Sam Patch’s Leap into the Great Divide
Sam Patch’s Leap into the Great Divide
“Some things can be done as well as others”, the famous line of Sam Patch became a well-known saying amongst U. S. citizens especially Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democrats (Johnson, 163). Sam Patch was many things in his lifetime from a famous falls jumper to a destitute mill worker to also the first American-born boss spinner. He however was viewed different amongst social groups in America. The common folk and Jeffersonian democrats viewed Patch as a good man and somewhat of a folk hero, while the middle class and Hamiltonians viewed him as a drunkard and a sign of the decay of society in America.
He was a product of the harsh system and arising textile industry in America at the time. Society and politics in America were changing from a Jeffersonian agrarian country where passing lands down from the father to his sons was dying to a Hamiltonian society where textile mills were seen as a source of opportunity for this new debtor generation amongst whom Sam Patch was one. The emergence of two classes the debtor wage-earning class and the creditor middle class brought about social and political tensions.
Sam Patch illustrates these tensions such as the differing social and political views, growing gap in income levels, and the perception of nature. The views of Sam Patch differ amongst the two classes, the wage earning and the middle class, and how they saw Patch as being in society. The Jeffersonian and later Jacksonian democrats who favored the average working class man viewed Patch as a hero and an inspiration in society for others to live by.
He was a symbol of individualism and an example of a person being able to make something of himself from nothing, just as figures such as Andrew Jackson. Johnson writes that celebrities such as Patch “dramatized the possibilities of individual self-making in the nineteenth century” (Johnson, 164). Individualism would be a growing ideology during the 19th century with the coming of the market revolution and the idea that people should rely on no one but themselves in life (Foner, 325).
On the other hand; the middle class who was most often associated with Hamiltonian views viewed Sam Patch as a simple drunkard and a symbol of the decay and immoralities of American society. Journalists during his time wrote Sam Patch “like many other great geniuses is a greater friend to the bottle than the bottle is to him” (Johnson, 115). The middle class viewed themselves as “respectables” and the wage-earning class was inferior to them, which is evident in the celebration ceremonies in Paterson on the Fourth of July.
Celebrations started off with a parade, banquet, and fireworks where all Patersonians were welcome to participate, but gradually transitioned to a more exclusive celebration of a large group of respectable “Young Men” where toasts weren’t based on patriotism anymore yet based on entrepreneurial progress (Johnson, 65). Sam Patch’s celebrity and life not only showed growing social and political differences, but it showed the increasing gap that was growing between the wage-earning and middle class as a result of the market revolution.
The wage-earning class was the debtors, debtors who owed money and had to work to make a living for creditors, most of whom made up what would be known as the middle class. The tradition of fathers passing their land on down to their sons was slowly dying such as with Mayo Greenleaf Patch and his sons. Mayo Patch’s life was riddled with owing debts to the middle class and because of his lack of wealth, meant he had to become property less to pay of those debts (Johnson 18).
Thus, Sam Patch amongst most other mill workers lives were filled with melancholy and sorrow, working longs hours with short break in textile mills. While the lives of the wage-earning class such as Sam Patch were filled with long hours of labor, the middle class instead enjoyed more privatized, contemplative hours for leisure pursuits. The different lifestyles between the two classes because of income levels would lead to tensions between such as acts of rowdiness and vandalism towards the social sites of the middle class such as Crane’s Forest Garden in the case of Sam Patch’s life and story (Johnson, 50).
The gap was widening drastically such as in the case of Massachusetts whose richest five percent had over half of the wealth of the state, and in Philadelphia the top one percent of the wealthy accumulated more wealth than the rest of the population combined (Foner, 335). Such inequality brought about jealousy and hatred amongst the wage-earning class and Patch, who lived their lives based on clocks and shifts, towards the middle class who spent their days performing leisure activities or simply overseeing the work done by the wage-earning class.
The difference in wealth is prevalent for example when Johnson writes “the newspaper reported that the dinner was open to “all who choose,” but the cost was a dollar a plate – a day’s labor for most Patersonians” (Johnson 63) The bolstering and signs of being wealthier showed by the middle class proved to create tension between the two classes and would lead to acts of defiance such as Patch gift and act of fall jumping. Not only did Sam Patch jump falls as an act of defiance and statement towards the middle class, but he viewed nature and the act as an “art” as well.
Nature was viewed differently between the two classes and in the case of Sam Patch’s life, Patch and Timothy Crane had differing views as well. Sam Patch who represents the wage-earning class viewed nature and the falls not as sites for leisure activity per se, but mainly as a tool and the day to day skills of men for which they would use to produce a good and in turn be able to support their family. The wage-earning class and Sam Patch associated nature with work such as falls as a power source for the textile mills.
Timothy Crane on the other hand, a man who represents the middle class, saw and used nature as a place to create a leisure site for fellow middle class families and in turn make a profit. Nature in the eyes of Timothy Crane and the middle class was an entrepreneurial vision, and in reshaping and redefining nature they would be making a profit (Johnson, 56) For example, the middle class reshaped nature such as with the creation of the Erie Canal to link the Atlantic coast and Great Lakes and in turn industries would emerge amongst the canals and trade would increase (Foner, 302).
The differing views between the two classes and seen between Sam Patch and Timothy Crane would ultimately lead to many conflicts such as vandalism and arguments in the contest over recreational space in a new industrializing America (Johnson, 51). Sam Patch was the epitome of an average citizen, a simple textile mill worker who spent long hours working and nights drinking his misery and sorrow away, while the richer middle class men such as Timothy Crane sat by getting richer and richer off people like Patch.
Ultimately, Patch would become a celebrity because of his fall jumping acts, which were acts against the middle class and their entrepreneurial vision hell bent on becoming richer regardless who they used and trampled on to attain their goal, usually of which was the wage-earning class. From Patch’s jump at Clinton Bridge to Niagara Falls, he protested against the middle class through what he called “art” (Johnson, 55). He was protesting as a response to tensions growing between the two classes in aspects such as social and political views, the growing income level gap, and both classes’ perception and view of nature.
Sam Patch was a common man who would ultimately die at the hands of the falls who he for so many years had mastered and wooed large crowds of people who came to see him protest through his jumping skills. The falls was in a sense industry and the middle class, and Sam Patch, a wage earner, despite seeming to master the falls still fell victim to the falls or you can say the harsh realities of American Industry or the textile industry in America.
Subject: Social class,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 January 2017
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