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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.
"Mrs. Britannia" and her daughter "Miss Canada" discussing "Cousin Jonathan" in an 1886 political cartoon
A popular folk tale about the origin of the term holds that the character derives from Jonathan Trumbull (1710–85), Governor of the State of Connecticut, which was the main source of supplies for the Northern and Middle Departments during the American Revolutionary War. It is said that George Washington uttered the words: "We must consult Brother Jonathan" when asked how he could win the war. That origin is doubtful, however, as neither man made reference to the story during his lifetime and the first appearance of the story has been traced to the mid-19th century, long after their deaths.
The character was adopted by Americans from 1783 to 1815, when Brother Jonathan became a nickname for any Yankee soldier, similar to the way that G.I. is used to describe members of the U.S. Army. During the War of 1812, the term "Uncle Sam" appeared. Uncle Sam appeared in newspapers from 1813 to 1815, and in 1816 he 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".
The phrase "We must consult Brother Jonathan" appears on the graduation certificates of Yale University's Trumbull College, also named for Trumbull.
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