Revolutionary Rebuses: "America to Her Mistaken Mother" and "Britannia to America" in a handmade frame from The History List Store
The History List

Revolutionary Rebuses: "America to Her Mistaken Mother" and "Britannia to America" in a handmade frame

Regular price $ 140.00

About the print

Imagined correspondence between Britannia and America printed in 1778 satirizing the plea of the rejected mother (Britannia) and the reply of the rebellious daughter (America). See below for additional historical background. 

Printed with archival inks on 100% cotton rag, acid-free archival paper. Some of the characters in the "American to Her Mistaken Mother" rebus appears in color while the "Britannia to America" rebus is all black and white.

These rebuses came from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Frame: Your frame will be made by hand from raw lumber and will have a profile and finish similar to what you see pictured.

The dimensions are approximately 22" x 14"

I will cut, rout, and sand to produce the unique profile you see, and then glue, sand, and paint with it with multiple coats of milk paint from the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company, starting with coats of black and then topping with coats of "Salem Red" (for the letter from Britannia) or "Federal Blue" (for the letter from America), buffing with @0000 steel wool, and then coating with a traditional wax finish, buffing between each coat.

It will be framed with a museum-grade acrylic that is non-glare and offers UV protection. (Use a cleaner designed for acrylic, such as this one; do not use a standard glass cleaner.)

It is one-of-a-kind frame befitting this very limited, historic print.

These rebuses are also available as an unframed print.

If you'd like to see additional photos, or are interested in me designing and building a different frame profile or finish, contact me.

This framed print will make a historic addition to your home or office. Your purchase will also help us support local history organizations across the country.

Lee Wright  |  Founder  |  The History List  |  History Camp

A note about shipping: Due to the size and weight of this item, the charge for shipping is $35.00.


Britannia to America.

My dear Daughter I cannot behold without great pain

your headstrong backwardness to return to your Duty in not opposing

all the good I long intended for your sole Happiness & being

told that you have giv'n your hand to a base & two-faced Frenchman    I have

sent you over five wise1 men the greatest of all my children to put you to rights &

hope you will listen to them & mind what they say to you

they have instructions to give you those things you

formerly required so be a good girl     discharge your soldiers & ships of war

& do not rebel against your mother     rely upon me & do not trust

to what that french Rascal shall tell you     I see he wants to

bring on an enmity to all unity2 between you & I but listen

not to him     all the world takes notice of his two faces.

I'll send him such Messages from my great cannons as shall make

his heart repent & know that one good or ill turn merits

another. NB let not hate3 take too much hold of your heart.

                                                                    I am your friend & mother.

1 or "five overwise"
2 The snake forming a circle is an ancient symbol for eternity. This symbol also suggests unity, which is the more probable translation in this context.
3 "Hate" has been suggested as the translation for 80 by several scholars, including M. Dorothy George, an expert on prints of this period. The meaning is appropriate, and other contemporary rebuses use such pictures as a hand for "and," indicating that the Cockney pronunciation was commonly used.

America to her mistaken mother.

You silly old woman that you have sent a dove to us is very plain

to draw our attention from our real interests but we are

determin'd to abide by our own ways of thinking

your five children you have sent to us shall be treated as Visitors

& safely sent home again     you may trust them & admire them,

but you must not expect one of your puppets will come home to you as

sweet as you sent him, twas cruel to send so pretty a man so many

thousand miles & to have the fatigue of re[t]urning back after

bobbing his coat & dirtying those red heel shoes     if you are

wise follow your own advice you gave to me     take home

your ships [and] soldiers     guard well your own triflings & leave me

to my self as I am at age to know my own interests.

without your foolish advice & know that I shall always

regard you & my Brothers as relations but not as friends.

                             I am your greatly injured

                                                           Daughter Amerik.


The use of pictures to represent words appears to be the earliest form of written communication and reached a high point of sophistication with Egyptian hieroglyphics and early Chinese pictographic characters. The rebus, though it superficially resembles the pictograph, is conceptually opposite to it. In the rebus pictures that, when named, will give the sounds used to make up words are combined with letters of the alphabet or with other pictures in a puzzle text. For example, a bumblebee and the numeral 4 could be used to indicate the word "before." The picture in a rebus has nothing to do with the message but only indicates the sounds that make up words concerning other objects or ideas. These two "hieroglyphic letters" combine both methods in that, on one hand, pictures of Britannia and soldiers are used to represent these words, and, on the other hand, a picture of an eye indicates the word "I," a toe stands for the word "to," etc.

As early as 1540 the calligrapher and engraver Palatino published a verse with pictures interspersed with words. During the 17th century the French adopted the rebus as a form of amusement, and its popularity quickly spread to England, where people enjoyed thinking up ways to express their names as picture puzzles; rebuses soon began to adorn tavern signs. The American Revolution inspired many political prints, frequently expressing the views of the opposition to the British government's American policies. The rebus or hieroglyphic letter was employed as a form of political satire.

Matthew Darly published the first of these two rebuses on May 6 and the other on May 11, 1778. Darly was a prolific engraver whose work ranged from architectural plans, engraved bookplates, portraits, and the plates engraved from Thomas Chippendale's drawings for the Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director (1754) to Darly's Comic Prints of Characters, Caricatures, Macaronie's, etc., Dedicated to D. Garrick, esq. (1776). He published books and prints, sold wallpaper, and designed and printed political cartoons. Although his shop and workrooms in Cranbourne Alley, near Leicester Square in London, and his professional activities between 1754 and 1778 in London and Bath are well documented, the facts of his birth and death remain obscure. Darly was typical of the other 18th-century British creators and publishers of caricatures in his versatility, and he was superior to many of them in skill. His irreverent attitude to his country's institutions led him to sign a self-portrait, "M. Darly, P.O.A.G.B. (Painter of Ornaments to the Academy of Great Britain)."

Some copies of these rebuses were handcolored and others not, a practice common with prints of the period. In an advertisement in the Public Advertiser, May 1-3, 1778; Darly announced, "In a few days will be published Price 2s. illuminated, 1s. plain, a Heroglyphic [sic] Letter from Britannia to America. . . .” The Library of Congress copies of these two rebuses are here reproduced exactly, "America to Her Mistaken Mother” in color and "Britannia to America” in black and white.

This exchange of letters comments on the British attempt in that year to negotiate peace with the colonists. The overture was in response to well-founded rumors of a Franco-American alliance. In the initial stages of the Revolution, France had hinted that she might support American belligerency should the colonists declare their independence. By the spring of 1778, with the Declaration of Independence signed and the American victory at Saratoga complete, only the greatest concessions on the part of the British government could upset the French alliance and prevent the expansion of the war.

The British approach to peace was through a commission appointed by King George III. The five members were chosen with an eye toward appearing balanced and impartial. In addition to General Sir William Howe and his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe, who held seats by virtue of their commands in America, the members included George Johnstone, one-time governor of West Florida and an outspoken proponent in Parliament of American rights; Frederick Howard, fifth Earl of Carlisle, a wealthy, young aristocrat known primarily to Americans as a close friend of the British opposition politician Charles James Fox; and William Eden, an enterprising bureaucrat and intimate of Lord North.

Favoring the prospects of the Carlisle Commission, as this body came to be known, was the willingness on the part of the King to concede to most of the early demands of the Americans. He was prepared to return to conditions as they existed in the Empire before 1763, conceding to the colonists the rights of voluntary contributions for imperial defense, freedom from taxation by Parliament, the popular election of governors and customs officials, and unqualified pardons. Even modifications of the declared legislative supremacy of Parliament might be considered in the negotiations. The only thing lacking insofar as the colonials were concerned was British recognition of their independence.

It was against this background that the two rebuses reproduced here were created. In "Britannia to America" we see the British attitude of extreme generosity to the Americans on the one hand and traditional antipathy toward the French on the other. Both the French alliance and independence were unpalatable to them. The colonial response, "America to her Mistaken Mother," reflects a lack of faith in the sincerity of British offers and a strong determination for independence. Published several weeks before the three commissioners from England joined the Howes in America, the rebus is prophetic of the colonists' refusal to meet with the commission.


Source: The Library of Congress, 1973. 

Comment: While the background from the Library of Congress (above) refers only to Matthew, the citation for the artifact says Mary.  The print is signed “M Daly,” which is surely the perfect signature for a husband and wife that worked together in the same profession.

Here’s more on them from Wikipedia:

By 1756, the husband-and-wife team had print shops in Fleet Street and the Strand. Mary was the sole manager of the branch at "The Acorn, Ryders Court (Cranbourne Alley), Leicester Fields."[3] Mary advertised in the daily papers in her own name as "etcher and publisher."[3] She was one of the first professional caricaturists in England.[8]
The Darlys’ shops, some of the first to specialize in caricature, initially concentrated on political themes in the 1750s, at a time of political crises, but then focused on world of fashion. "They seem to have been shrewd business people, changing their output in response to the fashion of the day."[9] Their etchings and engravings included "Wigs" (12 October 1773), "The Preposterous Head Dress, or the Featherd Lady" (20 March 1776), "Phaetona or Modern Female Taste" (6 November 1776); "Miss Shuttle-Cock" (6 December 1776); and "Oh. Heigh. Oh. Or a View of the Back Settlements" (9 July 1776), a play on words that refers to Ohio Territory.
The Darlys also offered drawing lessons to upperclass men and women.
The Darlys relocated their shop from Fleet Street to the West End as the craze for homemade caricatures grew. At their West End shop, they published between 1771 and 1773 six sets of satirical "macaroni" prints, each set containing 24 portraits. The new Darly shop became known as "The Macaroni Print-Shop".  Matthew and Mary Darly fueled a rage for caricatures in London, flooding the market with prints on social life, such as those lampooning the so-called "macaronis."
During the 1770s, the Darlys sold a variety of prints at a wide range of prices and to customers from various social classes. Their prints included depictions of prostitutes, market vendors, maidservants, and other women of the age.

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Size Chest Body Length Sleeve Length
Small 19 28 9.25
Medium 20.5 29 9.5
Large 22 30 9.75
XL 23.5 31 10
2XL 25 32 10.25
3XL 28 33 10.5

Measurement Notes:
Sleeve length measured from shoulder edge.

Care Instructions:
Machine wash cold. Do not bleach. Tumble dry low.


Size Chest Body Length Sleeve Length
Small 38 28 9.25
Medium 41 29 9.5
Large 44 30 9.75
XL 47 31 10
2XL 50 32 10.25
3XL 56 33 10.5


Size Chest Body Length
Small 38 28
Medium 41 29
Large 44 30
XL 48 31
2XL 52 32

Measurement Notes:
Sleeve length measured from shoulder edge.

Care Instructions:
Machine wash cold. Do not bleach. Tumble dry low.

Size Chest Body Length Sleeve Length
Small 20 26.5 24.38
Medium 22 27.5 24.63
Large 24 28.5 24.25
XL 26 29.5 24
2XL 28 30 23.75
3XL 30 30.5 23.5

Measurement Notes:
Sleeve length measured from shoulder edge.

Care Instructions:
Machine wash cold. Do not bleach. Tumble dry low.

Size Chest Body Length Sleeve Length
Small 31.5 26.5 6.38
Medium 33.5 27 6.63
Large 35.5 27.5 6.88
XL 38.5 28 7.13
2XL 41.5 28.5 7.38

Measurement Notes:
Sleeve length measured from shoulder edge.

Care Instructions:
Machine wash cold. Do not bleach. Tumble dry low.

Size Body Width Body Length
XS 15.6 26.5
Small 16.1 26.75
Medium 17.25 27.25
Large 18.38 27.88
XL 19.88 28.5
2XL 21.38 29.13


Care Instructions:
Machine wash cold. Do not bleach. Tumble dry low.

Size Chest Body Length Sleeve Length
Small 19 28 9.25
Medium 20.5 29 9.5
Large 22 30 9.75
XL 24 31 10
2XL 26 32 10.25
3XL 28 33 10.5

Measurement Notes:
Sleeve length measured from shoulder edge.

Care Instructions:
Machine wash cold. Do not bleach. Tumble dry low.