Maybe not a belly laugher today, but this anecdote would have brought a hearty chuckle from the many Revolutionary War veterans who settled in Kentucky after the War of Independence. These homespun veterans were rightly proud of their ability to stand toe-to-toe with the vaunted, well-dressed British Army on the field of battle. Period newspapers regularly printed stories that reminded their readers of the remarkable Revolutionary accomplishments.
But this yarn had a deeper purpose. Reflecting the politics of the late 1790’s, a Kentucky Democratic-Republican leaning newspaper used this story to cast doubt on the Federalist Party by making fun of the British. Believing in the French revolutionary ideals and remembering their support of our Revolution, the Jeffersonians supported France over Britain in the Directory/Napoleonic Era. The era of American Political parties had started in earnest and would continue to accelerate in the new republic.
During the next several years, articles on the interminable European conflicts dominated American newspaper pages. Fortunately Presidents Washington, Adams and Jefferson successfully kept the United States out of the Continental wars. As a result, humor with an edge did not turn into an edge without humor.
Enjoy the story!
Printed The Mirror, Saturday October 28, 1797 in Washington, Kentucky
“Some time after the conclusion of the late war, a young American was present in a British playhouse, where an interlude was preformed in ridicule of his countrymen. A number of American officers being introduced in tattered uniforms, and bareheaded, the question was put to them severally, “What was your trade before you entered into the army?” One answered a taylor (sic), another a cobbler, &c – The wit of the piece was to banter them for not keeping themselves clothed and shod; but before that could be expressed, the American exclaimed from the gallery, “Great-Britain beat by taylors (sic) and coblers (sic)! Huzza!” Even the Prime Minister, who was present, could not help smiling amidst a general peal of laughter.”