Cartoons were a vital part of England’s print media in the 1770s, and were almost exclusively of the sort that today we call editorial cartoons. Artists drew images packed with symbolism expressing opinions concerning current events. Sometimes they included word balloons and captions in prose or verse, but many were simple images that left the reader to interpret and understand the message. Engravers rendered them and printers sold them to eager readers.
The image here was published in London in 1778 and is currently in the Library of Congress. It presents a cynical view that the war in America was far from being won in spite of British military victories. In the center is a proud officer – General Sir William Howe, perhaps – presenting his compliments to a man on the left who may represent King George III. On the right, a cocky British soldier shows off three motley American captives, while a black man lies wounded on the ground that is littered with spent cannonballs. But in the background looms a mighty American fortress still unconquered.
The satire is evident, but the image holds information of interest for other reasons. It gives a rare depiction of a British soldier on campaign, wearing a single-breasted jacket, trousers and a jaunty round hat with one side turned up and adorned with a feather, rather than the more formal uniform seen in pictures of soldiers in Great Britain; it correlates with other pictures and documentary sources for campaign clothing. The American soldiers, too, are dressed in an assemblage of garments which, although cartoonish, jibes with other information about Continental army clothing. These details suggest that the original image was drawn by someone who’d served in the British army in America, possibly the caricaturist Lieutenant Richard St. George Mansergh St. George of the 52nd Regiment of Foot who had been severely wounded at the battle of Germantown and was, in 1778, back in Great Britain recovering.