Question of the Week
What Philadelphia engraver created noteworthy political caricatures of the War of 1812?
Answer: William Charles
June 18 marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812. It was on this date that the United States declared war on Great Britain, launching what some call the “Second American War of Independence”.
William Charles, a Philadelphia engraver, publisher, and seller of children’s books, created some of the most noteworthy political caricatures about the War of 1812. Scotch born, Charles fled Edinburgh in 1801 to escape prosecution after caricaturizing some of the local clergymen. Charles began creating political caricatures in 1808 both independently and for the American Magazine of Wit. After war broke out, there was an increased interest in political satire. The rough humor and wit of his cartoons connected with the public, and they were some of the most popular and widely circulated of the time. Some cartoons celebrated American victories, while others criticized the war.
Charles died in August, 1820, and is buried in the Baptist Burial Ground in Philadelphia. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s collection contains some of Charles’s caricatures.
Image: Johnny Bull in a Fret. Oh these Wasps, & Hornets! the dreadful little Insects, how they sting! Oh, woe is me! why did I disturb their Nest!!” engraving by William Charles (1813)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.