Date: Fri, 4 Jul 1997 08:39:58 -0400
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: JULY FOURTH SPECIAL: Uncle Sam Goes to Congress (part four)
Our story wouldn't be complete without a pretender to the throne, and
the follies of our Congress. If I have time, I'll do the cartoons in part
There was another Samuel Wilson!
This is from STORIES ON STONE: A BOOK OF AMERICAN EPITAPHS (OUP, 1954)
by Charles L. Wallis, pg. 18:
Persons living near Christian Chapel Cemetery, near Merriam, Indiana,
are able to produce documentation proving that in this place and not in Troy
is the grave of the actual prototype of Uncle Sam. An upright slab records:
Soldier of 1812
May 7, 1865
100 Years and 3 Days.
This all began with an article in the Indianapolis Star of 26 February
Grave of the Original Uncle Sam Found in Noble County, Indiana
Kendallville Newspaper Woman Visits 93-Year-Old Hoosier, Who Tells How
Father's Nickname Came to Represent the United States
Samuel Wilson, one of triplets, two boys, and a girl, was born at
Wilmington, Del., March 4, 1778, the son of Marmaduke and Mary Wilson, who
came to America from Scotland. There were no other children in the family.
Growing into manhood there, Samuel with his brother joined the Lewis and
Clark Northwest expedition in 1804, accompanying them as far as where Mandan,
N. D., is now located. These young men spent the winter there, returning to
St. Louis, Mo., in the spring. Later they returned to Troy-on-the-Hudson, N.
Y., where they were joined by their parents. Samuel secured employment with
one Elbert Anderson, who owned and operated a general supply store.
"Uncle Sam" had varied experience during the war. He was on board the
Constitution in that famous twenty-five minute battle with the Guerrierre
when the latter was sunk off Cape Kace. In this battle Uncle Sam was cited
for gallantry by Captain Isaac Hull, and when he was honorably discharged he
received two land warrants from the government. One of these warrants he
sold to his son John M., who now lives at Albion, Ind., while the other went
to a Jim Harrison and was also used in Indiana.
Uncle Sam died March 7, 1878, in Kosciusko county, Indiana, at the age
of 100 years and three days. His body was later removed to Merriam where it
now rests with other members of the family.
Lewis & Clark expedition? U. S. S. Constitution at its most famous
battle? AND Uncle Sam? Obviously, what we have here is Forest Gump!!
This was disputed in the 2 December 1928 New York Times, "REAL 'UNCLE
SAM' STIRS DISPUTE." I went to Indiana to check it out; the historical
society had a clippings file. Alton Ketchum does not mention this, neither
in his book nor his article on Uncle Sam.
I looked up the Lewis and Clark records, which are quite detailed. No
I wrote to the U. S. S. Constitution museum in Boston. No Samuel
Wilson on board when that ship fought the Guerrierre!
In 1961, this issue came up before Congress when the Troy "Samuel
Wilson" was about to be honored as Uncle Sam. This is from the Indianapolis
Star, 27 July 1961:
MEMORIES NOT ENOUGH
State Says Uncle In Claim To Sam
Unless the residents of Merriam can come up with something more tangible
than memories, that Noble County community will not stand in history as the
burial place of the character now portrayed universally as "Uncle Sam."
This was the sad state of events yesterday as the Senate subcommittee of
Federal charters, holidays and celebrations recognized Troy, N. Y., as the
resting place of Uncle Sam Wilson, whose features artists and cartoonists
have made a legend.
Wilson was a Troy meat packer. He was born in Arlington, Mass., the
Senate subcommittee decided after much judicial inquiry and cogitation.
In Indianapolis, Hubert H. Hawkins, director of the Indiana Historical
Bureau, took the news with equanimity.
"We encountered a very important dearth of documentary material in
support of the Merriam claim," he commented.
The ball started with Alton Ketchum's 1959 book. In the New York
Legislative Record and Index (March 25, 1959), pp. 2586-2587, September 13th
was declared as "Uncle Sam day" in New York State. Samuel Wilson was
declared to be a man of "high personal integrity."
Never mind that, as Albert Matthews posted in a footnote on page 32,
Wilson's business partner Elbert Anderson was mentioned in the Albany Gazette
"ELBERT ANDERSON, Jun. Contractor U. S. Army, is a base _Villain_, a _Liar_,
and a _Coward_.
James BUTLER. 18th September 1813.
It is a huge step to say that Samuel Wilson was "Uncle Sam." It is
another huge step to say that the meat he inspected was really wholesome. No
In the Congressional Record of April 27, 1959, pg. A3453,
Representative Leo O'Brien put the entire New York Times "Uncle Sam" article
of April 12, 1959 in the record as an "extension of remarks." It was written
by Thomas I. Gerson--a truly horrible Uncle Sam scholar, who wrote for the
More stuff is in the Congressional Record of July 20, 1959, pages
13709-13710. Congress officially recognized the contributions of Jessie F.
Wheeler of the Troy Public Library and "Thomas I. Gerson, official 'Uncle
Sam' historian, who prepared and directed the testimony at the hearing. Mr.
Gerson has been writing and researching Sam Wilson for 13 years." Yikes.
New York Senators Kenneth Keating and Jacob Javits added their say in
the Congressional Record of September 12, 1959, pp. 19230-19231, for "Uncle
In the Congressional Record of February 23, 1960, pg. A1516, the Samuel
Wilson grave into national shrine movement began.
On March 24, 1960, pages 6523-6524, Indiana Congressman Adair brought
up the Indiana Samuel Wilson. An Indianapolis News story from March 31, 1955
was added to the Record. Trouble!
This was disputed by Congressman Leo O'Brien, April 12, 1960, pages
7961-7962. In the Record for September 6, 1961, pg. 18230, O'Brien added
Mr. Speaker, I may say the resolution before us now has nothing to do
with the birthplace of Samuel Wilson. It falls squarely upon the one matter,
on which the gentleman and I are in agreement, that the gentleman did live in
Troy, N. Y. That is where he acquired the name "Uncle Sam." I may say that
the other matters on which we are in disagreement are still to be determined
by the historians, and I would not suggest that the House try to decide them
Only Congress can do something like this--honor a Samuel Wilson, without
stating which one he is!
This is from the Congressional Record, September 6, 1961, pg. 18299:
Mr. ADAIR (of Indiana). (...) As to where "Uncle Sam" was born or where his
remains lie buried, the resolution makes no statement, nor takes any
Mr. O'BRIEN of New York. If the gentleman will yield, the gentleman has made
a very accurate statement.
The Senate discussion of September 15, 1961 is at pg. 19628:
Mr. RUSSELL. Has there not been some controversy as to where the man lived
whose initials gave rise to the expression "Uncle Sam" as standing for this
Mr. KEATING. That is true, and the Judiciary Committee decided to conduct
hearings on the question. The committee sat for 2 days and had extended
hearings, taking the testimony of historians and other witnesses. Many
witnesses were heard. The concurrent resolution as it passed the Senate had
in it a reference to the fact that Uncle Sam had lived for a time in Mason,
N. H. When it went to the House side there was some controversy as to
whether that was so, but the House finally enacted the concurrent resolution
in the same form except that it struck out the words "Mason, New Hampshire"
and a reference to Arlington, Mass. That action made it very unacceptable to
my distinguished colleagues from New Hampshire, and that is the reason why
the resolution had to be sent to conference.
Oh boy. On September 18, 1961, pg. 20126, it was noted that Seba Smith
of Maine introduced an imaginary character by the name of Major Jack Downing
into stories starting 1830, and "Maj. Jack Downing was the prototype of
'Uncle Sam.'" Surely, the Uncle Sam bill would have to mention Maine as
Somehow, something did get passed recognizing Troy, N. Y. as "Home of
"Uncle Sam: Biography of a Symbol" appeared in the October 1962 issue of
Country Beautiful and was dumped in the Congressional Record of May 23, 1963,
pp. A3291-A3293. Further worthless remarks on "The Origin of Uncle Sam" were
dumped in the Congressional Record of September 12, 1963, pp. A5773-A5774.
In 1988, an "Uncle Sam Day" resolution officially passed Congress.
All of this is based on the dubious testimony of an unnamed eyewitness
to the War of 1812, recounting his memory in 1830!