Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper

by Paul E. Johnson

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Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper Characters

The main characters in Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper are Sam Patch, Mayo Greenleaf Patch, Abigail Patch, Timothy B. Crane, and Colonel William Leete Stone.

  • Sam Patch was a mill worker and daredevil whose courageous jumps brought him both fame and ruin.
  • Mayo Greenleaf Patch was Sam’s irresponsible, domineering father.
  • Abigail Patch was Sam’s hardworking, independent mother.
  • Timothy B. Crane was a land developer in Paterson who catered to the middle and upper classes at the expense of the poor.
  • Colonel William Leete Stone was a scenic traveler who cultivated a refined, aesthetic response to the natural world.


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Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1232

Sam Patch

Sam Patch, the central figure of Paul E. Johnson’s book, was a man with a deep longing to become something other than he was. Raised in Pawtucket in the early 1800s, he grew up under the dominance of a controlling father. Sam moved with his family from town to town in constant upheaval. At an early age, the young Sam went to work in a textile mill. He would have had no choice in the matter. His father was no longer working and often drunk, and he finally abandoned his family completely. The remainder of the family needed every member’s income just to survive.

Sam learned his trade well, and he showed enough industry and skill to rise up to boss spinner. Indeed, Sam was one of the first Americans to hold this position, since most boss spinners were English immigrants, and it gave him an authority, respect, and independence he had not had before. Sam always identified with this role, even when he no longer actively practiced his trade, for he always wore the white spinner’s uniform during his jumps.

Yet his position as boss spinner was not enough for Sam; he wanted still more. When he began jumping from Pawtucket Falls, he probably did so for the exhilaration of danger and the companionship and competition with other boys. As Sam developed his jumping skill, however, he discovered that he could make his jumps mean more than mere amusement. He could make a statement with them, as he did when he interrupted Timothy Crane’s bridge dedication and when he protested the mill owners’ arbitrary lunch hour change. Sam liked this newfound power. When he jumped from the falls, the crowd watched and listened, gasped and shrieked. Sam, the overlooked son and mill boy, finally captured people's attention. He had found his niche, something he could do well, his “art.”

From this desire for attention and identity rose a thirst for fame, and Sam left his job as a spinner to become a showman. Over and over, he proclaimed to his audiences his ability to do great things, yet his vehemence suggested that Sam Patch was not satisfied. He always reached for a higher jump, a more spectacular performance.

Sam also increasingly turned to alcohol. Perhaps he was trying to bury the old hurts of his past. Perhaps he found courage in drinking. Perhaps he had become addicted and lacked the strength of will to stop. In any case, Sam’s reliance on alcohol proved disastrous, for his fatal fall was at least partly caused by his inebriated state.

Mayo Greenleaf Patch

Mayo Greenleaf Patch, Sam Patch’s father, once seemed like a man destined for success. He married into the prominent McIntire family, earned the trust and respect of his father-in-law who set him up in business, and made a favorable impression on his neighbors. Greenleaf, however, possessed a strong vein of greed and ambition, and he overstepped his means, going into debt. After the death of his father-in-law, he also began to take advantage of the McIntires, striving for control over the family’s wealth, even marrying his half sister to the McIntire heir. Relatives and neighbors, though, would only tolerate so much, and Greenleaf lost whatever influence he once had.

Greenleaf’s selfish nature and poor choices caught up with him in a string of disappointments, and he faced debt and bankruptcy. By the time he moved his family to Pawtucket, he was a broken man, cut off from the world through alcoholism, sullenness, and outbreaks of violence. He no longer made any effort to support his family, and eventually he gave up on them completely, leaving Pawtucket to pursue his own interests. Apparently still plagued by greed and perhaps despair, Greenleaf was convicted of passing counterfeit money. He disappeared from the historical record after his release from prison in 1818. 

Abigail Patch

For most of her life, Abigail McIntire Patch, Sam’s mother, lived under the control of her father and her husband. She had little choice but to accede to their decisions. In her family home, Abigail would have obeyed her father and worked according to his orders. After her marriage, Abigail was still expected to be subordinate. She seems to have had little say in family decisions. Even her children’s names suggest Greenleaf’s preferences, and despite being raised in the church, Abigail did not attend after her marriage, nor were her older children baptized. Greenleaf’s word appears to have been Abigail’s law.

After the family’s move to Pawtucket, however, Abigail began to assert herself. Greenleaf gave himself over to drunkenness, and she had to manage the family. She sent her children out to work, worked in the mills while running her household, returned to church, and took control of family life—all the while coping with a drunk and sometimes violent husband. Indeed, Abigail must have been relieved when Greenleaf left. She worked hard to forget the past, recreating the family’s history during the years she lived with her daughter and granddaughters in a house full of strong, independent women.

Timothy B. Crane

Timothy B. Crane of Paterson, New Jersey, was a man with a vision. He dreamed of creating a pleasure park in which nature would be improved by art, tamed for the enjoyment and enlightenment of Paterson’s bourgeois residents, who could appreciate its order and beauty. He called it Forest Garden, a paradoxical name that pointed directly to Crane’s vision. Furthermore, Crane planned to build a spectacular bridge that would span Passaic Falls through technological development. Finally, to ensure that only a high-class crowd patronized Forest Garden, he would charge a toll to cross his bridge.

Perhaps Crane never realized how pompous his plans appeared in the eyes of his fellow Paterson citizens. He was intent upon pleasing his new wife, an upper-class woman of good taste whose values he was quick to adopt. He ignored his former relationship with Paterson’s working-class residents, who had once found him a jovial companion, dubbing him “Uncle Tim.” Timothy Crane now had more genteel aspirations.

Ultimately, Crane’s plans backfired. His former companions attacked Forest Garden, resentful of Crane’s uncaring attitude and complete disregard for their attachment to the natural land they had once used freely. Crane lost his venture to bankruptcy, and his high ideals fell before a hard reality. He died poor and cut off from the community he had spurned with his stubborn idealism, becoming a prime example of a man ruined by his own ambition.

Colonel William Leete Stone

Colonel William Leete Stone was a fashionable upper-class aesthete and scenic tourist who focused on discovering the sublime in nature and spiritual greatness in life, all the while looking down on people and experiences he deemed beneath him. Stone was visiting Niagara Falls at the time of Sam Patch’s first jump, and while he was properly awed by the falls, he had little use for the low entertainment that Sam Patch provided. Stone certainly did not hesitate to say so. In fact, through his satirical alter ego, Hiram Doolittle Jr., he thoroughly lambasted Sam and the Jacksonian Democrats, whom Stone could not tolerate. Indeed, Stone was devoted to living life on his own terms and, in his disdainful, aristocratic way, criticizing anyone who did not agree with him.

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