James Gillray cartoon mourning Britain’s loss of its American empire

[Attributed to James Gillray (1756-1815)] / Published by W. Humphrey (1742?-before 1815), The TIMES, Anno 1783. No. 227 Strand, London, April 14th 1783.  
Engraving and etching, 9 1/8”h x 13 3/8”w plus title and margins, uncolored.

A scarce and entertaining James Gillray political cartoon skewering Great Britain’s loss of her American colonies.

At the time of the print’s publication in April 1783, the American Revolutionary War was essentially over: On January 20 Great Britain, the United States, France and Spain signed the provisional treaty of peace, ending hostilities and recognizing American independence. The recent lifting of the French and Spanish siege of Gibraltar should have been some consolation to patriotic Britons, but this satire presents John Bull in despair. The image is thoroughly described by M. Dorothy George and the Library of Congress:

“Print shows John Bull throwing up his arms in despair as the devil flies away with a map labeled “America”; to the left are a portly Dutchman, a Spaniard, and a Frenchman, in the background is a battle scene at Gibraltar. This cartoon is about the Treaty of Paris, signed at the end of the American Revolution, as well as the War of the Spanish Succession which was waged concurrently in Europe. With the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain acknowledged American independence, here represented by the map carried off by a farting devil. John Bull, representing England, holds up his arms in surrender and perhaps because he has just let go of the map. He is teased first by a French man, who offers him snuff. Great Britain relinquished very little to the French, who were to carry their grievances into the Napoleonic Era. The Spaniard gestures toward Gibraltar, where a naval battle rages. In the treaty, Spain gave up Gibraltar, but regained Florida and Minorca. The Dutch, represented by the ill dressed man on the right, continued their negotiations into 1784.” (Library of Congress)


“Figures personifying England, France, Spain, and Holland represent the international situation. England (right), a John Bull, stout and plainly dressed, holds up his hands, with a melancholy expression, exclaiming “Tis lost! Irrecoverably lost”. By his side (right) lies a broken anchor, and above his head a demon flies off, holding up a partly-rolled map of America; he has bat’s wings, and is clad in ragged breeches; he excretes a puff of smoke inscribed “Poor John Bull! Ha! Ha! Ha!” France, in profile to the right, a ‘petit maître’ of exaggerated leanness, offers John Bull a snuff-box, and takes a pinch himself, saying, with a grimace, “Ah. Ah. me Lord Angla, volez vous une pince de Snuff, for de Diable will not give you back de Amerique”. Spain… stands, his left hand on the shoulder of France, the right arm outstretched, saying, “See Gibraltar! See Don Langara [the Spanish admiral captured at the 1780 Battle of Cape St. Vincent]! by S Anthony you have made me the Laughing Stock of Europe”. Behind him is Gibraltar, a rock with fortifications flying the British flag, in front small vessels are exploding in smoke, evidently the floating batteries which suffered such damage in the futile attack on Gibraltar of 13 Sept. 1782…. On the extreme left is Holland,… saying “De Donder take you Monseiur [sic] I think I have paid the Piper”. (George, Satires)

Of course, America was not “irrevocably lost” to Britain, which retained huge possessions in Canada, the staggering wealth of its sugar-producing colonies in the Caribbean, and, for many years, much influence over events inside the young United States.

Creswell, American Revolution in Drawings and Prints, #855. George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, #V:6210.