An American Revolutionary War Battleflag, 1776–1779
1776 - 1779
The color of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons captured by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at Pound Ridge, Westchester County, New York on July 2, 1779.
Together with the three further battleflags in the next lot, the last American Revolutionary War colors known to remain in British hands and the last such colors to remain in private hands anywhere.
The earliest surviving American flag of any kind with a field of thirteen red and white stripes.
One of the last great relics of the Revolution in private hands.
The silk standard with a field of thirteen red and white stripes centered by a painted badge of a winged and fulminating thundercloud with ribbon-enclosed motto, the whole bordered on three sides with a wide silver metallic fringe. Stripes of red and white silk, pierced together with overlapping seams, compose the flag’s field. A further strip of red silk is joined to the hoist end of the flag where it forms a border through which four eyelets have been pieced through which cords would have secured the flag to its wooden lance. Small sections of the cord remain. Centering the flag and pierced into the field is a rectangle of painted fabric which displays within a gold and black border on a red ground a circular black thundercloud sustained on a pair of silver wings and from which dart ten gold and orange thunderbolts. Below the thundercloud and contained within a golden scrolling ribbon is the motto, painted in black, “PAT:A CONCITA FULM:NT NATI.” The silver fringe, continuous on three sides, is bound to the flag with silk thread.
Including fringe 35 1/8 inches (hoist) x 38 ¾ inches (fly)
Excluding fringe 30 inches (hoist) x 36 inches (fly)
Design of the Battleflag: The earliest Revolutionary War flags were modifications of British flags. The stripes of the Union Jack were simplified into thirteen red and white stripes signifying the union of the thirteen states. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution for the creation of a national flag. “Resolved that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” Perhaps the present flag predated this Congressional resolve; perhaps it drew its design from our national standard. The union of thirteen stripes appeared in the cantons of a number of Revolutionary War colors; however, as no examples of our national flag survive from the Revolutionary War period, this flag is the earliest surviving (and only Revolutionary era) American flag of any kind to use in its design a field of thirteen red and white stripes.
The badge painted in the center of the flag has an ancient history. The winged thunder cloud raining thunderbolts evokes the terrible power of Zeus, the king of gods, and, as a device, appears on Ancient Greek coins, circa 500 B.C. The device was later adapted by the Romans, appearing on Roman Imperial coinage. The device was adapted for use by eighteenth-century French cavalry, which may have been the way in which it was transmitted to an American cavalry standard.
The Latin motto below the badge can be roughly translated, “When their country calls, her sons answer in tones of thunder.”
Dating the Flag : The Second Regiment, Continental Light Dragoons was authorized on December 12, 1776. Thus the flag could date as early as 1776, but no later than its capture on July 2, 1778.
Further work needs to be done on the chronology of this flag with respect to the two other surviving Revolutionary colors of this regiment. These two, one at the Smithsonian Institution, the other at the Connecticut State Library, are more rudimentary in their design. The thirteen stripes have been relegated to a painted canton and the exploding thundercloud devices are painted with less detail and fewer highlights. The embellishment of the fine silver fringe is omitted from both these flags which are also slightly smaller than the flag captured by Tarleton. They could well be later flags, commissioned to replace the lost color of 1779, but, given the austerity of the times, completed with fewer flourishes.
Provenance: Lieutenant Colonel (later General Sir) Banastre Tarleton to his nephew Thomas Tarleton and thence by direct descent to Captain Christopher Tarleton Fagan.
Over the past two and a quarter centuries the colors were displayed in various of Tarleton houses: Leintwardine in Shropshire, Bolesworth Castle in Cheshire, and for many years at the historic country house of Breakspears, just outside of London. A century-old photograph of the smoking room at Breakspears reveals a heroic tableau of Sir Joshua Reynolds's dramatic portrayal of Tarleton flanked by two hanging vitrines containing the four captured battleflags of the Revolution. More recently the colors hung at Capt. Tarleton Fagan's home in Hampshire, England.
In the late 1980s the four colors were conserved by the Textile Conservation Centre then located at Hampton Court Palace. A conservation report prepared by Dr. Crosby Stevens, the conservator for two of the flags, is available for review.