is
simply staggering! Ketchum writes on page 21 of the latter, "But as my
research progressed, it became evident that Matthews had missed a number of
key sources." All of these "sources" are about the personal history of
Samuel Wilson, which indeed may be irrelevant. After over thirty years,
Ketchum STILL doesn't realize there's a Matthews Postscript!
For the initials "U. S." on a black wooden canteen (in the
Smithsonian), see page 129 of Philip Katcher's ARMIES OF THE AMERICAN WARS
For the initials "U. S." on the Light Dragoon helmets, see "U. S. LIGHT
DRAGOON BELT PLATES AND HELMETS, 1808-1812" by Joseph M. Thatcher, pp. 16-19,
MILITARY COLLECTOR AND HISTORIAN, Spring 1975. In the same publication,
Winter 1975, pg. 180, see the "USRR" of "REGIMENT OF RIFLEMEN CAP ISIGNIA,
1808-1812." I have written to military historians about this, but they have
no additional knowledge of Uncle Sam.
We will now consider the first use of "Uncle Sam" anywhere. I will, of
course, make a major, invaluable contribution to this.
On pages 40-41 of Ketchum's book, there is an undated broadside that
mentions Uncle Sam. On pages 41-42, he says:
The earliest use of the term "Uncle Sam" in this connection which has
been discovered thus far was in a broadside reproduced herewith (FIGURE 42),
which gives evidence of having been printed in the spring of 1813.
Under the crude woodcuts are two mentions of Uncle Sam. One is in
doggerel under the cartoon of "Bonapart": "If Uncle Sam needs, I'll be glad
to assist him." The other appears in the last line of the similar caption
under John Rodgers: "But if Uncle Sam lives, they will all be Burgoyn'd."
This refers back, of course, to the Revolutionary victory over that British
The broadside can be dated in part by the account of the battle of
Queenston, which took place on October 20, 1812. On the opposite page, under
"John Bull in a Pet," are references to British ships defeated by the U. S.
Navy, including the _ Guerriere_, _Macedonian_, _Java_, _Frolic_, and
_Peacock_. Of these the last chronologically was the _Peacock_, which was
taken February 24, 1813. The "Northern Expedition" then in preparation was
General Dearborn's campaign against the British posts along the northern
shore of Lake Ontario, which got under way early in the spring of 1813. It
would appear, therefore, that this broadside dates from about March of that
year. The characters depicted are, left to right, Dolly Madison, the Devil,
Bonaparte, John Bull, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and
Commodore John Rodgers.
The original of the broadside is in the Library of Congress. Its
significance was discovered by Frederick R. Goff, Chief of the Rare Book
Division, who believes that it was printed in northern New York, possibly
Troy or Albany.
In 1994, I was visiting Chicago. I had just gone to the Chicago
Historical Society, where a tour guide suggested that I solve "the Windy
City." (Boy, did THAT work out.) I walked down to the Newberry Library,
where, from August 26, 1994-January 7, 1995, it ran an exhibit called THE
FRONTIER IN AMERICAN CULTURE. An accompanying book by this titled was
published in 1994 by the University of California Press and edited by James
R. Grossman (it might still be available in the Newberry Library bookshop).
The exhibit opened with a broadside "Murder of the whole Family of
Samuel Wells, consisting of his wife and sister and eleven children, by the
Indians: Extract of a letter from a gentleman in New Orleans, to his friend
in New-York, dated May 1, 1809." Broadside (1813) Edward E. Ayer Collection.
My jaw dropped. They didn't know what it was! Everyone walked passed
it, and no one knew what it was! I later asked the Newberry about it, but it
provided no additional information.
IT WAS THE COMPANION PIECE TO THE UNCLE SAM BROADSIDE, STARING
RIGHT IN THE FACE!!
Three figures from the Uncle Sam broadside were cut and pasted to this
one: Bonapart, Doll, and John Adams. They formed the second part of this
broadside, which reads: "AN ELEGY ON THE DEATH OF MISS SALLY HAMILTON, of
Athens, N. Y., who on the night of the 25th of August, 1813, on her return
from a visit in the lower part ofthe town, was supposed to have been met by
two ruffians, who inhumanly murdered her, and threw her body in the Creek."
The Uncle Sam broadside's figures are more fully drawn, so it probably
predates 25 August 1813. We now can guess a place; the broadsides might have
been printed in Troy or Albany, but Athens or Catskill must be checked. I
haven't had time to go there yet, but I will later this year.
A few more items must be mentioned before I end this segment, pending
further research. There is an "Uncle Sam" in one of the verses to "Yankee
Doodle" (who was born on the fourth of July), but this verse does not date
before 1824. See REPORT ON THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER, HAIL COLUMBIA,
& YANKEE DOODLE (1909), the famous study by the Library of Congress's
musicologist Oscar Sonneck that was reprinted by Dover Books, page 136, verse
Generals in the War of 1812 were called "Granny," from "grenadier."
The Independent American (Ballston Spa, NY), 5 August 1813, pg. 3, col. 3,
_Etymology_.--One being asked why the Hero of the North was called
_Granny D---n_ (Dearborn--ed.), answered--Because he is the _Deliverer_ of
the country.--_Portland Gaz._
From "granny" we'll go directly to "uncle." Matthews on page 26 states
"Timothy Pickering was 'Uncle Tim.'" The footnote is this:
A poetical skit entitled "All Tories Together," which appeared in the
_Aurora_ of October 7, 1813, began thus (p. 2-5):
"Oh! come in true jacobin trim,
With birds of the same color'd feather,
Bring your plots and intrigues, uncle TIM,
And let's all be tories together."
I noticed this significantly earlier, in the Western Sun (Vincennes,
Indiana), 21 August 1813, pg. 4, col. 1. Uncle Tim may be before our first
Uncle Sam. The piece is taken from the Phoenix (wherever that is--Boston?)
and is titled "Parody of Granny Gray."
For whatever it's worth, in the New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth) of 1
March 1814, pg. 3, cols. 3-4, there are mentions of John Bull, Jemmy
Madison, and "orator Sam" in a song parody.
Lastly, in the Independent American (Ballston Spa, NY), 7 September
1813, pg. 2, col. 2, there is mention of a Major Samuel Adams of the 7th
division of the Light Infantry Companies. He--certainly more than Samuel
Wilson--would have been a natural. Can you imagine a soldier serving under
SAMUEL ADAMS? These same soldiers would have had the U. S. L. A. on their
caps. Also, Uncle Samuel Adams = U. S. A.
Until further investigations (in my spare time, of course), I'll end