Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton was one of the most notorious British commanders of the American Revolution. After leading a series of successful operations in both the north and south, he returned home after the war as one of the most famous men in England, sat for a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds and began a long-term affair with actress and royal consort Mary Robinson.
He also came back with spoils, including this American Revolutionary War flag from the 2nd Regiment, Continental Light Dragoons, captured in the battle of Pound Ridge in Westchester County, New York on July 2, 1779. Since then, it has remained in his family until his direct descendant, Captain Christopher Tarleton Fagan, consigned it for sale at Sotheby’s New York on June 14.
As the earliest surviving American flag of any kind with a field of 13 red and white stripes, it carried an estimate of $1.5m-3.5m. On the day, one bidder in the room and two on the phone competed for the flag, and it quickly became the subject of an intense battle between two telephones, one of whom triumphed when the hammer fell at $11m (£6.3m), more than triple the estimate.
Following a battle with two bidders in the rooms, the same buyer, who wished to remain anonymous, managed to secure the only other lot in the sale, three flags from the 3rd Virginia Detachment captured at the battle of Waxhaws in Waxhaws, South Carolina, on May 29, 1780. These include the earliest surviving American flag bearing a canton of 13 stars. They fetched a mid-estimate $4.5m (£2.57m).
Together the four flags were the last American Revolutionary War colours known to remain in British hands and the last such colours to remain in private hands anywhere.