Imaginative European peep show engraving of a major event within British occupied territory: the Great Fire of New York.
"If the wind had shifted to the west as it had the appearance a couple of times, the whole city might have been destroyed." – diary entry of Pastor Shewkirk, eyewitness
On September 20th-21st, within days of the British taking control of the area, a fire broke out in the southwestern part of Manhattan. It ripped through the city, destroying as much as 25% of the buildings. Many blamed the Patriots, and even Washington himself, for the fire, seeing it as an attempt to limit the resources of the British army within territory the Rebels had ceded only days earlier. In response, the British temporarily jailed and interrogated upwards of 200 citizens, seeking the cause of the fire. (In the midst of this, but apparently unrelated, Patriot spy Nathan Hale was caught and hanged.) As evidenced by the reversed title, this engraving was produced for a specific kind of popular entertainment of the era: the peep show, a box into which one looked to see a print enhanced through a lens. The image includes a number of telling biases, including the British beating civilians while the fire rages (other accounts suggest they actively assisted civilians in putting out the fire), and enslaved African Americans looting the burning buildings. An evocative nearly contemporary recreation, as imagined by those receiving reports from afar.
Read more: Johnston, The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn.
Augsburg: l'Academie Imperiale d'Empire des Arts, [circa 1778]. 12'' x 17.25''. Single engraved print laid down on board with contemporary hand coloring. Title in reverse across top of image; five lines of text below image in French and German. Edges of print trimmed with touching text or image, corner chip to board (no loss to engraving), lightly soiled and browned.
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