This scarce, early 19th century engraving shows the naval battle at Plattsburgh, New York in 1814, the concluding and decisive American naval victory of the War of 1812 between America and Britain. The battle was momentous. Lake Champlain offered the British Navy a potential naval gateway from Canada into America. Lake Champlain would have provided the British Navy with water access via a short portage to Lake George and further south via the Champlain Canal to the Hudson River. Once setting sail on the Hudson River, Captain Downie could have led the British Navy directly to lay siege to New York City. But events proved otherwise.
The print shows American Commander Macdonough at the height of battle in his flagship the Saratoga accompanied by the ships Eagle and Ticonderoga, the crew hard at work, ship colors flying and cannon firing. The embattled city of Plattsburgh, New York is shown under siege in the background, arcs of cannonball originating from and raining on the city, buildings afire and flags atop poles visible through the smoke of battle.
This print focuses the viewer's attention on the entire scene from the American shore of Lake Champlain where one joins with American bystanders who confer and cheer, a dog walks by and a gentleman in top hat grips his telescope as all eyes gaze upon the battling gunships and a flotilla of small armed boats. Two uniformed officers astride their excited horses gesture and prepare to charge away. Several resourceful men, barefoot and agile, climb and cling to their perches high up in the dense leaves of the tall tree that frames the scene and gaze out at the battle. Wherever one looks, on shore in the foreground, at the central naval battle raging on Lake Champlain or in the smoke filled background at Plattsburgh there is action. Ultimately that day Captain Downie and the British Navy retreated in defeat to Canada.
Macdonough's Victory on Lake Champlain is copyrighted July 4, 1816 as befits a patriotic work of art. This example of the print, possibly a variant or otherwise trimmed in the bottom margin of its copyright and the printer's name, is in these regards identical to the example in the collection of the Library of Congress that has been exhibited both at the National Portrait Gallery in "A Nation Emerges" in 2012-2013 and at the Library of Congress in "The War of 1812: Selected Images from the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress)" dated thus.
To assist the contemporary viewer of this print in identifying participants in this pivotal battle, there is a mid-twentieth century graphic key, "Key to B. Tanner's print of Macdonough's victory on Lake Champlain...." that can be found in the Library of Congress collection, the Yale University Art Gallery [http://b01.deliver.odai.yale.edu/0f/52/0f524fe6-3848-456e-aba6-9b3764ecb066/ag-obj-50571-001-rpd-large.jpg] and the New York Public Library. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-7b65-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.
The victory of Commander Thomas Macdonough on Lake Champlain engraved by Benjamin Tanner became an iconic 19th century image in both America and England, appearing in fine art and even on a British porcelain teapot manufactured by Enoch Wood and Sons between 1820 and 1846. The engraving offered here is a cornerstone of American historical print collections and an icon of Americana.