War of 1812: A British caricaturist’s perspective

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Archaeology Month 2012 recognizes the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. Read about Georgia’s role in the War of 1812 in Gerald Judson Smith Jr.’s article in the New Georgia Encyclopedia online here. As SGA President Catherine Long notes elsewhere on this website:

…there were three main focus points for Georgia’s role in the War of 1812: the Creek War (1813–1814), the British blockade, and the British occupation of St. Mary’s and Cumberland Island (1814–1815). General John Floyd commanded the troops from Georgia. He was directed to build forts and destroy Creek villages. Fort Hawkins and Fort Mitchell are two examples. The battles also occurred in Alabama. Along the coast Georgians sought to defend themselves from attack by rebuilding Fort Morris and fortifying the battery at Point Peter.

But, what was the British perspective on this conflict?

Cruikshank 1812 sketch Gabriel to JMadison color 600

Library of Congress Reproduction number LC-USZC4-5917 (color film copy transparency), online here.

This etching is attributed to British caricaturist George Cruikshank, and dates to 1812, when he was about 20 years of age. The US Library of Congress holds this copy, and the cataloguer summarizes the image as portraying:

Gabriel blowing a message “A bad news for you” at James Madison, who is standing between Napoleon and the devil, as two women symbolizing Great Britain and America, and British soldiers look on.

Cruikshank 1812 sketch Gabriel to JMadison USA

It is not surprising that the British were critical of the Americans for declaring this war. For Britain, however, this was another war, dividing their troops further. British troops were already fighting the ongoing Napoleonic Wars (conflicts with France), not only sending troops and ships, but also funding other nations’ involvement.

James Madison was the US President in 1812, and therefore leading the rebellion (from the British perspective), and it makes sense that Cruikshank would focus the etching—and the criticism intended by the sketch—on him.

In late 1812, as the war unfolded focused in northeastern North America (especially the St. Lawrence River area), the British maintained alliances they had already established with Native peoples there, and developed new ones.

What do you think about the personification of the USA and of Great Britain as women? What do you think of the figure that represents the USA being drawn as what might be described as “A Red Indian” with a feathered headdress?

Click here to access a PDF of the preliminary program for the SGA’s Spring Meeting, on May 19th. For all 2012 Spring Meeting information online, click here. For all information on 2012 Archaeology Month, click here.