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Independence Day: Uncle Sam and Uncle Ned

by Matthew Morley 7/1/2013 9:09:00 AM

As one of the most celebrated national holidays, Independence Day continues to spark patriotic feelings and muster American pride. Almost 240 years later, Americans have developed a well-versed tradition on the Fourth of July, which often includes stories about the creation of the United States. In recognition of this day, DePaul Special Collections and Archives has chosen to write this blog about a 173 year-old chapbook about the Fourth of July, written by “Uncle Ned”. According to the cover page, the chapbook is considered to be the “epitome of American history, adapted to infant minds”.
Cover: Story of the Fourth of July by Uncle Ned, [1840].
Not much has changed about the portrayal of America in the years since 1840, when the chapbook was made. This pocket-size, paper booklet was the seventh issue in the second of four series, and it is “beautifully illustrated” as the description on the back cover reads. It was published by Kiggins & Kellogg Publishers, Booksellers, & Stationers in New York, which also published schoolbooks and stationary, and was sold for six or fewer cents. Many images accompany the brief account of American history in this chapbook, ranging from the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus to the immigration of puritans and the American Revolution.
Back cover: Story of the Fourth of July by Uncle Ned, [1840].
You might be wondering, what is a chapbook? It’s a small, printed booklet, which was used to convey popular ideas or literature in the least expensive and most portable medium: paper. Essentially, a chapbook was – and still is – a product of mass media that disseminates information. If the publisher had enough money to afford woodblock images in the chapbooks, those booklets would be considered popular prints. Similar items include newspapers, pamphlets, and journals, which are still popular to this day in spite of the push toward online publishing. (In fact, electronic chapbooks – which could include Poetry Magazine online and The New York Times smartphone application – serve a purpose identical to this 1840s chapbook, though the medium has changed.)

Apart from the fact that this chapbook was printed on low-quality paper and has survived for over a century and a half, chapbooks are rare because they were used to the point that they became unreadable, at which time they were used as toilet paper. For unknown reasons, this chapbook about the Fourth of July was saved – perhaps for its patriotic content – but no matter the reason, it has made its way onto the shelves at Special Collections and Archives, where it is available for researchers and historians or anyone interested in historic examples of American patriotism or early children’s literature.
Woodcut, Uncle Ned and page 1 from Story of the Fourth of July by Uncle Ned, [1840].

For additional information on this chapbook or similar items in our collections, contact Special Collections & Archives at archives@depaul.edu or visit us in room 314 of the John T. Richardson Library.

Ned. Story for the Fourth of July: An Epitome of American History, Adapted to Infant Minds.  New York: Kiggins & Kellogg, 1840. Call Number: SpC. 394.2634 N371s 1840   

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