Born in Massachusetts shortly before the American Revolution began in that colony, Sam Wilson joined that patriotic movement as a teenager just as the war was ending. He eventually relocated to New York and soon made a living as a meat packer in Troy. During the War of 1812, the genial Wilson was contracted with supplying meat to troops from New York and New Jersey, including locals who already knew him by his kindly reputation. Barrels of meat would be stamped “US” before being shipped to soldiers. Thanks in part to the soldiers from Troy who knew him, many soldiers equated their meat rations with “US” — “Uncle” Sam Wilson.
The legend of Uncle Sam grew over time, eventually evolving into the image of a white-bearded man wearing the stars and stripes. The image became particularly iconic during World War I and World War II.
Sam Wilson died in 1854 and was originally buried in a different cemetery before his reburial at Oakwood Cemetery. In addition to his memorial here, a statue to him is dedicated in his native town in Arlington, Massachusetts. His boyhood home in Mason, New Hampshire is also preserved.
Though others have been claimed as the original Uncle Sam, the United States Congress made Samuel Wilson the official one in 1961. That year, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed a resolution to salute “Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam.” In 1989, Congress adopted Sam Wilson’s birthday, September 13, as “Uncle Sam Day.”
Know Before You Go
The main entrance gate on Oakwood Avenue is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., the 101st Street entrance is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the 114th Street entrance is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cemetery may be closed during severe weather. Check the website for up-to-date information, a map, and other things to see at the cemetery.