Copley's large-scale painting takes as its subject the failed French invasion of the British channel island Jersey in January 1781. If the French had managed to take Jersey, they would have decisively improved their strategic position for an attempt to land in southern England. This allowed the British defenders of Jersey to be styled as the saviours of the fatherland. The young Major Francis Pierson, the "dying hero", is the centre of the picture, which thereby takes up a topos that was very popular in battle paintings of the 18th century – one thinks of Benjamin West's (1738–1820) famous painting Death of General Wolfe at Quebec from 1770.
John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), The Death of Major Peirson, oil on canvas, 247×366 cm, 1782–1784; source: © Tate Gallery, https://www.tate-images.com/preview.asp?image=N00733# , Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/.