Brother Jonathan


Before Uncle Sam became famous, the United States had to “endure” the antics of Brother Jonathan.  Who was this guy?  Adee Braun explains at Atlas Obscura.

Here is a taste:

He was ill-mannered and ill-spoken—a boor, a braggart, a ruffian, a bigot, a hick, and a trickster. His name was Brother Jonathan.

Today he is all but forgotten—eclipsed by his upstanding uncle, Sam. But after the Revolutionary War, Brother Jonathan was the personification of the newly independent American people: clever, courageous, not all that sophisticated and proud of it. He was the everyman incarnate. It was the everyman who had led America to victory. And now America looked to the everyman to lead them out from the bloated shadow of Great Britain.

During the nation’s first hundred years, America tried on many characters in search of the perfect fit for its new independent status. There was the feminine Columbia, the indigenous bald eagle, the stoic Lady Liberty, and the bumbling Yankee Doodle. Out of this personification soup, only a few emerged that had some staying power.

Many of these national stereotypes were depicted in popular ballads and stage comedies before America had even achieved its independence; Yankee Doodle was among them. He was originally a British invention—a caricature of a naive, upstart American colonist who was created as a foil for John Bull: the imposing personification of England. Though he never completely faded out of existence, after the Revolutionary War Yankee Doodle was mostly assimilated into another stage character: Brother Jonathan.

Read the rest here.

5 thoughts on “Brother Jonathan

  1. I once heard a paper presented in which a British captain’s references to America as “Cousin Jonathan” (I assume a variant of Brother Jonathan) were taken as a reference to Jonathan in 1 Samuel, and the author had an elaborate explanation of this supposed metaphor and how America’s conduct during the War of 1812 resembled that of the Biblical Jonathan. I spoke to the author afterwards, but he seemed to understand my point. I hope some editor noted this before it made it into print.


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