Thursday, September 8, 2016

Flags of Yorktown (with thanks to James Peale)

Click on the picture to expand it
and view the details

Paintings by eyewitness artists give us a priceless view into the world of the American Revolution. The painting shown here is a portrait of George Washington at Yorktown, painted by James Peale. James Peale was an artist just like his older brother Charles Willson Peale.
The painting under analysis right now is obviously based on Charles Willson Peale’s portrait entitled “George Washington at Princeton.” But this painting depicts Washington’s greater triumph at Yorktown.
Its details are extremely valuable. No fewer than 7 flags are visible in this painting. Working from bottom left to top right:
1. The King’s Color of the 76th Highlanders, crumpled in the bottom left of the painting. Each regiment carried a King’s color which was a Union Jack with the regiment’s number in the center. Under magnification (click the picture to enlarge) the script “Reg 76” can be clearly seen. This flag also offers a magnificent view of the gold-and-crimson mixed cords which were tied around the top of British regimental flagpoles.

2. The Regimental Color of the 76th Highlanders, which is green and draped across the cannon. A regimental color was the same color as a regiment’s cuffs and lapels. It contained a small Union Jack in the upper left canton and the number of the regiment in the center. As the 76th Highlanders were the only British regiment at Yorktown with green cuffs and lapels, this flag belongs to them.
3. This flag is an Ansbach-Bayreuth regimental color, draped across the cannon, next to the 76th regimental color. There were two Ansbach-Bayreuth regiments at Yorktown, and they surrendered ten very similar flags. This position shows the reverse of the flag, with a red eagle on it. For a thorough discussion of these flags, visit
A photograph of a surviving Ansbach-Bayreuth flag
4. This flag is another Ansbach-Bayreuth regimental color, folded on the ground. This is the obverse of the Ansbach-Bayreuth flag, with the Margrave’s initials surmounted by a crown. Also see entry 3, above.
5. Hiding behind the Ansbach-Bayreuth color draped on the cannon is a King’s color of an unknown regiment. No regimental distinctions are visible.
6. Above the 3rd Continental Light Dragoon (holding Washington's horse) is an American flag with thirteen white stars in a circle on a blue canton. Mysteriously, this flag appears to have no red stripes, but only a field of white. Why is this? My conjecture is that it is a regimental standard for a Continental regiment with white facings, and that the unit’s motto/distinction would be in the center. This flag also appears to have a blue cord wrapped just below the spear point.

Each flag annotated with its identification (if known)

7. The last flag, next to the American flag, is obviously a French flag. The three fleurs-de-lys proclaim its nationality. It is decorated with a golden cord, but oddly is lacking the white cravate which was normally placed on the flag as well. A minor mystery encircles this flag as well, for it is unlike any French flag known to have been at Yorktown. It most closely resembles a “colonel’s” flag, which was white with a white cross of Saint-Denis (+ shape) overall, but the arrangement of the fleur-de-lys suggests that it bears the white cross of Saint Andrew (x shape). Since it matches none of the French flags currently known, could it be a colonel’s color of Lauzun’s Legion. Lauzun’s Legion sailed to America accompanied by its colonel, the Duc de Lauzun, so perhaps this identification is possible. An alternate theory is that it is a “national” flag of France.

This concludes our look at the flags of James Peale’s portrait of Washington at Yorktown. Of the seven flags visible, the details of four (two of the 76th Highlanders and two of the Ansbach-Bayreuth regiments) can be substantiated with other evidence. Since this is the case, there seems to be no reason to deny the authenticity or accuracy of the other three flags in this painting.  I eagerly await more analysis of the other three flags.

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