A very rare engraving of the 1813 Battle of the Thames, which effectively ended British power in the Old Northwest, destroyed Tecumseh’s Native American Confederacy, and burnished the reputation of future President William Henry Harrison.
“After the U.S. naval triumph in the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, the British commander at Detroit, Brigadier General Henry A. Procter, found his position untenable and began a hasty retreat across the Ontario peninsula. He was pursued by about 3,500 U.S. troops under Major General William Henry Harrison, who was supported by the U.S. fleet in command of Lake Erie. The forces met near Moraviantown on the Thames River, a few miles east of what is now Thamesville. The British, with about 600 regulars and 1,000 Indian allies under Tecumseh, the Shawnee intertribal leader, were greatly outnumbered and quickly defeated. Many British troops were captured and Tecumseh was killed, destroying his Indian alliance and breaking the Indian power in the Ohio and Indiana territories. After this battle, most of the tribes abandoned their association with the British.
“After destroying Moraviantown, a village of Christian Indians, the U.S. troops returned to Detroit. The U.S. victory helped catapult Harrison into the national limelight and eventually the presidency.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)
This dramatic engraving seems to depict a key moment in the battle, a charge by cavalry under the command of Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky against a mixed group of British regulars and their Native American allies. The question is: Which charge? Colonel Johnson’s brother James was also at the battle, and early on he led a successful cavalry assault against Proctor’s left, capturing the majority of the regulars and forcing the remainder (including Proctor himself) to flee. Somewhat later, Colonel Johnson himself led a nearly suicidal charge on Proctor’s right, where Tecumseh and his warriors were positioned, and in that phase of the battle Tecumseh himself was killed, leading Indian resistance to collapse.
Truth be told, elements of both events are present in this engraving. My best guess is that the answer to the “Which charge” question is “neither,” and “both:” The artist, in faraway Connecticut, was likely less interested in historical veracity than in conveying to the viewer a general impression of American victory and the heroism of Colonel Johnson.
Engraver Ralph Rawdon was active for a few years in Cheshire, Connecticut before moving in or around 1816 to Albany, New York. There he did a certain amount of portrait engraving under his own imprint, as well as establishing a “bank-note and general engraving business” (Stauffer, vol. I p. 218) with his brother and one A. Willard. Partners Charles Shelton (1782-1832) and Thomas Kensett (1786-1829) were map and print publishers in Cheshire, probably beginning in 1812-13. They published engravings by Rawdon and Amos Doolittle as well as Kensett’s own work.
The view extremely rare. I am aware of only four impressions held by American institutions (American Antiquarian Society, Brown University, Clements Library, Indiana Historical Society) and but two offered on the antiquarian market in the past century (Sothebys 1973, sale 3523, lot 140; Old Print Shop ca. 2015). The view was pirated, likely in the 1820s, by little-known Ohio engraver Gabriel Miese (1807-?) and is even rarer than the original.
In all, a rare and vivid image of the Battle of the Thames, one of the United States’ few victories on land in the War of 1812.
AAS Engravings, #11493. Stauffer #2638.