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Don't Tread On Me Flags - What's Their Story?

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

So you are driving down the street and you see a house that is flying one of those yellow flags with a coiled snake, ready to strike its prey, and the words "Don't Tread On Me" written on it.You know you have seen this flag before and you swear that you have heard that phrase "Don't Tread On Me"; perhaps in an old Revolutionary War movie.You are fairly certain that you have also seen this same flag at political rallies and tea parties.With your curiosity fully aroused you are wondering where this flag came from.What is the history of this flag?What is the symbolism of a coiled snake?Why a rattlesnake?Where does the motto "Don't Tread On Me" come from?Hopefully this article answers some of your questions and gives you a good primer for the history of these flags.

First, you are correct in your assumption that these flags date to America's Revolutionary War.In fact, the image of the rattlesnake and the phrase "Don't Tread On Me" predates the War by many decades.In Colonial America, citizens of the colonies, or "subjects of the Crown" as the British Monarchy liked to call them, were becoming more and more restless in the face of British rule.The Colonists were beginning to view the British government as unfair, unjust and even tyrannical.The motto "Don't Tread On Me" became a popular rallying call for these young American Colonists.The Colonists believed that their rights were God-given, Natural, and inherit; and that no government could take away or "tread" on these sacred rights.This motto was a stern warning to all British authorities in the 13 colonies that Americans value individual liberty and they will seek to protect that liberty if it is threatened by anyone.

The first use of the rattlesnake as a symbol of this defiance was by none other than Benjamin Franklin.Franklin had noticed that the British government back in England had been sending violent criminals over to the New World in order to get them off of British soil.In 1751, in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper Franklin established, Franklin recommended that the Colonists should send a few boatloads of rattlesnakes back to England to return the favor.Three years later, in 1754, Franklin again used the rattlesnake image for his "Join or Die" political cartoon.This image portrayed a rattlesnake broken up into thirteen parts; each representing one of the 13 Original Colonies, and was a call for the Colonies to unite as one.

Why the use of the rattlesnake?Franklin viewed the rattlesnake as a most honorable and noble animal because it gave fair warning with its rattler before striking its enemy.Franklin believed this behavior was similar to the temperament of Americans at the time.He wrote:" (The Rattlesnake) never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.—Was I wrong in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?"

The image of the rattlesnake and the motto "Don't Tread On Me" became very popular during the Revolutionary War.The first flag to use this imagery was the Gadsden Flag, created by Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina, who helped establish the first company of US Marines.Another popular "Don't Tread On Me" flag is the First Navy Jack Flag.This flag consists of red and white stripes with an uncoiled rattlesnake and was first used by the early US Navy.It is still in use today aboard all US Navy vessels.One more flag is the Culpeper Flag.This flag is white with a coiled-up snake and adds the words of Patrick Henry: "Liberty or Death."This flag was used by the Minutemen militia of Culpeper, Virginia during the War and remains popular today.

Hopefully this article gives you a good bit of background history for all of those Don't Tread On Me Flags that you keep seeing everywhere.



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