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samuel wilson war of 1812

samuel wilson war of 1812

samuel wilson war of 1812

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Samuel Wilson

Samuel Wilson (September 13, 1766 – July 31, 1854)[1][2] was a meat packer who lived in Troy, New York, whose name is purportedly the source of the personification of the United States known as “Uncle Sam”.[3]


Wilson 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. Wilson is a descendant of one of the oldest families of Boston; 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.[4]

Continental Army

While living in Mason at the young age of fourteen, Wilson joined the Continental 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. Wilson’s service to the Army most likely came to an end around October 19, 1781, with the surrender of Cornwallis at the Siege of Yorktown.[5]

War of 1812

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.

samuel wilson war of 1812
samuel wilson war of 1812

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.


Wilson was appointed meat inspector for the American 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.

Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam (which has the same initials as United States) is a common national personification of the federal government of the United States or the country in general. According to legend, the character came into use during the War of 1812 and was supposedly named for Samuel Wilson. The actual origin is obscure.[3]

Since the early 19th century, Uncle Sam has been a popular symbol of the US government in American culture and a manifestation of patriotic emotion.[4] While the figure of Uncle Sam represents specifically the government, there is another figure, Columbia, which represents the United States as a nation. The image has also developed notoriety for its use in military propaganda.[5]

The first reference to Uncle Sam in formal literature (as distinct from newspapers) was in the 1816 allegorical book The Adventures of Uncle Sam, in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq.[6]

samuel wilson war of 1812
samuel wilson war of 1812

It was the meat packing business and the War of 1812 that transformed Troy resident Samuel Wilson into the iconic figure known as Uncle Sam. Wilson was born in Menotomy (now Arlington), Massachusetts, in 1766, and at the age of twenty-three he and his brother Ebenezer relocated to the village of Troy, New York. In the late eighteenth century Troy was just a small community but was beginning to attract significant numbers of New Englanders because of its abundant waterpower, rich agricultural land, and growing commercial opportunities.


During the war of 1812, Samuel Wilson oversaw provisions from Troy that were being sent to soldiers. Once ready for shipment, the casks were marked with the abbreviation “U.S.” Due to the novelty of the abbreviation, receivers of the casks did not know that U.S. meant United States. Instead, they joked the provisions came from Uncle Sam, referring to Samuel Wilson. This story became nationally recognized in 1961 when the U.S. Congress approved the resolution declaring Samuel Wilson the “real” Uncle Sam.

Today, the site most associated with Uncle Sam Wilson is 144 Ferry Street, Troy, the lot where he lived from the 1820s to his death in 1854. In 1989, Hartgen Archeological Associates conducted a site survey of the property and excavated this handsome chamber pot, certainly one owned by Samuel Wilson and his family.

United States nicknamed Uncle Sam

Origin of the Name

Common folklore holds origins trace back to soldiers stationed in upstate New York. Who would receive barrels of meat stamped with the initials U.S. The soldiers jokingly referred to it as the initials of the troops’ meat supplier, 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.”[1]

A monument marks his birthplace in Arlington, Massachusetts, and a monument marks his 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[2] also in reference to the aforementioned Samuel Wilson.

samuel wilson war of 1812
samuel wilson war of 1812

The origin of the term Uncle Sam, though disputed, is usually associated with a businessman from Troy, New York, Samuel Wilson, known affectionately as “Uncle Sam” Wilson. The barrels of beef that he supplied the army during the War of 1812. Stamped “U.S.” to indicate government property. That identification said to have led to the widespread use of the nickname Uncle Sam for the United States. And a resolution passed by Congress in 1961 recognized Wilson as the namesake of the national symbol.

U.S. troops

During the War of 1812, a man turned into a legend. Uncle Sam became an enduring symbol for all U.S. troops. This man was Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy New York. Who supplied the Army depot at Watervliet Arsenal New York with rations.  Wilson’s wooden barrels stamped U. S., in broad capital letters, indicating that the food was the property of the United States. And intended for American soldiers serving on the northern border with Canada.

Teamsters, carrying the rations to the troops along rutted tracks, identified the supplies as a gift from their Uncle Sam.  The arsenal’s artillery wagon and limbers, marked U. S., considered to be from Uncle Sam as well.  And so it on went through the years of military campaigns it seemed everything came special delivery from Uncle Sam.

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