The textile a large central image of the Battle of New Orleans, surrounded by patriotic vignettes of earlier events in American history and surmounted by a portrait of George Washington. The composition thus places the victory at New Orleans in the broader context of the struggle to gain independence from Great Britain and draws a straight-line connection between Andrew Jackson’s triumph and that of Washington at Yorktown.
At the center is a large view of the battle as seen from downriver along the east bank of the Mississippi, with the river to the left and New Orleans (labeled “B”) visible in the background. The view is not intended as a faithful depiction of the battle, or of any one phase of the battle, but achieves dramatic effect by highlighting its key features, players and events. Thus, in front of the city are the three American defensive lines (“H”, “I” and “J”), anchored on their right by the Mississippi and on the left by swamp, interspersed with large columns of British prisoners (“F”). The British units (“O”) assaulting the American line are shown “defeated and thrown into confusion”, while at left British commanders Packenham (“R”) and Gibbs (“S”) are each shown at the moment of being mortally wounded by American fire.
Near the center of the action is General Andrew Jackson mounted on a rearing horse, waving his cap and with a speech bubble reciting a poem based on Robert Burns’s 1793 “Scots Wha Hae”, but with the verse repurposed with a patriotic American theme. At the very top of the image is a medallion portrait of George Washington, after Gilbert Stuart’s portrait, surely included to draw a parallel between the two generals.
The four corners feature large, patriotic vignettes of iconic moments in the history of the young United States, including the Boston Tea Party, the surrender of the British at Yorktown, the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and the 1804 naval assault on Tripoli during the Barbary Wars. These vignettes are replete with amusing errors, no doubt reflecting the fact that the textile was designed and printed in the United Kingdom by someone less than familiar with the historical facts: For example, the Americans did not fight a Yorktown from the relative safety of a European-style castle; the Treaty of Paris was neither signed nor ratified on May 22, 1783; and the Americans at Tripoli were commanded by Commodore Preble, not Captain Decatur.
Despite the patriotic American content, this textile was almost certainly produced for the export market by an English or Scottish for the export market (Threads of History describes it as “probably Scotch”, perhaps based on its resemblance to another kerchief of the Battle of New Orleans issued by Scottish printer C. Gray, 1815-1816.) The battle took place in January 1815, so it seems likely the textile was produced that year to capitalize on the patriotic fervor around Jackson’s victory.
The textile is extremely rare. I have located but a single institutional holding, at the Historic New Orleans Collection, and am not aware of any others having appeared on the antiquarian market. The present example appeared on the market at Hake’s Auctions (March 16, 2022, lot 45), where it was purchased by another ABAA dealer, from whom I obtained it earlier in 2023year.
The Battle of New Orleans
The final British offensive of the War of 1812 took place in the Gulf of Mexico, where in late 1814 a powerful force took aim at Mobile and New Orleans. By December 23 an advance body of nearly 2000 men had reached the Mississippi several miles downriver from New Orleans. The attack was delayed until the arrival of the main army under General Edward Pakenham, an aggressive officer who had served with Wellington against Napoleon. The delay gave the Americans under General Jackson time to improvise fortifications along the Rodruiguez Canal, just four miles from the city.
When Pakenham finally attacked on January 8th, 1815 almost everything went wrong. The main thrust, against the American left, was a disaster: The British were unaware that the position had been reinforced with Kentucky militia, the 44th Regiment failed its assignment to lay ladders and fascines across the Canal, and Pakenham and other senior officers were killed during the advance. The British eventually retired after losing more than 2000 killed, wounded and missing, compared to a mere 71 American casualties.
The great American victory was also an unnecessary tragedy: Two weeks earlier American and British negotiators had signed the Treaty of Ghent, which declared an immediate cease fire and provided for a peace settlement upon ratification by both sides. Nonetheless the victory electrified the American public and fed the legend that propelled Jackson to the Presidency in 1828.
In all, a detailed depiction of the events leading up to the Battle of New Orleans, the single most decisive American victory of the War of 1812.
References and provenance
Collins, Threads of History, #49. Not in OCLC or Library Hub Discover.