Blocked by England's rigid class structure from further advancement in the British army, the humbly born Horatio Gates surrendered his major's commission in 1765. By the early 1770's he was in Virginia, where he established himself as a planter, and where his own hostility to the British establishment drew him into America's Revolutionary cause. As commanding general at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, he delivered one of the most damaging blows yet felt by English forces in the war. Gates's once close relationship with George Washington, however, grew strained after this victory, and in 1780 his failure at the disastrous Battle of Camden transformed him from one of the Revolution's most esteemed soldiers into one of its most controversial.
This portrait of Gates was the work of James Peale, who copied it from an original painted by his brother, Charles Willson Peale. Some have speculated that the stormy background in the picture was meant to represent the controversy that engulfed the subject after Camden, and that the sun appearing through the clouds indicated a happier future.