Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper, is set in an era in America when the country was moving away from agriculture and into industrialism. Paul E. Johnson describes Sam Patch as a child born into a poor family sometime between 1800 and 1807. At the tender age of seven, he begins working in a cotton mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he grows up. Sam then works as a spinner on a factory "mule," working long hours for very little pay. Like his peers, Sam spends most of his free time jumping from the Blackstone River Falls in Pawtucket. But Sam is the most skillful and daring of those boy jumpers.
As an adult, Sam becomes a stuntman. His first public jump is from the Clinton Bridge over the Passaic Falls in 1827. He makes this leap in protest against the opening of a nature reserve in Paterson, New Jersey, from which working-class people will be excluded. As hundreds watch him leap, Sam quickly achieves celebrity status and eventually becomes a folk hero. Twice he jumps from Niagara Falls. Sam is now making relatively good money, but his jumps are also in support of political causes on behalf of the working-class people of his time.
Sam Patch's exciting career spans a brief period of three years. Famous for his drinking, he is probably drunk when he attempts his last jump on November 13, 1829. He is in his twenties when he leaps from Genesse Falls in Rochester, New York, to his death. His body is not found until several months later. It is in perfect condition, preserved by the icy waters of the Falls.
Paul E. Johnson uses this story to show how one can use natural talent to improve one's lot in life. Though he dies so young, Sam Patch is able to use his unique ability to vastly improve his personal life, to make a name for himself, and to act in support of the less fortunate.
From mill spinner to American folk hero—quite a leap!