First Navy Jack

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United States of America
Naval jack of the United States (2002–2019).svg
The "First Navy Jack", currently only flown by the oldest warship in the U.S. Navy.
NameThe First Navy Jack
AdoptedOctober 13, 1975 (as U.S. naval jack)
August 18, 1980 (for oldest U.S. warships)
September 11, 2002 (as U.S. naval jack)
RelinquishedDecember 31, 1976 (as U.S. naval jack)
June 4, 2019 (as U.S. naval jack)
Design13 horizontal stripes of alternating red and white, charged with a rattlesnake and inscribed on the lowest white stripe: "DONT [sic] TREAD ON ME".

The First Navy Jack was the naval jack of the United States from 1975 to 1976 and again from 2002 to 2019. It was authorized by the U.S. Navy and was flown from the jackstaff of commissioned vessels of the U.S. Navy while moored pierside or at anchor. It is now only used as a naval jack by the oldest active warship in the U.S. Navy. The design is traditionally regarded as that of the first U.S. naval jack flown in the earliest years of the United States' existence, though this is disputed by the historical record.

The First Navy Jack was replaced as the U.S. naval jack by the U.S. Union Jack (consisting of white stars on a blue field, not to be confused with the flag of the United Kingdom, also commonly called "the Union Jack") on June 4, 2019, by order of the Chief of Naval Operations.[1][2][3]


Historically probable first naval jack.
Variant featuring all-gold rattlesnake; typically seen during the 1970s.

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. Since about 1880, this jack has traditionally been depicted as consisting of thirteen red and white stripes charged with an uncoiled rattlesnake and the motto "Dont Tread on Me" [sic]; 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".[4]

In 1778, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sicily, thanking him for allowing entry of U.S. ships into Sicilian ports. The letter describes the U.S. flag according to the 1777 Flag Resolution, but also describes a flag of "South Carolina, a rattlesnake, in the middle of the thirteen stripes."[5]

The rattlesnake had long been a symbol of resistance and defiance to the Crown in the thirteen American Colonies. The phrase "Don't Tread on Me" may have been 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. Additionally, 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.

Typically the flag's rattlesnake is depicted with red scales on its back,[6] but some have depicted the snake as all-gold.[7][8][9]

Modern use[edit]


Raising of the "Navy Jack" for the first time at morning colors, on September 11, 2002, aboard the guided missile cruiser Thomas S. Gates in honor of those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Modern use of the flag is usually traced back to 1976, when the United States celebrated its Bicentennial. All commissioned naval vessels were directed to fly the First Navy Jack for this calendar year while moored or anchored, and their commanding officers were authorized to retain and fly it thereafter. The flag that had been used before, and afterwards was the standard fifty-star Union Jack. In 1980, Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo directed that the warship or fleet auxiliary (e.g. a vessel designated as a "United States Ship" or "USS") with the longest active status shall display the First Navy Jack until decommissioned or transferred to inactive service.[10]

The status of the flag changed on May 31, 2002 when Navy Secretary Gordon England issued SECNAV Instruction 10520.6, directing all warships and auxiliaries of the U.S. Navy to fly the First Naval Jack as a "temporary substitution" for the Jack of the United States "during the Global War on Terrorism".[10] The idea was based on a post-9/11 suggestion from retired Captain Brayton Harris, who in 1975 and 1976 had been Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for the bicentennial. Most vessels made the symbolic switch on September 11, 2002 during the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Not all vessels flew the flag while moored or at anchor, these included commissioned vessels of the U.S. Coast Guard designated as "United States Coast Guard Cutter" ("USCGC"), USCG patrol boats, vessels of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and predominantly civilian-manned vessels of the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command.

On February 21, 2019, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson announced the blue Union Jack would return to nearly all commissioned warships of the U.S. Navy, restoring the 1980 practice of reserving the First Navy Jack to the longest active status warship. This order disregards USS Constitution, which technically is the oldest in the Navy but is used for ceremonial purposes.[11] The honor of "oldest ship" in the Fleet[a] was conferred on the following U.S. Navy vessels:

Ship name Type Commission date Decommission date Years as oldest Age[b] Homeport Fate
USS Dixie (AD-14) Destroyer tender April 25, 1940 June 15, 1982 1981–1982 42 Subic Bay, Philippines Scrapped
USS Prairie (AD-15) Destroyer tender August 5, 1940 March 26, 1993 1982–1993 52 N/A Scrapped
USS Orion (AS-18) Submarine tender September 30, 1943 September 03, 1993 1993 50 Newport, Rhode Island Scrapped
USS Sierra (AD-18) Destroyer tender March 20, 1944 October 15, 1993 1993 49 Charleston, South Carolina Scrapped
USS Jason (AR-8) Repair ship June 19, 1944 June 24, 1995[c] 1995 51 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
San Diego, California
USS Mauna Kea (AE-22) Ammunition ship March 30, 1957 June 30, 1995 1995 38 Concord, California Sunk as target
USS Independence (CV-62) Aircraft carrier January 10, 1959 September 30, 1998 1995–1998 39 Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia
San Diego, California
Yokosuka, Japan
USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) Aircraft carrier April 29, 1961 May 12, 2009 1998–2009 48 Bremerton, Washington Awaiting scrapping
USS Enterprise (CVN-65) Aircraft carrier November 25, 1961 December 1, 2012 2009–2012 51 Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia Awaiting scrapping
USS Denver (LPD-9) Amphibious transport dock October 26, 1968 August 14, 2014 2012–2014 45 Sasebo, Japan Decommissioned
USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) Amphibious command ship November 14, 1970 N/A 2014–present 48 Yokosuka, Japan Active

Other U.S. Navy uses[edit]

Since September 11, 2002, U.S. Navy installations and facilities ashore have been allowed but not required to fly the First Navy Jack from multi-halyard gaff-rigged flagpoles when the United States ensign is also flown.

The First Navy Jack has also been authorized for wear as a patch by sailors and naval officers on flight suits and certain versions of the Navy Working Uniform (NWU), including sailors and naval officers wearing the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) while assigned to and serving with Army units, at the discretion of the local Army commander.[12][13] For the NWU and ACU, the patch is typically worn on the opposite sleeve as the U.S. flag.

This First Navy Jack, along with the Serapis flag, is also featured on the crest of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones.[14]

During the War in Afghanistan, U.S. Navy sailors and officers assigned to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were authorized to wear the First Navy Jack on their MultiCam-patterned Army Combat Uniform (ACU) on the right sleeve, below the U.S. flag. [15]

Non-military uses[edit]

Like other snake flags, the First Navy Jack has been used by non-Navy people in protest or commemoration. For example, opponents to a smoking ban in Franklin, Indiana, fly Navy Jacks outside their homes and businesses.[16] A First Navy Jack flag was also placed at a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street after the Boston Marathon bombing.[17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In modern times (post-1980 in this case).
  2. ^ This column reflects the ship's age at the given decommissioning date
  3. ^ USS Jason was the last remaining U.S. naval commissioned ship to serve in World War II.


  1. ^ Affairs, This story was written by Chief of Naval Operations Public. "Navy Returns to Flying Union Jack". Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  2. ^ "The Colors of a Navy and Nation". The Sextant.
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ Ansoff, Peter. (2004). The First Navy Jack. Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, 11, ISSN 1071-0043, LCCN 94-642220.
  5. ^ The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Volume 2 Available [2]
  6. ^ " - View Image". Retrieved Jun 6, 2019.
  7. ^ Faram, Mark D. (Jun 5, 2019). "Why the Union Jack is back and here to stay". Navy Times. Retrieved Jun 6, 2019.
  8. ^ "Legati ad Defendendam Libertatem - USS John Warner Commissioned | Naval Historical Foundation". Jun 2, 2019. Archived from the original on 2019-06-02. Retrieved Jun 6, 2019.
  9. ^ "Navy returning to traditional blue-and-white flag after 17 years of flying First Navy Jack". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved Jun 6, 2019.
  10. ^ a b "The U.S. Navy's First Jack". Archived from the original on 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2006-10-01.
  11. ^ Harkins, Gina (February 21, 2019). "Navy Ships Will Again Fly the Union Jack as US Enters Great Power Competition". Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  13. ^ David Tomiyama. "Deployed USS Sampson FC2 earns award in Afghanistan". Provincial Reconstruction Team Khost Public Affairs. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
  14. ^ See the patch and description on the official website at
  15. ^ US National Support Element. "US National Standards, HQ, International Security Assistance Force" (PDF). Headquarters, International Security Assistance Force. Retrieved 2013-07-31.
  16. ^ "Red, White, Rattlesnake – Opponents Fight Smoking Ban – Indiana News Story – WRTV Indianapolis". 2006-04-28. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  17. ^ "Boylston Street Marathon Memorial" (JPG). Retrieved 2015-08-11.
  18. ^ "Boylston Memorial" (JPG). Retrieved 2015-08-11.

External links[edit]