History of the Don’t Tread On Me Flag

Americans have always loved manly symbols and icons. Some of them are the bald eagle, the Smith & Wesson, Superman, or great grandpa’s cattle brand, with each and every one of them having a long history behind them. Another well known symbol which is part of America’s history is the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ (also known as Gadsden) flag, and this starts with the rattlesnake symbol.

Image source: www.pixabay.com

The Rattlesnake Symbol


The rattlesnake has long been one of the important American emblems. This symbol plays a big role in the history of the Don’t Tread on Me Flag. The history of this dated back to 1751 when Benjamin Franklin, at that time stationed in Pennsylvania Gazette (considered as The New York Times of the 18th century), suggested that colonists should send rattlesnakes to Britain as a return for the convicts they sent to America.

After several years, during the French and Indian War, what is known to be the first political cartoon published in an American newspaper was printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It portrayed a drawing by Franklin of a snake that was cut into eight pieces, each piece representing a colony, and a motto below it saying, ‘Join or Die’, which represented the importance of unity between the colonies.

Widely known across the United States, rattlesnakes produce a loud agitating noise when threatened. A rattlesnake, unless provoked or stepped on, will not attack. However, when attacked, they do not surrender. With their toxic venom, they are really dangerous when threatened. The image, in essence, was intended as a warning that just like the rattlesnake, America will attack when provoked and will not give up.

Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

The First Navy Jack


The rattlesnake symbol became popular and part of numerous other Revolutionary War flags. Before the United States Navy’s first mission in 1775 happened, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina was presented as the newly appointed commander having a yellow rattlesnake flag to serve as a standard for his flagship. 

Along with the navy on its first mission were five companies of marines carrying with them yellow drums featuring a snake with 13 rattles, and words “Don’t Tread on Me”. Later on, the Navy adapted the snake emblem with the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ motto into what is now known as the First Navy Jack

Along with the Navy on its first mission were five marine companies carrying yellow drums featuring a snake with 13 rattles and the words ‘Don’t Tread on Me’. The Navy later adapted the snake symbol and ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ motto into what is now known as the First Navy Jack. In 2002, with this symbol featuring a rattlesnake stretched across 13 red and white stripes with the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ motto below, the Secretary of the Navy ordered that this strong American symbol soar on all naval ships during the War on Terrorism.

Don’t Tread On Me


The bottom line is, of course, why is the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag so much sought-after? Simply put, it is an all-inclusive banner which states, ‘Step on us, and you’ll regret it.’ There is a lot to learn from Franklin, Gadsden, and everyone who became instruments of the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag. If you want to create positive change, you must be willing to do it 100 percent. 

Whether it’s from quitting an addiction, raising awareness on political and moral issues, all of these require guts, strength, and willingness to do whatever it takes with integrity, transparency, and perseverance. We have to thank the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ since these issues are being raised as well. Don’t Tread on Me really brought courage to the American nation.


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