First Navy Jack
The First Navy Jack is the current U.S. jack authorized by the United States Navy. The design is traditionally regarded as that of the first U.S. naval jack flown in the earliest years of the republic.
In late 1775, as the first ships of the Continental Navy readied in the Delaware River, Commodore Esek Hopkins issued, in a set of fleet signals, an instruction directing his vessels to fly a "striped" jack and ensign. The exact design of these flags is unknown. The ensign was likely to have been the Grand Union Flag, and the jack a simplified version of the ensign: a field of 13 horizontal red and white stripes. However, the jack has traditionally been depicted as consisting of thirteen red and white stripes charged with an uncoiled rattlesnake and the motto "Dont [sic] Tread on Me"; this tradition dates at least back to 1880, when this design appeared in a color plate in Admiral George Henry Preble's influential History of the Flag of the United States. Recent scholarship, however, has demonstrated that this inferred design never actually existed but "was a 19th-century mistake based on an erroneous 1776 engraving".
In 1778, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sicily, thanking him for allowing entry of American ships into Sicilian ports. The letter describes the American flag according to the 1777 Flag Resolution, but also describes a flag of "South Carolina, a rattlesnake, in the middle of the thirteen stripes."
The rattlesnake had long been a symbol of resistance to the British in Colonial America. The phrase "Don't tread on me" may be coined during the American Revolutionary War, a variant perhaps of the snake severed in segments labelled with the names of the colonies and the legend "Join, or Die" which had appeared first in Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754, as a political cartoon reflecting on the Albany Congress.
The rattlesnake (specifically, the Timber Rattlesnake) is especially significant and symbolic to the American Revolution. The rattle has thirteen layers, signifying the original Thirteen Colonies. And, the snake does not strike until provoked, a quality echoed by the phrase "Don't tread on me." For more on the origin of the rattlesnake emblem, see the Gadsden flag.
The First Navy Jack was first used in recent history during the Bicentennial year, 1976, when all commissioned naval vessels were directed to fly it for the entire year, in lieu of the standard fifty-star jack.
In 1980, Edward Hidalgo, the Secretary of the Navy, directed that the ship with the longest active status shall display the First Navy Jack until decommissioned or transferred to inactive service. Then the flag will be passed to the next ship in line. The order disregards the USS Constitution, which will not display the flag. This honor was conferred on the following U.S. Navy vessels:
- 1981–1982: Destroyer tender USS Dixie (AD-14), commissioned 1940
- 1982–1993: Destroyer tender USS Prairie (AD-15), commissioned 1940
- 1993–1993: Submarine tender USS Orion (AS-18), commissioned 1943
- 1993–1995: Repair Ship USS Jason (AR-8), commissioned 1944
- 1995–1995: Ammunition ship USS Mauna Kea (AE-22), commissioned 1957
- 1995–1998: Aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV-62), commissioned 1959
- 1998–2009: Aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), commissioned in 1961
- 2009–2012: Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65), commissioned 1961
- 2013–present: Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68), commissioned 1975
Following a post-9/11 suggestion from retired Captain Brayton Harris (who in 1975-76 had been special assistant to the secretary of the navy for the bicentennial), the secretary of the navy issued Instruction 10520.6, dated 31 May 2002, directing all navy ships to fly the First Naval Jack as a "temporary substitution" for the Jack of the United States "during the Global War on Terrorism". Most vessels made the switch on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
First Navy Jack patches have been worn on the camouflage uniforms of sailors fighting in the war on terror.
- Ansoff, Peter. (2004). The First Navy Jack. Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, 11, ISSN 1071-0043, LCCN 94-642220.
- The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Volume 2 Available 
- "The U.S. Navy's First Jack". Retrieved 2006-10-01.
- See the patch and description on the official website at http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/ddg53/Pages/ourShip.aspx
- David Tomiyama. "Deployed USS Sampson FC2 earns award in Afghanistan". Provincial Reconstruction Team Khost Public Affairs. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
- "Red, White, Rattlesnake - Opponents Fight Smoking Ban - Indiana News Story - WRTV Indianapolis". Theindychannel.com. 2006-04-28. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
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- US Naval Historical Center's First Jack article
- CDR Michel T. Poirier, "A Brief History of the U.S. Navy Jack", in Undersea Warfare