Portrait of Wilson.
September 13, 1766|
Menotomy, Province of Massachusetts Bay
|Died||July 31, 1854
Troy, New York
Samuel Wilson (September 13, 1766 – July 31, 1854) was a meat-packer from Troy, New York whose name is purportedly the source of the personification of the United States known as "Uncle Sam".
Biography and legacy
Samuel was born in the historic town of Arlington, Massachusetts (known as Menotomy at the time, township of West Cambridge), to parents Edward and Lucy Wilson. Samuel Wilson is a descendant of one of the oldest families of Boston, Massachusetts. Through direct heritance of his grandfather, Robert Wilson, originally from Greenock, Scotland, he was Scottish with a Massachusetts background. As a boy, he moved with his family to Mason, New Hampshire. In 1789, at the age of 22, Samuel and his older brother Ebeneezer, age 27, relocated, by foot, to Troy, New York. The Wilson brothers were amongst the first pioneer settlers of the community. Troy, New York was attractive to earlier settlers for its proximity to the Hudson River. Samuel and his brother Ebeneezer partnered together and built several successful businesses. Both were employees of the city as well as successful entrepreneurs. Samuel was invested in the community. He was rumored to already have had the nickname Uncle Sam because he was friendly and so well liked.
Marriage and children
Samuel returned to Mason, New Hampshire in 1797, to marry Betsey Mann, daughter of Captain Benjamin Mann. Samuel and Betsey were parents to four children, Polly (1797-1805), Samuel (1800–07), Benjamin (1802–59), and Albert (1805–66).
Benjamin Wilson was the only child to have children. He married Mary Wood, and together they were parents to Sarah, Elizabeth, Emma, and Marion. Albert married Amanda but they had no children.
While living in Mason, New Hampshire, at the young age of fifteen, Samuel joined the Revolutionary Army on March 2, 1781. His duties while enlisted consisted of guarding and caring for cattle, and mending fences, as well as slaughtering and packaging meat. Guarding meat was a priority during the war. It was not uncommon for enemies to tamper with and poison food sources. Samuel’s service to the Revolutionary Army most likely came to an end around October 19, 1781 with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
After his relocation to Troy, New York, Samuel drew upon his prosperous location. He purchased property on Mount Ida (now Prospect Park), closely located to the Hudson River. The combination of natural elements produced exceptional clay, ideal for brick making. This began a new business venture for Samuel Wilson. His bricks were the first native bricks of Troy. Many historical buildings in Troy include bricks made by Wilson. This was revolutionary during the 18th century. Many bricks during this period were imported from the Netherlands.
On March 8, 1793, Samuel and his brother Ebeneezer leased the western half of lot 112, now 43 Ferry St., from Jacob Vanderhyden for 30 shillings a year. This was the year the Wilson brothers began E & S Wilson, which was the Wilson brothers’ introduction to the profitable meat business. Their slaughterhouse was located between Adams (now Congress) Street and Jefferson Street. The brothers took advantage of their prime location and built a dock at the foot of what is now Ferry Street. Having such access to the Hudson River enabled E & S Wilson to prosper.
Sam Wilson not only was a pioneer of Troy, he was active in the community, as well as an employee of the city. On April 12, 1808, he took an oath as Office Assessor. Four days later he took an Oath of Office as Path Master (now more commonly known as road commissioner).
War of 1812
Samuel Wilson’s career role during the War of 1812 is what he is most noted for today. The demand for a supply of meat for the troops had significantly increased. E & S Wilson’s location and dock made the business ready and ideal. Secretary of War William Eustis made a contract with Elbert Anderson Jr. of New York City to supply and issue all rations necessary for the United States forces in New York and New Jersey for one year. Anderson ran an advertisement on October 6, 13, and 20 looking to fill the contract. E & S Wilson secured the contract for 2,000 barrels of pork and 3,000 barrels of beef for one year. The business held a staff of 200 men during this period. Samuel Wilson was appointed meat inspector for the Northern Army. His duties included checking the freshness of meat and assuring that it was properly packaged and that the barrels were according to specification. Each barrel was required to be labeled. Each barrel was marked “E.A.-U.S.” This marking indicated Elbert Anderson, United States. The great majority of E & S Wilson’s meat was shipped close by to a camp of 6,000 soldiers in Greenbush, New York. Many soldiers stationed in Greenbush were locals of Troy. They knew of or were acquainted with Sam Wilson and his nickname Uncle Sam, as well as his meat packing business. These soldiers recognized the barrels being from Troy and made an association between the "U.S." stamp and Uncle Sam. Over time, it is believed, anything marked with the same initials, as much Army property was, also became linked with his name.
Historical legacy and image
Samuel Wilson died July 31, 1854 at the age of 87. He was originally buried in Mt. Ida Cemetery, but later transferred to Oakwood Cemetery in Troy. Monuments mark his birthplace in Arlington, Massachusetts, and site of burial in Troy, New York. Another sign marks "The boyhood home of Sam" outside his second home in Mason, N.H. 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. 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."
However, an Uncle Sam is mentioned as early as 1775 in the original “Yankee Doodle” lyrics of the Revolutionary War. It is not clear whether this reference is to Uncle Sam as a metaphor for the United States. The lyrics as a whole clearly deride the military efforts of the young nation, besieging the British at Boston. This is the 13th stanza:
Old Uncle Sam come then to change / Some pancakes and some onions, / For ’lasses cakes, to carry home / To give his wife and young ones.
The image of Uncle Sam has always been a topic of conversation. He is the highest ideal for national character. His varying images can be attributed to several artists. However, James Montgomery Flagg might be the most influential. James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) was a political cartoonist from the late-1800s onwards. He created the most iconic poster of Uncle Sam. Flagg evolved the image of Sam, applying a white beard as well as change in wardrobe. Stars and stripes were added to the personification’s suit, depicting the character we are familiar with today. It was originally published as the cover for the July 6, 1916, issue of Leslie’s Weekly with the title "What are You Doing for Preparedness?" Between 1917 and 1918, over four million copies were printed. This poster served as propaganda for the United States as it entered World War I. This image was widely distributed and has been re-used with different captions. During the same war, WWI, this image reached its peak popularity when the words "I Want You For The U.S. Army" were chosen.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Samuel Wilson.|
- "Illustrator James Montgomery Flagg Was Born June 18, 1877". America's Library. Retrieved 2006-07-17.
- Matthews, Albert (1908). Uncle Sam. Worcester, Mass.: The Davis Press. pp. 22, 54, 59.
- Woods, Henry Ernest, ed. (1904). Vital Records of Arlington. Boston, Mass.: New-England Historic Genealogical Society. p. 47.
- Samuel "Uncle Sam" Wilson at Find A Grave
- William, Bartlett. "Life Story of Uncle Sam." Times Record [Troy] July 3, 1936, n. pag. Print.
- Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Volume II, Supplement XIV (1850)