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Arising in obscure ways, often originating in derision or abuse or
satire, sometimes repudiated by those to whom they are applied, at
other times adopted in spite of the ridicule, the origin of nicknames
is singularly elusive, and there are few words or phrases of which it
is more difficult to trace the history. Moreover, nicknames are almost
invariably associated in the popular mind with some person or place
or thing having a similar name; and so a problem already difficult is
made doubly so by the necessity of attempting to obtain information
about very obscure persons. The history of nicknames usually follows
one general course: those who, at the time of origin, perhaps know
the real explanation, fail to record it, and then, a generation or so
having passed by and the true origin having been forgotten, a series of
guesses is indulged in.

In Yankee, Brother Jonathan, and Uncle Sam, we Americans have perhaps
more than our fair share of national sobriquets; and we are, so far
as I am aware, the only nation to the government of which a sobriquet
has been given in distinction from the people. For while Uncle Sam
has occasionally been applied to us as a nation, its use is almost
wholly restricted to our government. What has been said above about the
popular tendency to connect nicknames with persons is well illustrated
in all of our national sobriquets. When the history of Yankee comes
to be written, it will be found necessary to consider a famous pirate
who was the terror of the Spanish Main in the seventeenth century; a
negro who lived in South Carolina in 1725; several members of a family
which was well known in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the eighteenth
century; the Yankoos, an imaginary tribe of Indians invented in 1775
for the purpose of explaining a word which then first came into general
use in this country; and Yankee as a family name. The history of
Brother Jonathan involves an inquiry into an alleged English poet of
the seventeenth century; a London coffee-house of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries named Jonathan's; Jonathan Hastings, a tanner who
lived in Cambridge early in the eighteenth century; Jonathan Carver,
the noted traveller; and Jonathan Trumbull, the distinguished Governor
of Connecticut.[1] And in Uncle Sam we are confronted with a similar
problem - this time an alleged contractor and inspector named Samuel
Wilson, who lived in Troy during the first half of the nineteenth
century. The story connecting Uncle Sam with Samuel Wilson first
appeared in print, so far as is known, in 1842, and no example of the
term earlier than 1840 has until now ever been cited.[2]

Before considering the Samuel Wilson story, let us see what the
history of the term Uncle Sam has actually been. For sixty-six years
the statement has been repeated that the nickname arose at the outbreak
of the war of 1812, varied occasionally by the assertion that the term
originated during the Revolutionary War. Both statements are incorrect,
as the term is not known to have been used until the war of 1812 was
half over; but the nickname certainly did originate during that war.[3]
Moreover, for a year or so it was avoided by those who favored the war,
and was employed only by those who opposed the war. Hence the term was
at first apparently used somewhat derisively. In order to understand
how this could have been the case, it will be necessary to glance at
some of the manifestations of the war.

We are all so familiar with the causes, events, and consequences of
the war of 1812, that it is unnecessary to dwell upon them here;
yet some passages from contemporary newspapers will perhaps give us
a more vivid impression of the thoughts and feelings engendered by
that contest than will the formal writings of learned historians. An
editorial note headed with the historic words "Era of Good Feelings,"
which appeared in the _Columbian Centinel_ of July 12, 1817, began as
follows: "During the late Presidential Jubilee many persons have met
at festive boards, in pleasant converse, whom party politics had long
severed. We recur with pleasure to all the circumstances which attended
the demonstrations of good feelings" (p. 2-3). To us of the present
day, who take our politics more calmly, it is not easy to understand
the furor and turmoil which characterized the war of 1812. But if
political warfare nowadays is less abusive and vituperative than it
was a century ago, as is certainly the case, yet also it is distinctly
less picturesque. Is it possible that in the matter of nicknames, we
Americans have lost our inventive capacity? What has there been in the
past decade to match "Father of his Country," "Old Hickory," "Mill
Boy of the Slashes," "Old Man Eloquent," "Tippecanoe," "Old Bullion,"
"Rail-splitter," "Plumed Knight," and scores of other sobriquets that
will readily occur to all? It is true that the nicknames which were so
commonly bestowed during the war of 1812 were chiefly satirical; but on
that very account they are the more valuable for our present purpose.
In a speech delivered in Congress on January 24, 1812, David R.
Williams said: "Sir, I feel a deadly hate against Great Britain. Yes,
sir, if the red artillery of Heaven were in my hands, I'd soon drive
the fast anchored isle from her moorings."[4] Immediately Williams was
nicknamed "Mr. Thunderbolt Williams," "thunder-and-lightning Williams,"
"Jupiter Williams," "thunder & lightning David;" and his words lingered
in the popular mind for fourteen years at least.[5] War with England
was declared June 18, 1812. In a proclamation dated June 26, Governor
Caleb Strong of Massachusetts spoke of "the nation from which we are
descended, and which for many generations has been the bulwark of the
religion we profess."[6] At once "the bulwark of our religion" and
"Bulwark Strong" became bywords in the war papers.[7] In a speech
delivered in Congress on January 5, 1813, Josiah Quincy said:

"An armistice was proposed by them. It was refused by
us. It was acceded to by the American general, on the
frontiers. It was rejected by the cabinet.... They
renewed hostilities. They rushed upon Canada. Nothing
would satisfy them but blood. The language of their
conduct is that of the giant, in the legends of infancy.

_Fee, Faw, Foo, Fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Dead, or alive, I will have some._"[8]

The man who later was commemorated by Lowell in an essay entitled
"A Great Public Character," was, during the war of 1812, known as "Mr.
Fum"[9] or "Orator Fum,"[10] and we read of "the degrading doctrine
inculcated by '_fee, fo, fi, fum_' federalists."[11] John Adams was
"Duke of Braintree"[12] and "Old Brimborion."[13] John Armstrong, who
was made Secretary of War in January, 1813, was nicknamed "Duke of
Newburgh," in allusion to the famous Newburgh Addresses of 1783.[14]
Jefferson was called "Tall Tommy,"[15] "Thomas the Magician,"[16] and
"Thomas Conundrum."[17] President Madison was "Little Jemmy,"[18] "King
James" or "King Jemmy,"[19] "James the Great,"[20] and "Mundungus,"[21]
and was referred to as "James the First Emperor of the Virginians
and King of the United States."[22] Timothy Pickering was "Uncle
Tim."[23] On November 10, 1812, General Alexander Smyth issued a
proclamation,[24] whereupon it was said that "during this time Gen.
_Proclamation_ curvetted about."[25] General James Wilkinson was called
"Don" or "Don Jamie," in allusion to Don Quixote.[26]

Besides these nicknames applied to persons, there were several epithets
which were employed to designate a class. Those who favored the war
were called "Wildcats,"[27] "War-dogs,"[28] "War-hirelings,"[29]
"War-men,"[30] and "War-sharks,"[31] but the favorite term was
"War-hawks." Under the head of "Political Intoxication," the following
appeared in the _Columbian Centinel_ of February 19, 1812 (p. 4-1):

"OUR _War-Hawks_ when pot valiant grown,
Could they the British King dethrone,
Would sacrifice a man a day; -
To me the reason's very plain,
Why topers talk in such a strain -
They want a double[A] _Can-a-day_.

[A] _Upper_ and _Lower_."

"The noisy and vociferous demagogues and war hawks," said the _Portland
Gazette_, "and office hunters in this vicinity, ... have never once
_slipt out of their beds of down_, or _paid a single cent_ from their
pockets, in support of their darling war."[32]

The "War-hawks" retaliated by calling the peace men "Tories" and
likening them to the Loyalists of the Revolution. "The _war-hawks_
of that vicinity," said the _New York Evening Post_ of October 28,
1812, "came to his house and began abusing him with the usual slang of
_Federalist_, _old Tory_, &c." (p. 2-4).

Nowhere was the depth of popular feeling more clearly shown than in the
toasts that were offered at the various dinners which were so freely
partaken of on the Fourth of July and on other occasions. Such dinners
would now seem somewhat provincial, but they were exceedingly common
late in the eighteenth and early in the nineteenth centuries, and no
doubt they were of service in fostering the spirit of nationality.[33]

The following toasts were given in 1812. At Philadelphia: "May the
tories of N. England repent - _or be damned_."[34] At Norwich, Vermont:
"_The TORIES!_ - Too mean to live, too wicked to die - unworthy of
heaven, and too bad for hell; - may the Angel of darkness convey them
beyond the bounds of either."[35]

In 1813 were given the toasts which follow. At Boston: "May the
traitorous designs of _junto federalists_ and their wicked declaration,
that '_Britain is the bulwark of our religion_,' become more and
more obnoxious by appointing 'FEE, FOW, FUM' ORATORS to promulgate
their detestable principles."[36] At Sutton, Massachusetts: "Caleb
Strong: The addresser of Gage,[37] the defender of impressment, the
justifier of Indian massacres, the advocate of England, and the
enemy of America. - May he retire, repent, and yet be saved."[38] At
Philadelphia: "Governor Strong: Eternal infamy and execration to the
foul hypocrite who could be base enough to pronounce the most savage,
unprincipled and blood thirsty nation on the face of the earth the
'bulwark of our religion.' _Over the hills and far away._"[39] At
Camp Meigs: "The tories and apologists for the wrongs done us by the
British government where they ought to be, _kissing their monarch's
toe. Rogue's March._"[40] At New York: "_Tories_ - old, new - native and
exotic - marshal's passports - time - three seconds - destination - '_the
fast anchored isle_.'"[41]

In 1814 were given the following toasts. At Belfast, Maine: "The
War-Hawks and Vultures at Washington: - Having _usurped_ the place of
the towering Eagle, may they be _expelled_ from the capitol, with
their _wings clipped_ and a label about their necks, to the _wilds_ of
_Kentucky_, the _native haunts_ of birds of _prey_."[42] At Scituate,
Massachusetts: "_The President of the United States_ - Respect for
the office, but contempt for the incumbent - an immediate resignation
his first duty - the Island of Elba his last retreat."[43] At Hudson,
New York: "_Massachusetts_ - British influence but poor bait for
Codfish - may she let down her net the right side of the Ship."[44] At
Winchendon, Massachusetts: "_James I. of America._ - In the imitation of
his prototype may he soon be compelled by the voice of the people to
abdicate in favour of a rightful heir. - _3 cheers._"[45] At New York:
"_Timothy Pickering._ - 'A greater liar Parthia never bred.'"[46]

It is clear that every one was in an irritated frame of mind, the
merest trifle being sufficient to arouse bitter feelings, and even to
cause men to come to actual blows. Duel after duel was fought by those
in the upper classes of society - whether military, naval, or civil; and
even among respectable people hand to hand fights seem occasionally
to have taken place.[47] To add to the general irritation, several
especially unpopular laws were enacted. An act laying direct and other
taxes was approved by President Madison on July 30, and went into
effect on December 25, 1813.[48] In a Worcester paper of December 22,
1813, appeared the following:

"_The New Army_ - The tax-gathering campaign is about
opening, and will undoubtedly be both brilliant and
successful, as the army of assessors and collectors
is very numerous and ably supported by the strong arm
of the government. - This _patriotic_ band of harpies
will unquestionably acquit themselves with great skill
and adroitness in diving to the bottom of the farmers'
pockets and filching away the hard-earnings of many a
tedious day."[49]

Long before this, however, there had been clashes between United States
custom house officers and others. A communication dated Portland,
Massachusetts,[50] May 28, 1813, beginning with the statement that "A
most daring infringement of the laws took place here upon the evening
of the 25th," went on to describe the seizure of goods by custom house
officers, who were set upon by smugglers, the latter making off with
the goods.[51] In September, 1813, what is described as "a battle" took
place at Granville, New York, on the borders of Vermont, between United
States custom house officers and officials of New York.

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" (p. 3-3).

In the _Lansingburgh Gazette_ of late in September or possibly October
1, 1813, appeared the following:

_"Land Privateering._ - The following is a short sketch
of a recent battle, under the act[52] to encourage
land-privateering, between what are called in this
part of the country, _Uncle Sam's Men_ and the _Men of
New-York_: - On Friday se'nnight, a quantity of goods
were seized pursuant to the act aforesaid, by a custom
house officer at Granville, in Washington county,
under the pretence that they had been smuggled from
Canada. On the Monday succeeding the owner obtained a
writ of replevin, and the sheriff, after meeting with
some opposition, succeeded, in possessing himself of
the goods, according to the laws of this state. _Uncle
Sam's Men_, however, feeling little disposition to be
deprived of their booty in this manner, (for secure
as they thought of the whole, they had _plundered_
but a small part of the goods,) raised a band of war
hawks, and attempted a rescue. The sherriff called
the posse of the neighborhood to his assistance, and
the parties being nearly equal, altho' the war-hawks
were rather the most numerous, a battle royal ensued.
It was long and obstinately contested; but ended in
the complete discomfiture of _Uncle Sam's_ party, who
retired from the conflict, marked with many a broken
head and bruised limb, leaving the _Men of New-York_ in
possession of the field of battle and the goods."[53]

In a communication dated Burlington, Vermont, October 1, 1813, appeared
the following:

"The _patriotic_ Volunteers, who have _marched_ here to
guard the public stores in the absence of the regular
army, are taking '_long furloughs_,' and volunteering
for _home_ by tens and fifties, and hundreds. - The
pretence is, that _Uncle Sam_, the now popular
explication of the U. S., does not pay well; and that
the cold begins to pinch."[54]

From a paper published at Herkimer, New York, on January 27, 1814, is
taken the following:

"_'Uncle Sam's' hard bargains._ - On Thursday afternoon
of last week, about thirty sleighs, 'more or less'[55]
loaded with the 'weak and wounded, sick and sore'
of our armies on the frontiers, passed through this
village for Greenbush. Never before have we beheld such
a picture. Half-naked, half-frozen, and by their looks
half-starved: some with and some without legs, others
upon crutches, or supporting each other from falling,
with their heads or arms bandaged, and the blood still
oozing from their half drest wounds - their meagre,
emaciated and ghastly appearance presented at once to
the eye of the beholder, a striking picture _of the
horrors of war_ and _neglect_."[56]

In a paper published at Windsor, Vermont, in February, 1814, are found
allusions to Secretary Armstrong and Josiah Quincy:

"[_The following Extraordinary Advertisement is copied
from the last (Windsor) Washingtonian._]


"UNCLE SAM, a worthy gentleman Slaveholder (_of
Virginia_) wants to purchase, at 124 dollars a
head, 65,000 ('more or less') stout, able-bodied,
full-blooded YANKEES, to aid Field Marshall, _the Duke
of Newburgh_, in taking Possession of a Plantation he
has lately bargained for, (_with himself_) if he can
get it, IN CANADA. Apply at the truly fortunate Lottery
Office; - or, elsewhere, if more convenient; - as every
'Office-holder or Citizen,' in the United States, is
fully authorized and empowered to contract, as the
acknowledged agent of his _Uncle_.

"N. B. - Uncle Sam's _purse_ is rather low - but
no matter. The _Duke_ will guarantee the
pay - 'FORCIBLY - _if he must_.'"[57]

In the _Herkimer American_ of April 28, 1814, was printed the following:

"_Economy._ - A few days since, in a neighboring town
_twelve_ United States' waggons were _repaired_, for
which the blacksmith was paid _one thousand eight
hundred dollars_ out of _Uncle Sam's_ purse. _Query._
How much is the usual cost of a new waggon?"[58]

In or about May, 1814, the Keene _Sentinel_ printed the following:

"_More Economy!_ - Colonel Pickering in his Speech on
the Loan Bill, stated, on direct information from two
members of the former Congress, that a waggon started
with 40 bushels of corn for the army - that the team of
horses consumed 18 bushels on the way - reserved 18 to
feed them on returning, and delivered 4 bushels, which
must, at this rate, have cost _fifty dollars_ a bushel!

"Everyone remembers the vinegar transported from Boston
to Albany, which might have been procured _cheaper_ at
the latter than the former place.

"_Uncle Sam's_ teams are continually passing thro'
this town, with cannon balls, &c. for the fleet at
Vergennes. These balls are transported from Boston,
at an expense of not less than _twenty shillings_ for
every 100 wt. i. e. every 32 lb. ball costs a dollar
for transportation only. Now it is well known there are
several foundaries in the vicinity of the Lake, and
one very extensive one in Vergennes. - What then could
induce the contractor to resort to this useless waste
of the _sinews of war_? Quere. Do not the contractors
have a certain per cent? If so, the larger the bills
are, the better for them."[59]

An extract dated Baltimore, June 22, 1814, reads as follows:

"A detachment of 260 Uncle Sam's troops, under Major
KEYSER have embarked from Baltimore, to aid in raising
the blockade of BARNEY'S flotilla. [This is as it
should be, - The regulars are paid and fed for the
common defense.]"[60]

The following passage is dated Keene, New Hampshire, November 5, 1814:

"The soldiers, drafted for the defence of Portsmouth
are mostly on their return home. By some _arrangement_
between the Governor and General Chandler, the latter,
it seems, undertook to provide for, and _pay_ the
troops. The _names_ of those poor fellows are on _Uncle
Sam's_ pay roll; but not a cent of money have any of
them received. This will come when the government loan
is filled, and this loan will be filled when public
credit is restored, either before, or _after_ 'the
_troubled night_ of this administration departs.'"[61]

The following story appeared in the _Columbian Centinel_ of December 3,


"U. Sam pays his soldier-servants in Paper Money
('Chequer Bills) which the poor fellows carry to the
brokers, and sell at a loss from 20 to 30 dollars in a
hundred, and which Uncle Sam thinks is so much saved.

"But _John Bull_, an old fool, carries his Paper Money
to market himself, gets as much gold and silver for it
as he can - and pays off his soldier-servants in Ready
Rhino, thereby losing all the discount himself.

"Who then shall say, that Uncle Sam is not a prudent,
calculating fellow - and John Bull a fool and a

The _Plattsburg Herald_ of December 9, 1814, contained the following:

"'UNCLE SAM'S PAY' - AGAIN. - The detatched Militia,
of this state, who have been stationed at this
post for these three months past, are principally
discharged, and are to leave this place to-day. For the
encouragement of the citizens of this state to unite in
defence of 'Free Trade and Sailor's Rights,' - ... we
have to inform them that the aforesaid militia are now
permitted to leave this, and get to their homes as they
can, without (as they inform us) a cent of their pay,
or even so much as the offer of a single Treasury Note,
some of them the distance of 200 miles.... Who will not
unite in this righteous war, and support the just and
wise administration who declared it? - UNION! UNION!"[63]

In the _Salem Gazette_ of January 27, 1815, was printed the following:

"According to the Recruiting Orders lately issued,
all men enlisted, before they pass muster, must
be _stripped_. This is well enough, the peacable
_citizens_ have been _stripped_ by the war-hawk party
long since; and it is high time the system should be
extended to the _military_ of Uncle Sam's family."[64]

The _New Bedford Mercury_ of January 27, 1815, contained the following:


"On Tuesday last, the Deputy Collector of the 14th
Collection District, agreeable to previous notice,
proceeded to sell the real estate of about 30 persons
of this town, for payment of Direct Taxes. No person
appearing to purchase, the whole was _knocked down to
Uncle Sam_ - Whether Uncle Sam or his agents will ever
DARE attempt to take possession of these purchases, is
another part of the business."[65]

The above passage was quoted early in 1815 by Hezekiah Niles, who
appended this note: "U.S. or Uncle Sam - a cant term in the army for the
United States."[66]

* * * * *

In the _Columbian Centinel_ of June 21, 1815, appeared the following:

A District Paymaster of the U.S. residing in N.Y. by
the name of _Whittleby_ has advertised having been
robbed of _Thirty Thousand_ dollars of Uncle Sam's
money intended to pay the militia. It was in his
Portmanteau, which _some how_ or other, and _somewhere_
or other, was cut open, and the money all rifled! The
pay-master having a bad memory, could not recollect the
denominations of bills; and forgot to offer a reward
for the detection of the 'nefarious and daring wretch'"
(p. 2-2).

Uncle Sam apparently made his first appearance in verse in a song
called "Siege of Plattsburg, Sung at the Theatre, in Albany in the
character of a Black Sailor. Tune - 'Boyn Water.'" There are four

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