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War of 1812 Caricatures, 1814


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


These two engravings by the Scottish-born artist William Charles (1776–1820) contrast the resistance—or lack thereof—to the British invasions of Alexandria, Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland during the War of 1812. Having their cities under attack left the citizenry with a difficult choice: fight the invaders and risk losing everything, or submit and hope for mercy. In the drawings, the Baltimore militia chooses resistance and surprises John Bull (the symbol of England) by their ability to defend their city, while John Bull forces the Alexandrians, who are depicted as cowards, to forfeit all their goods.

Citation: “John Bull and the Baltimoreans,” Lithograph by William Charles, ca. 1814. Special Collections, Prints & Photographs, Library of Virginia.

Citation: “Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians,” Lithograph by William Charles, Philadelphia, ca. 1814. Special Collections, Prints & Photographs, Library of Virginia.


Social Studies: GOVT.1 VUS.1
Art: 4.1, 5.1

Suggested Questions

Analyze: Identify the figures in the picture and describe them. Do you think there is any significance behind their appearance?

In Their Shoes: Pretend you are a citizen of a city under invasion. What course of action would you take in relation to your invaders? What are the pros and cons of your plan?

Artistic Exploration: Create cartoons that contrast behavior you find admirable and dispicable.