The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday Uncle Sam

As we celebrate our Independence Day, it might surprise you to know that though we view Uncle Sam as a fictitious national symbol, there truly lived a man named Uncle Sam.

Samuel Wilson was born on Sept. 13, 1766, in Menotomy, Mass., which is now Arlington. He was eight years old when Paul Revere traveled past the Wilson home yelling, “The British are coming.” The next day, supply wagons, accompanied by 18 British troops, took a wrong turn in the area unfamiliar to them and arrived in the town of Menotomy and not Lexington, where they were headed. They were captured; their supply wagons taken down a ravine on the Wilson property and turned over. All of this had to have produced great excitement for Sam and his 12 siblings, giving them events they would never forget.

When Sam was 14, the family moved to New Hampshire, where they were living when they welcomed home two sons from the Revolutionary War. It was also from here where Sam, now 22, set off for the West with his brother, Ebenezer, 27. This began the journey which would give us our country’s Uncle Sam. The west to them was Troy, N.Y., on the east side of the Hudson River, a navigational destination point. The brothers set up a brick-making business and with that business flourishing, they opened a meat packing operation, building a dock on the Hudson River for easy transport of their processed beef and pork, which they also raised. These very enterprising men advertised in 1805 that they could “butcher and pack one hundred fifty head of cattle per day.” They were able to do this as they made their own barrels for their salted meat, and by also dealing in salt, they had easy access to the amount needed.

As luck would have it, their meat packing business was so successful they were able to bid on, and were awarded, a government contract when the War of 1812 broke out. The contractor for the government was Elbert Anderson, and it was then the casks of meat from the business of the two brothers, E. & S. Wilson, were stamped “E. A. – U. S.” At this time Samuel Wilson was known within the community as Uncle Sam because of his large number of nephews and nieces. It was easy for the employees of their meat packing business for the stamped “U.S.” to mean Uncle Sam rather than United States. It wasn’t long before the soldiers was referring to all government property as Uncle Sam’s. By 1814, the name “Uncle Sam” was referred to in print, and the nation was viewing the birth a new national symbol.

As truth is always stranger than fiction — through an ironic coincidence, Betsey Mann, Uncle Sam’s wife, was a cousin of John Chapman, who became an American icon known as Johnny Appleseed.

Have a Happy Independence Day!

Sue Parrish is a retired museum director and author of the book, “Days Gone By.”

Text Only
Local News
  • A changing roster -- for school board OTTUMWA — If the last time you saw your board of education was before Christmastime, the current school board might surprise you. Two members retired from the board: longtime educator Ron Oswalt stepped down, as did board president Carol Mitchell. Bo

    July 29, 2014

  • Lottery sales top $3 billion mark OTTUMWA — Mother Nature may have thrown Iowans a brutal winter, but it didn’t stop them from venturing out to buy lottery tickets. On Tuesday, the Iowa Lottery confirmed that it had topped the $3 billion mark in sales for the third consecutive year.

    July 29, 2014

  • halo-5-guardians-concept_wallpaper-1920x1080-53cf9b0098ea45ada37dc0f66bc174f5.jpg The Art of Kong

    OTTUMWA — The Mona Lisa. Whistler's Mother. Donkey Kong? Don't be so surprised, said Walter Day, that video games and the surrounding memorabilia are being considered art. The creativity and artistic vision required to create a poster, said the found

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Slideshow: Truck overturns on roundabout

    July 28, 2014

  • 0729 OTT Picture veteran -T -M Veteran finally receives his medals OTTUMWA — A World War II injury may have saved the life of a U.S. Coast Guardsman from Iowa, but he lost friends and a box of military awards. Francis Hardy Harbour was born on Dec.16, 1919, in Drakesville. He joined the Coast Guard in 1941 as a mach

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Seasonal forecast Cool summer leading to cool fall? OTTUMWA — By late July, the average daytime high temperature starts to drop. What is normally the hottest part of the year is over. Averages are still in the mid-80s, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see days in even the upper 90s.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • IHCC buildings.jpg Grant helps Hills keep students on track

    OTTUMWA — Thanks to a grant designed to improve graduation rates, Indian Hills Community College now has even more tools in its campuswide effort to help students with needs and give them the resources they need to stay in class. Indian Hills is one

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0728 OTT ribs in eldon BBQ dinner with a hundred friends

    ELDON --- This year's Eldon Rib Cook-off was won by three BBQ chefs --- and about 150 hungry visitors. "I was down here last year, too," said Dwayne Yates from Floris, who was biting into his third smoked rib. "I never had a bad one yet." That's what

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mediacom: Rural cable consumers and companies mistreated OTTUMWA --- You may want to add just a racing channel, a court channel or a nature channel to your cable line up. Unfortunately, you'll probably have to buy a "bundle," which, ironically, is what it will cost you here in Wapello County. That's accord

    July 26, 2014

  • Alternate juror could not have convicted Techel based on evidence DAVENPORT — An alternate juror who was dismissed before Seth Techel, 23, of Agency was convicted of killing his wife and the non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy says the verdict could have been different if she had been in deliberations.D

    July 25, 2014

Photo reprints