Paul E. Johnson was born in August 1915 in Los Angeles, California. He is a distinguished professor of history at the University of South Carolina. He is well-known for his writings including Sam Patch, The Famous Jumper (2003). This paper looks at how Paul uses this book to relate the actual mythic stories revealing the social, rational setting of Sam Patch.
Johnson mainly focused on the aspect of social setup in American life in the 1800s for the poor. He propounds that the poor, in this case, Sam, who was a native citizen of Rhode Island was destined to work the mills of Pawtucket where he could not get work because he was a poor and uneducated.There, he acquired skills in craft of the mule spinning which was an achievement, ”the spinning mule, during those periods was among the biggest machines in the world.” It was a difficult operation. Sam alongside other Pawtucket boys participated in jumping. Through practice, high esteem, skills, and courage, Sam began to leap for fame and money, nothing peculiar in career choice. He proceeded with his jumping career to Passaic Falls, Blackstone Falls, and Niagara Falls.
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Paul E. Johnson’s argument on Sam Patch’s life focuses on the quest for self-fulfillment. This quest for self-fulfillment leads to recognition, fame, and wealth as in the case of Sam. Paul argues about the utilization of leisure time to achieve one’s interest and desires in life. He creatively brings the idea of how milling in the 1800s was conducted over tiresome long hours with primitive machinery. Johnson develops a detailed thesis depicted in the theme behind Sam Patch, the famous jumper. He expounds on the differences between the working people in the social setting of the American people in the transitioning years of 1820. In the milling factories, skilled spinners and their bosses knew their worth and had a high social standing.
In the 1820s, “one could be famous by involving in war fighting or rising in political ranks.” Unlike the other famous celebrities, Sam Patch acquired his celebrity status through his skilled jumping. This was accompanied by several oppositions and wonders for the unbelievable shot in his celebrity. His stardom shot unexpectedly in the media. Therefore, American life had changed in the ways of acquiring fame. Sam Patch used his skills to gather large crowds. In 1829, in Genesee River; 8000 spectators had gathered to witness Sam utilize his skills, where Sam took the jump successfully. He was however not impressed with the donation tally raised by the people, and therefore, he chose to repeat the jump, this time with over 25 feet higher than the previous. This attempt was riskier, but nevertheless, he chose to do it because of his urge to gain more money. He died in the process. This was a critique because he chose the risky deeds over his life for the sake of fame and money.
Sam Patch sought to conquer his poor background, rising from squalor to fame and opulence. This is a protruding evidence of Johnson`s main theme; of “conquering nature.” Furthermore, “conquering nature” is brought out by Sam`s act of jumping into the dark falls of Genesee and Niagara for fame and material wealth. Sam Patch was able to domesticate nature, a theme prominent in Johnson`s book, by using the existing natural resources in his locality to create his wealth.
In conclusion, Johnson`s ‘Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper,' is effective in providing the traditional element of political exploration regarding matters of industrialization, economic challenges, and cultural issues which create gaps between the American poor and the working classes.
Patch, S., & Johnson, P. E. (2003). Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper.