In the summer of 1781, Cornwallis moved his army to Yorktown, Virginia. He expected the Royal Navy to transport his army to New York, where he thought he would join General Sir Henry Clinton. Yorktown was a tobacco port on a peninsula, and Cornwallis believed the British navy would be able to keep the coast clear of rebel ships. Sensing an opportunity, a combined French and American force of sixteen thousand men swarmed the peninsula in September 1781. Washington raced south with his forces, now a disciplined army, as did the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau with their French troops. The French Admiral de Grasse sailed his naval force into Chesapeake Bay, preventing Lord Cornwallis from taking a seaward escape route.
In October 1781, the American forces began the battle for Yorktown, and after a siege that lasted eight days, Lord Cornwallis capitulated on October 19 (Figure). Tradition says that during the surrender of his troops, the British band played “The World Turned Upside Down,” a song that befitted the Empire’s unexpected reversal of fortune.
“The World Turned Upside Down”
“The World Turned Upside Down,” reputedly played during the surrender of the British at Yorktown, was a traditional English ballad from the seventeenth century. It was also the theme of a popular British print that circulated in the 1790s (Figure).
Why do you think these images were popular in Great Britain in the decade following the Revolutionary War? What would these images imply to Americans?
Visit the Public Domain Review to explore the images in an eighteenth-century British chapbook (a pamphlet for tracts or ballads) titled “The World Turned Upside Down.” The chapbook is illustrated with woodcuts similar to those in the popular print mentioned above.