[Ads-l] Major Antedating of "Uncle Sam"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Tue Feb 8 23:08:39 UTC 2022

I have a very nice antedating to report.  The Winter - Spring 2022 issue (Volume 36, Number 2) of The Trumpet newsletter put out by the Swann Auction Galleries in New York has an item of great historical-lexicographical interest.  On April 7 they are auctioning off a letter by Robert Orr dated June 7, 1803.  The letter regards an arms inspection for Eli Whitney.

The letter is reproduced on page 7 of the newsletter.  At the bottom of the letter there is a postscript that clearly reads "I expect to go to New Haven next week to inspect arms made by Ely Whitney for Unkel Sam 500."  I don't know what the "500" means.

The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for "Uncle Sam" is dated 1810, so this is a significant improvement to the historical record.  The image of the letter is not yet on the Swann website, but I will post a link when one is available.

Fred Shapiro
New Yale Book of Quotations (Yale University Press)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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