Illustrations from The British Are Coming
List of Illustrations • Illustration Credits
List of Illustrations
- George III
George III inherited his throne in 1760 at age twenty-two, on the eve of Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War, which created the greatest empire the world had known since ancient Rome. As the American rebellion gained strength in the 1770s, he feared that loss of the colonies would lead to Britain’s fatal decline. “Blows,” he declared, “must decide.”
- Portsmouth, 1773
The king’s four-day review of the British fleet at Portsmouth in June 1773 was the occasion for a grand celebration of national power. Here the royal barge, in the center foreground, passes the stern of the warship Royal Oak amid a thunderous salute.
- Frederick North
A childhood friend of the king, Lord Frederick North became his prime minister in 1770 and would oversee the war against America despite misgivings about the cause. “Upon military matters I speak ignorantly,” he once confessed, “and therefore without effect.”
- William Legge
Known as the “Psalm Singer” for his piety, William Legge, Lord Dartmouth, served as the British colonial secretary in the early months of the American rebellion. Although hardly a warmonger, he believed that prideful insurgents disobeyed both their British masters and their God.
- Tea Time
“We have troublesome times a-coming for there is a great disturbance abroad in the earth & they say it is tea that caused it,” a New Jersey woman wrote in late 1774. Jan Josef Horemans’s painting Tea Time depicted a European household gentility at odds with the political uproar the commodity caused in America.
The largest city in the Western world, London on the march toward war in the mid-1770s was much like London at peace—aggressive, vivid, and alive with animal spirits.
- Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s role in the publication of private letters written by a British official regarding colonial affairs led to his appearance in January 1774 before the king’s council in the Cockpit, a London amphitheater once used for cock fights. Denounced as a “hoary-headed traitor,” Franklin never endured a greater public humiliation.
- The House of Commons
Meeting in what had once been a twelfth-century chapel, the House of Commons retained an ecclesiastical air, even as parliamentarians cracked nuts, peeled oranges, and in the spring of 1774 overwhelmingly approved the government’s draconian measures against New England rebels in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party.
- The Royal Family
Charlotte had been an obscure German princess in 1761 when George chose her sight unseen to be his queen. They wed six hours after her arrival in England; the happy union eventually produced fifteen children, of whom the six eldest appear in this 1770 family portrait.
- Gilded Coach
To open the new session of Parliament in October 1775, the king rode from St. James’s Palace in this four-ton gilded coach, drawn by eight Royal Hanoverian Cream horses. The vehicle’s tendency to pitch, yaw, and oscillate made riding in it like “tossing in a rough sea.”
- St. James’s Palace
In search of a strategy to crush the American rebellion, the king summoned his ministers one by one to St. James’s Palace for audiences in the Royal Closet, his conference room. He talked much and listened little, bounding from subject to subject but always returning to the need for iron resolve.
- Thomas Gage
As both military commander and royal governor of Massachusetts, Lieutenant General Thomas Gage was Britain’s supreme authority in North America. Belatedly seeing that he had underestimated the intensity of the insurgency, he warned London in September 1774, “Conciliating, moderation, reasoning is over. Nothing can be done but by forcible means.”
- Margaret Kemble
Margaret Kemble, daughter of a wealthy New Jersey merchant, married young General Gage in 1758 and eventually bore him eleven children. She would sail to England from Boston in the summer of 1775 on a ship carrying almost two hundred British soldiers badly wounded at Bunker Hill.
- Benjamin Franklin
Born poor and trained as a printer, Benjamin Franklin by age seventy had become world renowned as a scientist, writer, and diplomat. In this 1778 portrait, he wears the marten-fur cap he kept as a souvenir of his star-crossed expedition to Canada two years earlier.
- Paul Revere
An accomplished silversmith and engraver, Paul Revere had served as an equestrian courier since December 1773, when he carried news of the Boston Tea Party to New York and Philadelphia. Sixteen months later he would warn the countryside around Boston of British regulars on the march.
- Joseph Warren
The physician Joseph Warren had long been a leader in the Boston resistance movement, rising to the presidency of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Commissioned a militia major general on June 14, 1775, he died three days later from a bullet to the head at Bunker Hill.
- Artemas Ward
Pious and honest, if stubborn and taciturn, Major General Artemas Ward would command American forces for two months, until superseded by General Washington.
- Israel Putnam
A stubby, roughhewn brawler with a shock of white hair, Brigadier General Israel Putnam was described by one admirer as “totally unfit for everything but fighting.”
- John Stark
Colonel John Stark of New Hampshire, a veteran of battles against Indians and the French, commanded the largest American regiment in New England, vital in shoring up the rebel line at Bunker Hill.
- Hugh Earl Percy
Brigadier Hugh Earl Percy, son of a duke, led a brigade from Boston to reinforce the battered British regulars retreating from Concord. “I had the happiness,” he told his father, “of saving them from inevitable destruction.”
- Concord, April 19, 1775
An engraving created less than a year after the war erupted shows British regiments marching into Concord on April 19, 1775. In the foreground, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn scan the countryside for American forces massing outside town.
- Morton’s Point, June 17, 1775
This lithograph depicts British regulars from Boston landing at Morton’s Point on June 17, 1775, while others advance toward the American redoubt during the battle of Bunker Hill. Shells from Somerset contribute to the incineration of Charlestown.
- George Washington
During consultations in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress in the early summer of 1776, General Washington agreed to sit for this portrait—set against the backdrop of liberated Boston—by Charles Willson Peale. Now forty-four years old, he was about to fight his first major battle against the British. “His appearance alone gave confidence to the timid and imposed respect on the bold,” one soldier reported.
- Henry Knox
An overweight Boston bookseller who demonstrated a genius for military engineering and gunnery, Henry Knox—shown here in a major general’s uniform—soon commanded the Continental artillery. Washington would say of him, “[There was] no one whom I have loved more sincerely.”
- Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge
This stately Georgian mansion, abandoned by a loyalist family and later owned by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, served as Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge. The orchards, outbuildings, and vista of the Charles River evoked the commanding general’s beloved Mount Vernon in Virginia.
- George Germain
Lord George Germain, a former British general who succeeded Dartmouth as the king’s American secretary, had been rehabilitated after disgrace on the battlefield in 1759. One biographer concluded that it was “his pride, his remoteness, his intransigence, his indifference, his irony, his disdain, his self-command and self-assurance that inflamed mean minds.”
- John Murray
John Murray, the fourth earl of Dunmore and the royal governor of Virginia, had few rivals as the most detested British official in North America, particularly after he emancipated slaves owned by his rebel opponents. “That arch traitor to the rights of humanity, Lord Dunmore, should be instantly crushed,” Washington declared.
- Benedict Arnold
Colonel Benedict Arnold of Connecticut was “as brave a man as ever lived,” in one comrade’s estimation. Born to lead other men in the dark of night, both on land and under sail, he was perhaps the finest battle captain that America would produce in the eighteenth century.
- Philip Schuyler
Tall, thin, and florid, with kinky hair and erratic health, Major General Philip Schuyler was among America’s wealthiest, most accomplished men. He would command the invasion of Canada in 1775.
- Richard Montgomery
The youngest son of an Irish baronet, Richard Montgomery served sixteen years in the British Army before emigrating to New York in 1772 and accepting an American commission as a brigadier general three years later. “I have been dragged from obscurity much against my inclination,” he told his wife.
- Guy Carleton
Major General Guy Carleton, the British governor and military commander of Canada, was said by one acquaintance to be “a man of ten thousand eyes . . . not to be taken unawares.” Described by George III as “gallant & sensible,” Carleton confessed to London that with American invaders approaching Quebec, “I think our fate extremely doubtful.”
- Fortress Quebec
By the end of 1775, the only significant place in Canada not under American control was Fortress Quebec on the St. Lawrence River. Although revetments, palisades, and walls extended in a two-mile arc around the city, the fortifications had fallen into disrepair.
- The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec
With smallpox, frigid weather, and desertion reducing his small force, General Montgomery attacked Quebec during a storm on December 31, 1775. His death, from grapeshot through his thighs and face, was far bloodier than artist John Trumbull’s subsequent depiction.
- Château Ramezay
A fieldstone mansion on the Rue Notre-Dame in Montreal, the Château Ramezay had once served as headquarters for the fur trade in New France. Benedict Arnold used it for his command post in early 1776 and received Dr. Franklin here on April 29, just as the American occupation of Canada was collapsing.
- Horatio Gates
A former British officer who had served capably as Washington’s adjutant general, Major General Horatio Gates traveled north in summer 1776 to take command of American troops in Canada only to find that the army had been driven helter-skelter back into New York. The battered force, Gates reported, was in a “deplorable state.”
- William Howe
After surviving the bloodletting at Bunker Hill, Major General William Howe took command of all British forces in America, overseeing both the evacuation of Boston and the attack on New York. Famously taciturn, he “never wastes a monosyllable,” one wit quipped.
- John Burgoyne
Major General John Burgoyne, dubbed “General Swagger,” was celebrated as much for playwriting in London as for military acumen. His farce The Blockade of Boston featured various illiterate Yankee caricatures, including a bumbling rebel general who “can’t read but can speechify.”
- Dorchester Heights
The American seizure of commanding ground on Dorchester Heights forced General Howe to abandon Boston for Halifax in mid-March 1776. The evacuation of nine thousand soldiers and more than a thousand loyalists left Britain without a single port on the Atlantic seaboard between Canada and Florida.
- Richard Howe
“A pretty man does not make a good portrait,” the artist Joshua Reynolds said admiringly of Admiral Richard Howe. Known as “Black Dick” for his swarthy complexion, Howe was already among Britain’s most celebrated fighting captains when he arrived in New York to command the Royal Navy in North America.
- Staten Island
This sketch by a British officer on Staten Island shows part of the king’s fleet anchored in the Narrows, across from Long Island on July 12, 1776. Admiral Howe’s flagship, Eagle, can be seen in the middle distance, approaching from the open sea.
- Flora MacDonald
Famous for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to France after his defeat at Culloden in 1746, Flora MacDonald subsequently left Scotland for North Carolina. Before American rebels captured her husband in the loyalist drubbing at Moore’s Creek in February 1776, she had written, “There are troublous times ahead, I ween.”
- Henry Clinton
Major General Henry Clinton would serve longer in the American war than any British general. A gifted tactician and a talented violinist with a passion for Haydn, he instinctively expected the worst, from both people and fate. “Furies were at work on his psyche,” his biographer later wrote.
- Charles Earl Cornwallis
General Charles Earl Cornwallis, a member of the House of Lords, delighted his king by volunteering to join the British expedition against the American South in early 1776. After the disastrous defeat outside Charleston, Cornwallis commanded with distinction in the battles to seize New York.
- Charles Lee
No more flamboyant figure served the American cause in uniform than Major General Charles Lee, a onetime British officer known for his homely mien, love of dogs, and intemperate aggression. One newspaper deemed Lee among “the greatest military characters of the present age,” although John Adams acknowledged, “He is a queer creature.”
- William Moultrie
Thickset, ruddy William Moultrie was a South Carolina militia colonel in command of the crude fort on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston Bay. As he calmly puffed his pipe and pointed out targets during the daylong battle in June 1776, his gunners inflicted severe casualties on the attacking British naval squadron.
- Slave Auction Advertisement
By 1776 half of the Charlestown’s twelve thousand residents were white and free, while the other half were neither and subject to sale. The South Carolina militia had long been designed primarily to suppress slave revolts. “Our negroes have all high notions of their liberty,” a white resident complained.
- Charleston, June 1775
St. Michael’s church steeple was often the first landmark spotted by mariners approaching Charleston. In early June 1776, some fifty British vessels anchored outside the harbor as their commanders pondered how to attack the most heavily fortified city in America.
- Sullivan’s Island, June 27, 1776
Despite firing seven thousand cannon rounds on June 27, 1776, the British squadron off Sullivan’s Island inflicted little damage. British battle casualties exceeded two hundred. “We never had such a drubbing in our lives,” a Royal Navy sailor admitted.
- Declaration of Independence
Even while denouncing royal despotism and enumerating twenty-seven grievances, the Declaration of Independence, approved by Congress on July 4, 1776, used soaring language to proclaim the American cause, beginning with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
- Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine had failed at everything he ever attempted in Britain: shop keeping, teaching, tax collecting, corset making, and marriage. But soon after emigrating to Philadelphia in late 1774, he found fame with Common Sense, a bold, brilliant pamphlet that made the case for American independence with, in General Washington’s assessment, “unanswerable reasoning.”
- The Phoenix and The Rose
On the night of August 16, 1776, two American vessels crammed with flammables attacked a British flotilla anchored in the Hudson River. The fire ships destroyed an enemy tender, but Royal Navy seamen kept flames from spreading through the sails of the frigate Phoenix.
- The Battle of Brooklyn
This nineteenth-century painting by Alonzo Chappel shows the chaotic flight of American troops toward Gowanus Creek near Brooklyn on August 27, 1776, after being all but encircled by the British. “We were drove with much precipitation and confusion,” an American major later acknowledged.
- The Turtle
Designed and built by David Bushnell of Connecticut, the Turtle was described as “a machine altogether different from anything hitherto devised by the art of man.” Just before midnight on September 6, 1776, the submersible “water machine” was launched from Manhattan’s southern tip to destroy the Eagle, Admiral Howe’s flagship.
- The Hudson Rive, October 1776
Determined to control the Hudson, a trio of British warships accompanied by tenders sailed upriver in early October 1776. Despite underwater obstructions and heavy fire from American batteries, the flotilla managed to pass Fort Washington on Manhattan to the right and Fort Lee in New Jersey to the left. The river was actually much wider than depicted here.
- Kip’s Bay
On September 15, 1776, five British men-of-war on the East River bombarded American entrenchments along Kip’s Bay, a shallow indentation on the Manhattan shoreline. At the same time, several thousand British and German troops crossed the river on flatboats and soon sent the rebels fleeing.
- Harlem Heights
A day after the debacle at Kip’s Bay, the American commander in chief lured unwary redcoats into a bloody ambush near Harlem Heights along the Hudson. “If this was a scheme of Washington’s,” a British officer admitted, “it certainly was well-concerted.”
- Nathanael Greene
“I was educated a Quaker, amongst the most superstitious sort,” wrote Nathanael Greene, son of a Rhode Island anchorsmith. The youngest Continental general, he soon became a Washington favorite for his decisive mind and rigorous discipline, notwithstanding a catastrophic error in judgment at Fort Washington in November 1776.
- Morris House
This loyalist’s mansion served as Washington’s headquarters for five weeks in northern Manhattan before the Americans finally retreated north into Westchester County. Court-martial boards sometimes convened in the octagonal parlor in the rear of the house.
- John Glover
Colonel John Glover commanded the brigade that confronted four thousand enemy troops at Pell’s Point in mid-October 1776. Glover wrote, “Oh, the anxiety of mind I was then in for the fate of the day.”
- Glanville Evelyn
For more than two years, Captain Glanville Evelyn of the King’s Own Regiment had been eager “to scourge the rebellion with rods of iron.” He survived heavy combat at Concord, Bunker Hill, and Sullivan’s Island, but his luck betrayed him at Pell’s Point.
- Fort Lee
On November 20, 1776, General Cornwallis led British regulars and Hessians across the Hudson before climbing a narrow path up the Steep Rocks, which rose more than four hundred feet above the river. From there they pounced on the American redoubt at Fort Lee.
- Pierre-Augustin Caron
Pierre-Augustin Caron, better known as Beaumarchais, took up the American cause as a gunrunner and financier with a passion he normally reserved for the stage and French politics. The author of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro conceded, “My life is a combat.”
- Paris, 1763
Paris, seen here from the Pont Neuf in 1763, was a town of fads and fashions that rose and fell, came and went. Sophisticates debated whether wine darkened the skin as well as the national mood.
- Silas Deane
Sent to Paris by Congress in mid-1776, the Connecticut politician Silas Deane posed as a Bermuda merchant while arranging for secret munitions shipments to America. He also ran a recruiting office for hundreds of European soldiers of fortune avid to join the rebel cause.
- Louis XVI
Louis XVI, whose self-described ambition was “to be loved,” had ascended the French throne in 1774 at the age of nineteen. Aiding America against the British, he concluded, would help restore France to greatness.
- Charles Gravier
Charles Gravier, the Comte de Vergennes and France’s foreign minister, deplored American revolutionary ideals. But he believed that a protracted, bloody struggle between Britain and America could badly weaken London as France rearmed for the next war against her hereditary enemy.
- Benjamin Rush
“Every particle of my blood is electrified with revenge,” the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush admitted after the British captured his father-in-law. Medically educated in Edinburgh and London, Rush attended troops from both sides who were wounded in the fighting across central New Jersey in the winter of 1776–77.
- The Passage of the Delaware
The American predicament “wears so unfavorable an aspect,” Washington lamented in December 1776, that a desperate gamble was justified. He chose to cross the icy Delaware River on Christmas night, as seen in this 1819 painting by Thomas Sully, in order to surprise the Hessian garrison at Trenton.
- John Sullivan
Major General John Sullivan was a bombastic New Hampshire lawyer, notorious for suing his debtors. He helped redeem unimpressive military performances in Canada and on Long Island by leading the right wing of Washington’s attack on Trenton.
- Joseph Reed
The Philadelphia lawyer Joseph Reed, who served as Washington’s aide and adjutant general, was the commanding general’s closest confidant until the discovery in late November 1776 of his disloyal correspondence with General Lee. Reed later provided useful intelligence after leading a cavalry troop to capture British dragoons near Princeton.
- The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton
John Trumbull’s painting of the Hessian defeat at Trenton depicts, with dramatic artistic liberty, a mortally wounded Colonel Johann Rall surrendering to Washington. Later caricatured as a drunken fool, Rall was in fact respected as a combat commander.
- Spy Map of Princeton
A map drawn by a spy in Princeton and given to Washington showed unguarded back roads into the village, as well as British defensive dispositions, headquarters, and other important landmarks useful in planning the surprise attack on January 3, 1777.
- James Grant
Major General James Grant, who had led the British left wing at Long Island, commanded royal forces in New Jersey after General Howe’s return to New York in mid-December 1776. A stout, gouty former governor of East Florida, Grant was described as “a gamester, a glutton, and an epicure.”
- Hugh Mercer
Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, a Scottish-born physician, had fled to America after supporting the losing side at Culloden in 1746. He led a brigade of Maryland and New England troops both at Trenton and in the flanking attack on Princeton.
- The Death of Mercer at the Battle of Princeton
This sketch by John Trumbull captures the brutality of the bayonet. General Mercer, surprised by a British counterattack near Princeton, spills to the ground after his horse is shot in the foreleg. Despite multiple stab wounds, he would live for more than a week.
- The Battle of Princeton
James Peale’s scene, painted at the end of the war, shows superior American firepower overwhelming the weak British garrison in Princeton. Only an hour after capturing the village, Washington led his troops north toward the New Jersey highlands where they would go into winter quarters.