An Uncle Sam Day?

A French couple with a passion for the national symbol is leading the fight.

When Cécile and Jean-Pierre Mouraux heard that the boyhood home of “Uncle Sam” was for sale in Mason, N.H., the California couple couldn’t believe it. Jean-Pierre felt blessed by their good fortune: “Can you imagine? Uncle Sam’s house! It’s like a fairy tale.”

The successful entrepreneur was on the next flight to Boston and he soon had the 1773 farmhouse in the small southern N.H. town under agreement. It would be the perfect complement to the Uncle Sam Museum the couple created back in Sonoma, Calif., and the book they wrote, “Who Was ‘Uncle Sam.’”

Why were two people from France, both now citizens, so passionate about America’s national symbol?

They say it started with the famous “I Want You” Uncle Sam poster that Jean-Pierre, a collector of vintage posters, found in a World War I collection. He was already intrigued by what he thought was the fictional Uncle Sam, but when a customer one day told him that Uncle Sam was a real person — a New Englander named Samuel Wilson — he set out to make this mostly unknown individual the celebrity he deserved to be.

Jean-Pierre’s research traced the life of Wilson (1766-1854) from his birthplace in Arlington, Mass., to his boyhood home in Mason, N.H., and then to Troy, N.Y., where Wilson had a meat-packing business. He supplied meat to the Army in the War of 1812 and stamped his barrels “U.S.” to indicate they were United States property.

The stories of just how the initials on the barrels came to mean Uncle Sam, which Wilson was affectionately called, vary a bit, but eventually anything marked with “U.S.” became linked with Uncle Sam.

Jean-Pierre and his wife Cécile are petitioning to have Wilson’s birthday, Sept. 13, permanently designated as “Uncle Sam Day” by Congress. “More than ever,” a letter of support for the petition states, “the life of Samuel Wilson — his patriotism, his qualities of hard-worker and his sense of the community — are a model for every American citizen.”

For Jean-Pierre and Cécile, it is Wilson’s exemplary life and their love of country that make them so devoted to Uncle Sam — both real and symbol.

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