A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 18, 2008
Brother Jonathan (summary)

"Brother Jonathan” was an early representation of an American or of the United States, later replaced with “Uncle Sam.” Brother Jonathan was the opposite of the personification of England, represented by “John Bull.”

In 1846, it was claimed that “Brother Jonathan” was originally Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785), Governor of Connecticut, but the late appearance of this explanation is one reason why it is not considered a reliable answer.

Many Americans were named “Jonathan” in the 1700s; by the late 1700s, the name “Jonathan” was applied to country bumpkins in plays and essays. Albert Matthews published a monograph on “Brother Jonathan” in 1902 and concluded that “Jonathan” had been used by Loyalists to the English cause to describe Americans.

“Brother Jonathan” is cited in print in 1769 (see below), but is most frequently cited beginning from the 1780s. Cartoon depictions of Brother Jonathan appeared during the War of 1812.


Wikipedia: Brother Jonathan
Brother Jonathan was a fictional character created to personify the entire United States, in the early days of the country’s existence.

In editorial cartoons and patriotic posters, Brother Jonathan was usually depicted as a typical American revolutionary, with tri-cornered hat and long military jacket. Originally, from 1776 to 1783, “Brother Jonathan” was a mildly derisive term used by the Loyalists to describe the Patriots.

A popular folk tale about the origin of the term holds that the character derives from Jonathan Trumbull (1710-85), Governor of Connecticut. It is said that George Washington often uttered the words: “We must consult Brother Jonathan” when faced with a difficult question; however, that origin is doubtful, as neither man made reference to the story during their lifetimes and the first appearance of the story has been traced to the mid 1800s, long after their deaths.

The character was adopted by Americans from 1783 to 1815. During the War of 1812, the term “Uncle Sam” appeared. Uncle Sam appeared in newspapers from 1813 to 1815, and in 1816 it appeared in a book. Brother Jonathan was replaced by the female personification Columbia and the increasingly popular Uncle Sam. Indeed, the character can be seen as an intermediate step between Yankee Doodle and Uncle Sam as a representation of the everyday American.

However, Brother Jonathan, and variants of the name Jonathan continued to be used as slang references to Americans through the American Civil War. For example Johnny Reb meant a Confederate soldier, and a popular song was “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.

3 February 1769, Connecticut Journal (Hartford, CT), pg. 1:
Mess. PRINTERS,
I Am exceedingly glad, that the little scroll I sent you the other day hath proved the occasion of exciting my brother Jonathan to write more accurately and ingeniously upon the subject. As we have no public manufactories, I could not expect, or propose any thing more than this, that every family should be a little manufactory, and be duly supplied with materials to work upon. I intirely agree with brother Jonathan, that it would be a very laudable resolution, in all those leading orders of men, to give preference and reputation to homespun in the manner he hath suggested.
(...)
DAVID HOMESPUN,
(a son of liberty.)

28 December 1786, Massachusetts Spy (Boston, MA), pg. 476:
Is it not all Pleasant Genteel and agreable Language Nay, I Swompit you Brother Jonathan, is it Not manly, I wonder where you got your learning.

8 August 1787, Independent Gazetteer (PA), pg. 3:
Neaw I advise these keind polishers of awer language to go to brother Jonathan for a geide, he’ll larn’um to say keaw for cow, veaw for vow, geal for girl, heause for house, and a grate many more nashun clever things, and he won’t ax’um a farding for’t nother.

10 October 1878, Freeman’s Journal (PA), pg. 2:
Anecdote.—Sometime ago at a yearly commencement in one of the Eastern States, we were entertained part of the forenoon with a Hebrew oration. Being quite weary of the discourse, I whispered my companion, who was a New England sea-captain, that I wished the young man, instead of facing the audience, would address himself to those that understood Hebrew.—“Do you so, saod the tar—then, by nowns, brother Jonathan, there would not be a single point of the compass that would suit him.”

11 May 1790, Salem (MA) Gazette, pg. 4:
The first American vessel that anchored in the river Thames, after the peace, attracted great numbers to see the stripes. A British soldier hailed, in a contemptuous tone, “From whence came ye, brother Jonathan?” The boatswain retorted, “Strait from Bunker’s Hill.”

OCLC WorldCat record
The American jester, or, Entertaining medley : containing a selection of the most curious jests, anecdotes, and repartees-- both ancient and modern ; to which are added, Brother Jonathan’s new song ; and, The farce of French liberty.
Type:  Book; English
Publisher: Exeter (N.H.), 1799.

OCLC WorldCat record
The beauties of Brother Bull-us,
by James Kirke Paulding;
Type:  Book; English
Publisher: New-York: Published by James Eastburn, at the late E. Sargeant’s store, Philadelphia, M. Thomas, 1812.
OCLC: 166602685
Document Type: Book
Notes: Extracts from “The diverting history of John Bull and Brother Jonathan,” by J. K. Paulding, with comments.
Description: 1 p. lea., 93 p. 16 cm.

OCLC WorldCat record
Brother Jonathan administering a salutory cordial to John Bull.
Type:  2-D image : Graphic : Original artwork; English
Publisher: [ca. 1813]

OCLC WorldCat record
A brief and humorous history of the political peculiarities of England and America, characterised in John Bull and Brother Jonathan.
by James Kirke Paulding
Type:  Book; English
Publisher: London, Printed by Davidson; sold by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1814.
Responsibility: by his loving sister Bull-a.

OCLC WorldCat record
Brother Jonathan: or, the New Englanders. In three volumes
by John Neal
Type:  Book : Fiction; English
Publisher: Edinburgh : William Blackwood, Edinburgh: and T. Cadell, London, 1825

OCLC WorldCat record
Brother Jonathan.
Type:  Newspaper; English
Publisher: New York [N.Y.] : Griswold and Co.,
Material Type: Newspaper
Document Type: Journal / Magazine / Newspaper
Notes: Editors vary: N.Y. Willis & H. Hastings Willis, <1841> ; John Neal, <1843>; Henry C. Deming, <1844>; Benjamin H. Day, <1851-1860>. Publisher varies: Griswold and Co., 1839; Wilson & Co., 1839-<1842>; J. Winchester, <1844>; Wilson and Co., <1845-1851>; Benjamin H. Day, <1852-1862>. Description based on: Vol. 1, no. 4 (Aug. 3, 1839).
Description: v. : ill., ports. 31-84 cm.
Other Titles: Brother Jonathan (New York, N.Y. : 1839)

30 November 1846, Boston (MA) Evening Transcript, pg. 4:
BROTHER JONATHAN. The origin of this term as applied to the United States, is given in a recetn number of the Norwich Courier. The editor says it was communicated by one of the most intelligent gentlemen, and sterling Whigs of Connecticut, now upwards of eighty years of age, who was an active participator in the scenes of the Revolution. The story is as follows:

When General Washington, after being appointed Commander of the Army of the Revolutionary war, came to Massachusetts to organize it, and make preparation for the defence of the country, he found a great destruction of ammunition and other means necessary to meet the powerful foe he had to contend with, and great difficulty to obtain them. If attacked in such condition, the cause at once might be hopeless. On one occasion, at that anxious period, a consultation of the officers and others was had, when it seemed no way could be devised to make such preparation as was necessary. His Exscellency Jonathan Trumbull, the elder, was then Governor of the State of Connecticut, on whose judgment and the General placed the greatest reliance, and remarked, “We must consult Brother Jonathan on the subject.” The General did so, and the Governor was successful in supplying many of the wants of the Army. When diifculties after arose, and the Army was spread over the country, it became a by-word, “We must consult Brother Jonathan.” The term Yankee is still applied to a portion by “Brother Jonathan” has now become a designation of the whole country, as John Bull has for England.
{This first appeared in the Norwich Evening Courier, 12 November 1846, pg. 2, col. 4. See Pg. 3 in the book below—ed.)

Google Books
Brother Jonathan
By Albert Matthews
reprinted from
The Publications of
The Colonial Society of Massachusetts
Vol. VII
Cambridge, MA: John Wilson and Son
1902
Pg. 20:
Reviewing the extracts which have thus far been given, it is clear that the word Jonathan was used by the Loyalists, and applied by them in mild derision to those who espoused the American cause. We find an individual American called a Jonathan, we find a number of Americans called Jonathans, we find Americans collectively called Jonathan, and we also find the term Brother Jonathan. Why the particular name Jonathan should have been selected, is one of those questions easy to ask but difficult, if not impossible, to answer. The fact that that was the christian name of Governor Trumbull may have had something to do with the adoption of Jonathan rather than of another name; but there is nothing in the evidence to support (Pg. 21—ed.) the notion that such was the case. Nor is there anything to show that the word was applied particularly to the men of Connecticut, or even to those of New England.

It will be observed that as yet the term has not been employed by the men who espoused the American cause. Hardly, however, had the Revolutionary war ended, than we find the use of the word Jonathan becoming somewhat widespread as applied to a country bumpkin, varied by an occasional instance of the term Brother Jonathan. In 1787 there was acted at New York a comedy called The Contrast, written by Royal Tyler of Boston. It is interesting to note that in this play, under the name of Jonathan, the stage Yankee made his first appearance in literature.

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOrigin of "Uncle Sam"/"Brother Jonathan" • (1) Comments • Tuesday, November 18, 2008 • Permalink


The individual quoted in the 1846 article printed in the Norwich Courier was 80 years old. Consequently, he would have been nine years old at the time General Washington took command of the troops surrounding Boston in July 1775. Hardley an age to have been an “active participator” in the scenes of the Revolution. Yet, he has certainly been the perpetrator of a myth about Governor Jonathan Trumbull that simply will not die, at least not in Trumbull’s hometown of Lebanon, Connecticut. As Lebanon town historian, I can tell you that it is a never-ending battle. However, there is a fairly recent scholarly publicaton that has been helpful and you might find it worth your time or at least including in your references on the “Brother Jonathan” topic. I can’t italicize the title in this email. It will be in quotes.
Morgan, Winifred. “An American Icon: Brother Jonathan and American Identity.” Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1988.

Posted by Alicia Wayland  on  11/18  at  07:17 PM

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