American Symbols & Heroes of the 1800s

Although19th-century cowboys symbolized adventure, their livelihood was hard work.
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In the 1800s, the United States was still in its formative years. During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key took a step towards identifying America and its values with his poem "The Star-Spangled Banner." The poem, which evolved into American's national anthem, glorified the American flag as a symbol of "the land of the free and the home of the brave." In the 19th century, eloquent statesmen, courageous women, figures of the American West and valiant military leaders emerged as enduring heroes who fought for freedom and embodied bravery.

1 Founding Father, Freedom's Champion

Thomas Jefferson wanted to be remembered for signing the Declaration of Independence, establishing religious freedom in Virginia and founding the University of Virginia. However, as the third U.S. president, he also doubled the country's size by approving the Louisiana Purchase. Abraham Lincoln, the nation's 16th president, became a hero to African Americans when he effected passage of the 13th amendment to the Constitution, thereby abolishing slavery. Lincoln is remembered for his leadership during the Civil War and his determination to preserve the Union. His 1863 Gettysburg Address became the 19th century's symbol of the freedoms the country was founded on.

2 Women Lead the Way

Sacagawea, a 17-year-old Shoshone Native American with an infant son, was an invaluable pathfinder and interpreter for the 1805 Western expeditions of Lewis and Clark. Harriet Tubman, a former slave living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, returned South at her own peril to bring more than 300 slaves to freedom. Clara Barton's lifetime of volunteer service to the sick and wounded began during the Civil War. She was a heroine to the families of thousands of soldiers unaccounted for in the war and assisted them in determining their loved one's fate. The Red Cross, an international symbol of relief, officially came to the United States in 1882 through the efforts of Barton.

3 Fame on the Frontier

By the late 1800s, the cowboy had become a glamorous, though unrealistic, symbol of the American West. Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show introduced the American public to Western heroes such as sharpshooter Annie Oakley, Native American chief Red Cloud and Cody himself, who re-enacted his frontier experiences. Native Americans found real-life heroes Chief Joseph and Sitting Bull. Chief Joseph, admired for his resistance to confinement on a reservation, finally surrendered with the words, "...I will fight no more forever..." Sitting Bull, who was regarded as a great spiritual leader and skilled warrior, was killed in 1890 on suspicion of belonging to the radical Ghost Dance movement.

4 Bravery in Battle

In the war of 1812, Gen. Andrew Jackson, whose tenacity earned him the nickname of "Stonewall," soundly defeated the British at New Orleans. Confederate commander Robert E. Lee was considered a brilliant Civil War leader who fought on despite looming defeat and still is revered for his heroism, particularly in the South. Ulysses S. Grant, a commander in the 1846 Mexican War and head of the Union army in the Civil War is admired for bringing the War Between the States to a close. Theodore Roosevelt was recognized for his heroic charge up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders in the 1898 Spanish-American War. Roosevelt's respect and compassion for wildlife was symbolized by the "teddy bear" toy created in his honor in 1902.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.