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 14, 2008
Uncle Sam (summary)

"Uncle Sam” is a personification of the United States, formed from the letters “U. S.” The name became popular in the War of 1812; England was personified then as “John Bull.” Uncle Sam replaced “Brother Jonathan,” another personification of Americans.

A detailed explanation about the origin of “Uncle Sam” in the May 12, 1830 New York (NY) Gazette—seemingly from an eyewitness— gave credit to a real person, meat packer Samuel Wilson (1766-1854) of Troy, New York. Supposedly, “E. A. - U. S.” on packed meat was jokingly interpreted as “Elbert Anderson - Uncle Sam.”

However, there are many reasons to conclude that the Samuel Wilson story is a myth and is not the origin of “Uncle Sam”:

. First, the New York Gazette writer is anonymous.
. Second, the story is first told in 1830, many years after 1812-1813.
. Third, “Uncle Sam” is mentioned in the Troy (NY) Post of September 7, 1813, where “Uncle Sam” is explained quite differently: “The letters U. S. on the government waggons, &c., are supposed to have given rise to it.”
. Fourth, an Albany newspaper in 1817 explained: “This expression, which originated during the war, from the initials ‘U. S.’ on the soldiers’ knapsacks, has come into general use.” Thus, contemporary newspapers in both Troy and Albany did not mention Samuel Wilson.
. Fifth, Elbert Anderson advertised in October 1812 for bids on meat contracts, to be filled starting January 1813. The first known citation for “Uncle Sam” is from a Vermont newspaper in December 1812 (again, with no mention of meat barrels). “Uncle Sam” probably existed before “E. A. - U. S.” was ever stamped on any barrels.
. Sixth, the USS Constitution Museum discovered, in 2013, a seaman’s journal from March 24, 1810, stating “uncle Sam, as they call him.”

The third-oldest recorded “Uncle Sam” is from an undated broadside, believed to be from the first half of 1813. I found a similar broadside (also from upstate New York and also dating from 1813) in the Newberry Library (see 1997 post below), confirming the date and location of this “Uncle Sam” broadside (published in Alton Ketchum’s 1959 book, Uncle Sam: The Man and the Legend).

While the ultimate origin of “Uncle Sam” might never be known, it is clear that the letters “U. S.” on military supplies (such as wagons, knapsacks and caps) gave rise to the name.


Wikipedia: Uncle Sam
Uncle Sam is a national personification of the United States (US), and sometimes more specifically of the American government, with the first usage of the term dating from the War of 1812 and the first illustration dating from 1852. He is often depicted as a serious elderly white man with white hair and a goatee, and dressed in clothing that recalls the design elements of flag of the United States—for example, typically a top hat with red and white stripes and white stars on a blue band, and red and white striped trousers.

Introduction
Common folklore holds that Uncle Sam’s origins trace back to soldiers stationed in upstate New York, who would receive barrels of meat stamped with the initials U.S. The soldiers joked that these initials were a reference to the troops’ meat supplier, (Uncle) Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York.

The 87th United States Congress adopted the following resolution on September 15, 1961: “Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives that the Congress salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam.” Monuments mark his birthplace in Arlington, Massachusetts, and site of burial in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York. Another sign marks “The boyhood home of Uncle Sam” outside his second home in Mason, NH. The first use of the term in literature is seen in an 1816 allegorical book, The Adventures of Uncle Sam in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq., also in reference to the aforementioned Samuel Wilson.

Earlier representative figures of the United States included such beings as “Brother Jonathan,” used by Punch magazine. These were overtaken by Uncle Sam somewhere around the time of the Civil War. The female personification “Columbia” has seldom been seen since the 1920s. The well-known “recruitment” image of Uncle Sam was created by James Montgomery Flagg, an illustrator and portrait artist best known for commercial art. The image of Uncle Sam was shown publicly for the first time, according to some, in a picture by Flagg on the cover of the magazine Leslie’s Weekly, on July 6, 1916, with the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” More than four million copies of this image were printed between 1917 and 1918. The image also was used extensively during World War II.

Wikipedia: Samuel Wilson
Samuel Wilson (September 13, 1766 - July 31, 1854) was a meat-packer in Troy, New York whose name is purportedly the source of the personification of the United States known as “Uncle Sam”.

Samuel was born in historic Arlington (known as Menotomy at the time), Massachusetts, to parents originally from Greenock, Scotland. The Uncle Sam Memorial Statue marks a site near his birthplace. As a boy, he moved with his family to Mason, New Hampshire. In 1789, Samuel and his brother Ebeneezer moved to Troy, where they went into business. In 1797, Samuel married Betsey Mann of Mason and brought her back to Troy with him. They had four children and lived in a house on Ferry Street. Samuel Wilson died in 1854 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Troy.

At the time of the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson was a prosperous middle-aged meat-packer in Troy. He obtained a contract to supply beef to the Army in its campaign further north, which he shipped in barrels. The barrels, being government property, were branded with the initials “U.S.”, but the teamsters and soldiers would joke that the initials referred to “Uncle Sam”, who supplied the product. Over time, it is believed, anything marked with the same initials (as much Army property was) also became linked with his name.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
Uncle Sam, the government (or people) of the United States of America.
The history of the expression has been traced by A. Matthews in Proc. Amer. Antiq. Soc. XIX. 21-65; see also R. H. Thornton Amer. Glossary 916. The suggestion that it arose as a facetious interpretation of the letters U.S. is as old as the first recorded instances, and later statements connecting it with different government officials of the name of Samuel appear to be unfounded.
1813 Troy Post 7 Sept. (Matthews), Loss upon loss, and no ill luck stir[r]ing but what lights upon Uncle Sam’s shoulders.
1839 N. HAWTHORNE in Longfellow Life (1891) I. 334 Uncle Sam is rather despotic as to the disposal of my time.

Log Lines (Research and Collections at the USS Constitution Museum)
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Seeking Uncle Sam
(...)
Unfortunately, a good deal of evidence suggests that “Uncle Sam” predates the War of 1812 and that he has nothing to do with Mr. Samuel Wilson.

Sam makes an appearance in our own Midshipman Isaac Mayo’s personal journal. On 24 March 1810, he writes, “weighed anchor stood down the harbour, passed Sandy Hook, where there are two light-houses, and put to sea, first and second day out most deadly seasick, oh could I have got on shore in the hight [sic] of it, I swear that uncle Sam, as they call him, would certainly forever have lost the services of at least one sailor.” Here is a reference that dates to more than two years before the start of the war, and it is safe to assert that Mid. Mayo never heard of Sam Wilson or ever ate army beef.

6 October 1812, Troy (NY) Post, pg. 3, col. 4 ad:
PROPOSALS
FOR BEEF AND PORK
SEALED Proposals will be received through the medium of the Post-Offices at Albany and New-York, directed to the subscriber until the 25th of October for 2000 barrels PRIME PORK, and 3000 barrels PRIME BEEF, to be delivered in the months of January, February, March and April, at Waterford, Troy, Albany and New-York. The whole to be put up in full bound barrels of white oak. No proposals need to be offered for less than one hundred barrels. Twenty per cent will be paid in advance at the time of executing the contract, 20 per cent on the first day of January, and 10 per cent the first day of March, the remainder on the first day of May, 1813. The Contractor reserves to himself the privilege of choosing his inspector in the counties the provisions are put up in. The performance will be given to those whose reputation and security will insure the faithful compliance of the terms of the contract.
ELBERT ANDERSON, Jun.
Army Contractor.
October 1st, 1812.

23 December 1812, Bennington (VT) News-Letter, pg. 3:
The conscripts from this town, amounting to about 40, have been dismissed and sent home, sickness, has made bad work among us—according to the best information I have been able to obtain, about one half of us, are, or have been sick, 3 or 4 are dead. Several are left behind, and not heard from. The expence to this town, or more properly to the unfortunate individuals who were drafted, cannot be less than from two to three thousand dollars, exclusive of the expence to the U. States of pay, clothing, rations &c. Now Mr. Editor—pray if you can inform me, what single solitary good thing will, or can acrue to (Uncle Sam.) the U.S. for all the expence, marching and countermarching, pain, sickness, death &c among us?...A CONSCRIPT.

13 January 1813, The Geneva Gazette (Geneva, NY), pg. 1, col. 2:
FOR THE GENEVA GAZETTE.
MR. BOGERT,
SIR.—The following verses are the extempore poetical effusions of a number of Volunteers who were returning from campaign No. I, while they were at a Public Inn at Cayuga: They were afterwards penned by a Spectator, who thinks there is at least as much truth as poetry in them.—They are at you service.

SMYTH’S EXPEDITION.
(TUNE—Come, let us prepare.)
(...)
The country no doubt
Will be all in a rout,
Saying, now where is UNCLE SAM’S (6) senses?
He sends out [?] [?]
As ’tis beat [?]?
All Demo’s prove non compos mentis.
(...)
(6) A trite expression, for the U. S. Government

7 September 1813, Troy (NY) Post:
Loss upon loss, and no ill luck stir[r]ing but what lights upon Uncle Sam‘s* shoulders, exclaim the Government editors in every part of the country.
(...)
*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.

11 October 1813, Portland Gazette and Maine Advertiser (Portland, ME), pg. 2, col. 2:
Extract from a Letter from Burlington, Vt. dated Oct. 1st
“The Patriotic Militia of this State, now stationed here to guard the public stores, are daily deserting 20 and 30 a day, and last evening from 100 to 200 made their escape. They say U. S. or Uncle Sam as they call it, does not pay them punctually, and that they have not forgotten the sufferings of cold toes last fall.”

3 February 1814, New York (NY) Commercial Advertiser, pg. 3:
HERKIMER, Jan. 27.
“Uncle Sam’s” hard bargains.

14 February 1814, Washingtonian (Washington, DC) ,pg. 3 ad:
SLAVES WANTED.
UNCLE SAM,
A worthy gentleman Slaveholder (of Virginia)
WANTS TO PURCHASE
at 124 Dollars a head
Sixty Five Thousand,
("more or less")

Stout, able bodied, full blooded
YANKEES,
To aid Field Marshal, 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.”

3 December 1814, Columbian Centinel (Boston, MA), pg. 2:
UNCLE SAM AND JOHN BULL.

8 March 1815, Columbian Centinel (Boston, MA), pg. 1:
“Uncle Jonathan” to “Uncle Sam.”
{A FRAGMENT.]

23 April 1816, Delaware Gazette and State Journal, pg. 1 ad:
U. S.
OR,
“UNCLE SAM
PAYS FOR ALL.”

19 June 1816, American Telegraph (Bridgeport, Brownsville, Fayette County, PA), pg. 4, col. 3:
UNCLE SAM’S LAZY DOGS.
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, I think it was, 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 seeing a regiment of them passing enquired of a bye-stander what they were “The 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 “Uncle Sam.”

11 August 1817, The Albany Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Albany, NY), pg. 3, col. 1:
“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 Sackett’s Harbor, a considerable number of Indians and Squaws, crowded round the president, wishing, as they expressed it, ”to shake hands with UNCLE SAM.”

28 March 1818, The Idiot (Boston, MA), pg. 3:
UNCLE SAM, TO THE PATRONIZERS OF THE IDIOT.
(First drawing of Uncle Sam?—ed.)

12 May 1830, New York (NY) Gazette:
Much learning and research have been exercised in tracing the origin 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 War with England, Elbert Anderson, of New York, a contractor, visited Troy where he purchased, a quantity of provisions—beef, pork, etc.  The inspectors of these articles of that place were Messrs. Ebenezer and Samuel Wilson; the latter gentleman (invariably known as “Uncle Sam") generally superintended in person a large number of workmen who were on this occasion 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 almost entirely new to them) said he did not know unless it meant Elbert Anderson and Uncle Sam, alluding to 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 purpose of meeting the enemy, and eating the provisions they had lately labored 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 favor rapidly, till it penetrated and was recognized in every part of the country, and will no doubt continue to while the United States remains a nation. It originated precisely as above 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, pickle, mud, salt and hoop-poles, eventually become a national cognomen.

Google Books
April 1908, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, pg. 21:
UNCLE SAM
BY ALBERT MATTHEWS
Pg. 61:
As printed by Farmer and Moore, the song ("Yankee Doodle”—ed.) has eleven stanzas, the tenth being as follows:

“Old uncle Sam, come there to change
Some pancakes and some onions,
For lasses cakes, to carry home
To give his wife and young ones.”
Pg. 62:
The stanza quoted above is first (Pg. 63—ed.) found in the version of 1824 and is not in either of the three versions certainly printed in or before 1813. Hence we cannot, without better evidence, accept the Farmer and Moore stanza as antedating 1824. Yet it is perfectly possible that the stanza was written before the war of 1812, and if it was, that would seem to be all but fatal to the Wilson story.

Google Books
An American Glossary:
Being an attempt to illustrate certain Americanisms upon historical principles

By Richard Hopwood Thornton
Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott Company
1912
Pg. 916:
Uncle Sam. The United States Government. The expression is traced by Mr. Albert Matthews, in his most valuable monograph of 45 pp. (American Antiquarian Society, volume xix. of Proceedings) to the year 1813; and the starred quotations below are taken from that source. Mr. Matthews disposes of the legend that connects the origin of the phrase with Samuel Wilson, inspector of provisions at Troy, N.Y., in 1812-1813.
[1800 I have heard that uncle Jonathan and some of the rest of ‘em say, &c.—The Aurora, Phila. July 14.]
*1813 Loss upon loss, and no ill luck stiring (sic) but what lights upon Uncle Sam’s shoulders, exclaim the Government editors....Note. 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.—Troy Post, Sept. 7.
*1813 [A battle royal occurred recently] between what are called in this part of the country Uncle Sam’s men and the Men of New York....[It] ended in the compelte discomfiture of Uncle Sam’s party.—Lansingburgh Gazette, late in Sept., or possibly Oct. 1.
*1813 The pretence is that Uncle Sam, the now popular explication of the U.S. does not pay well.  Communication from Burlington, Vt., Oct. 1.—Columbian Centinel, Oct. 9.

Uncle Sam: The Man and the Legend
by Alton Ketchum
New York, NY: Hill and Wang
1959
Pg. 25:
The earliest known use of the term ‘Uncle Sam’ in print was in a broadside 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.”
Pp. 38-39:
Accordingly, Anderson advertised on October 6, 13, and 20, 1812, for sealed bids on two thousand barrels of prime pork and three thousand barrels of prime beef, to be packed in full-bound barrels of white oak. Ebenezer and Samuel Wilson furnished provisions under this contract.

American Dialect Society listserv --Barry Popik post, July 4, 1997
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 general.

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 title 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 ME 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 of the 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.

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOrigin of "Uncle Sam"/"Brother Jonathan" • Friday, November 14, 2008 • Permalink