Art, Cartoons, and Broadsides of America

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw numerous changes in religion, culture, and politics on both sides of the Atlantic. People were encouraged to profess new religions, new leaders, and new countries. Due to low literacy rates, the best way to convey these messages was through drawings, usually printed from a carved woodblock or engraved copper plate. As paper was expensive, these drawings were often printed on broadsides, sheets of cheap paper printed on a single side. Broadsides were sold in the street, at fairs, or in small stalls and served as a means of reaching as many people as possible. While wealthy members of society typically looked down on broadsides, their presence was impossible to ignore. The first broadsides connected with North America were produced in the late fifteenth century to encourage colonists to move to the New World. John White made numerous drawings during his explorations of Virginia and North Carolina in the 1580s. The Flemish engraver Theodore de Bry published White’s drawings in 1590, after alterations were made to the images to demonstrate the prosperity settlers would find in the New World. In 1607, de Bry’s engravings were used to encourage the foundation of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia. Other artists produced similar maps and drawings, including Simon van de Passe’s 1618 engraving Pocahontas and Robert Vaughan’s Ould Virginia in 1624. By the late seventeenth century, the North American colonists were creating religious and political art of their own. The first known original woodblock in the colonies was made by Boston printmaker John Foster in 1670. Appropriate for a Puritan colony, Foster’s print showed the religious leader Richard Mather holding an open Bible. The captivity narratives composed by Puritans captured by native peoples during the colonial wars also supplied a popular subject for engravings. These drawings served as a demonstration of the Puritan faith surmounting religious and physical attack; they were used as advertisements to sell the narratives, the first bestsellers in North America. Political cartoons and caricatures became increasingly popular in Europe in the eighteenth century. While these were as much propaganda as the earlier broadsides encouraging North American settlement had been, they allowed artists to make political comments of their own. The earliest known political cartoon in the colonies was drawn by Benjamin Franklin in 1747 to accompany his pamphlet Plain Truth. It showed a wagon stuck in the mud, while its owner prayed for heavenly intervention. The caption below it read Non Votis, God helps those who help themselves in Latin. Franklin continued his career as a political cartoonist in 1754 with a drawing of a snake divided in eight parts. Each part was labeled with the initials of a colony or region. The caption below read Join, or Die. Franklin’s snake continued to resurface throughout the American Revolution. At the end of the war, British engraver James Gilray drew a cartoon of the defeated British army surrounded by a large, joined snake. In 1770, John Singleton Copley’s half brother Henry Pelham designed an engraving showing the Boston Massacre. Shortly afterwards, Paul Revere produced an engraving of the Boston Massacre that copied Pelham’s etching. Pelham accused Revere of stealing his drawing, stating that Revere was a silversmith with no artistic talent. It is unknown whether Revere ever responded to the charge. The primary distinctions between Pelham’s and Revere’s drawings demonstrate their differing political beliefs. Both Pelham and Copley attempted to remain neutral throughout the war. Revere, an ardent patriot, added a sign reading Butcher’s Hall above the British Custom House. Hundreds of copies of Revere’s engraving were sold for a few pennies a copy, and the image was actively used as propaganda by the Sons of Liberty in Boston. Later on, Revere produced engravings of the coffins of those killed in the attack. In this 1774 engraving by Paul Revere, The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught, Britannia weeps as Lord North pours tea into the mouth of America. Political cartoons, broadsides, and other print media were vital in promoting colonial interests both at home and in London. (Library of Congress/Bridgeman Art Library) Other political engravings supporting the American cause include a 1776 series produced by Franz Xaver Habermann in New York to demonstrate the destruction caused by British occupation. American wax sculptor and spy Patience Wright was a popular subject for cartoonists throughout the war. In 1780, John Williams drew a cartoon titled The Right Situation. It showed the heads of three British officials on stakes while Wright commented, This is a sight I have long wished to see. Following the end of the Revolution and the foundation of the United States, political cartoonists continued to thrive. As literacy rates rose and the price of paper dropped, they became a regular part of newspapers, aiming to appeal to an increasingly sophisticated audience. Abigail B. Chandler See also: Art, Folk; Franklin, Benjamin; Newspapers and Journals; Revere, Paul. Bibliography Bjelajac, David. American Art, A Cultural History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001. Hess, Stephen, and Milton Kaplan. The Ungentlemanly Art. New York: Macmillan, 1975. Preston, Cathy Lynn, and Michael J. Preston, eds. The Other Print Tradition: Essays on Chapbooks, Broadsides, and Related Ephemera. New York: Garland, 1995. The Calaveras of Jos Guadalupe Posada The Public Domain Review holidaymapq

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