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History Matters: September 1 to September 15

John Grimaldi and David Bruce Smith

On September 7th, Uncle Sam will be two-hundred and seven. The United States got its nickname when a Troy, NY newspaper ran a story about Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker who supplied beef to the American soldiers during the War of 1812. He loaded the portions into barrels marked “US”, which the troops started referring to as “Uncle Sam’s” rations; the moniker went viral, and—eventually— it became the personification of America. 

Later in the 19th century, the cartoonist Thomas Nast designed an image to match the name: a white goateed man wearing a top hat, dressed in red, white, and blue.

In 1961 Congress passed a resolution acknowledging that Samuel Wilson was the ingenuity behind Uncle Sam.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough.  

File Photo

By the fall of 1776, the Declaration of Independence had already been signed, and delivered to the British. It unambiguously stated that the colonies were now an independent nation. On September 9, 1776, the Continental Congress officially replaced the designation, “United Colonies” with the “United States of America”.

Even though the American Revolution was in still going on, the Congressional resolution stated: “That in all continental commissions, and other instruments, where, heretofore, the words ‘United Colonies’ have been used, the stile be altered for the future to the “United States.”

Seven years later, The Treaty of Paris ended the War—officially--and America was free.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends its 2016 award winner, The Drum of Destiny, by Chris Stevenson.

On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem called The Defence of Fort McHenry. The War of 1812 had ramped up rage between the United States and Britain a second time. Baltimore’s Fort McHenry was on the defensive, and Key was imprisoned on an enemy warship.

According to History.com “Key watched the bombing campaign unfold from aboard a ship located about eight miles away. After a day, the British were unable to destroy the fort and gave up. Key was relieved to see the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry and quickly penned a few lines in tribute to what he had witnessed.”

His poem was printed in newspapers—and then--set to music. Its popularity soared; people started calling it “The Star-Spangled Banner”; and, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it should be played and sung at all official gatherings.

Fifteen years later, Key’s “poem” metamorphosed into the national anthem.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends 1812: The War That Forged a Nation by Walter R. Borneman.