Gadsden flag

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Gadsden flag
Gadsden flag.svg
UseBanner
ProportionNot specified
Adopted1778
DesignA yellow banner charged with a yellow coiled timber rattlesnake facing towards the hoist sitting upon a patch of green grass, the words "Don't Tread on Me" positioned below the snake in black.
Designed byChristopher Gadsden

The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a timber rattlesnake[1][2] coiled and ready to strike. Beneath the rattlesnake are the words: "Dont Tread on Me".[note 1] Some modern versions of the flag include an apostrophe.

The flag is named after politician Christopher Gadsden (1724–1805), who designed it in 1775 during the American Revolution. It was used by the Continental Marines as an early motto flag, along with the Moultrie flag. It is often used in the United States as a symbol for gun rights and limited government, although there is no historical basis for this use.[4][5][6]

Appearance and symbolism[edit]

Variations in appearance[edit]

Many variations of the Gadsden flag exist. The motto sometimes includes an apostrophe in the word "Don't" and sometimes not;[7]:339 the typeface used for the motto is sometimes a serif typeface and other times sans-serif. The rattlesnake sometimes is shown as resting on a green ground; representations dating from 1885 and 1917 do not display anything below the rattlesnake. The rattlesnake usually faces to the left, and the early representations mentioned above face left. However, some versions of the flag show the snake facing to the right.

History of rattlesnake symbol in America[edit]

The timber rattlesnake can be found in the area of the original Thirteen Colonies. Its use as a symbol of the American colonies can be traced back to the publications of Benjamin Franklin. In 1751, he made the first reference to the rattlesnake in a satirical commentary published in his Pennsylvania Gazette. It had been the policy of Parliament to send convicted criminals to the Americas (primarily Georgia), so Franklin suggested that they thank them by sending rattlesnakes to Britain.[8]

In 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published his famous woodcut of a snake cut into eight sections. It represented the colonies, with New England joined together as the head and South Carolina as the tail, following their order along the coast. Under the snake was the message "Join, or Die". This was the first political cartoon published in an American newspaper.[citation needed]

In 1774, Paul Revere added Franklin's iconic cartoon to the nameplate of Isaiah Thomas's paper, the Massachusetts Spy, depicted there as fighting a British Griffin.[9]

In December 1775, Benjamin Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal under the pseudonym American Guesser in which he suggested that the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit.[citation needed]

Flag of the Culpeper Minutemen

The rattlesnake symbol was first officially adopted by the Continental Congress in 1778 when it approved the design for the official Seal of the War Office[citation needed]. At the top center of the Seal is a rattlesnake holding a banner that says: "This We'll Defend". This design of the War Office Seal was carried forward—with some minor modifications—into the subsequent designs as well as the Department of the Army's Seal, Emblem and Flag[citation needed]. As such, some variation of a rattlesnake symbol has been in continuous official use by the US Army for over 236 years.

Other American flags that use a rattlesnake motif include The United Companies of the Train of Artillery of the Town of Providence, the traditional version of the First Navy Jack, and the Culpeper Minutemen flag, among others.

History of Gadsden's flag[edit]

Gadsden's flag in an 1885 schoolbook

In the fall of 1775, the Continental Navy was established by General George Washington in his role as Commander in Chief of all Continental Forces, before Esek Hopkins was named Commodore of the Navy. Those first ships were used to intercept incoming transport ships carrying war supplies to the British in the colonies in order to supply the Continental Army, which was desperately undersupplied in the opening years of the American Revolutionary War. The Second Continental Congress authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines to accompany the Navy on their first mission.

Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden represented his home state of South Carolina and was one of seven members of the Marine Committee outfitting the first naval mission.[7]:289 The first Marines enlisted in the city of Philadelphia and carried drums painted yellow and depicting a coiled rattlesnake with thirteen rattles along with the motto "Don't Tread on Me." This is the first recorded mention of the future Gadsden flag's symbolism.[citation needed]

Before the departure of that first mission in December 1775, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, received a yellow rattlesnake flag from Gadsden to serve as the distinctive personal standard of his flagship.[7]:289 Hopkins had previously led The United Companies of the Train of Artillery of the Town of Providence, which had a similar flag, before being appointed to lead the Navy.[10]

Gadsden also presented a copy of this flag to the Congress of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina. This was recorded in the South Carolina congressional journals on February 9, 1776:

Col. Gadsden presented to the Congress an elegant standard, such as is to be used by the commander in chief of the American Navy; being a yellow field, with a lively representation of a rattlesnake in the middle in the attitude of going to strike and these words underneath, "Don't tread on me."[11]

Modern use[edit]

Map of states (colored yellow) that offer Gadsden flag specialty license plates, AZ does not offer it since at least 2020.

For historical reasons, the Gadsden flag is still popularly flown in Charleston, South Carolina, the city where Christopher Gadsden first presented the flag and where it was commonly used during the revolution, along with the blue and white crescent flag of pre-Civil War South Carolina.

The Gadsden flag has become a popular specialty license plate in several states. As of 2018, the following states offer the option of obtaining a Gadsden flag specialty license plate: Alabama, Maryland,[12] Missouri, Montana,[13] Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee,[14] Texas, and Virginia.[15][16]

Use as a libertarian symbol[edit]

In the 1970s the Gadsden flag started being used by libertarians, using it as a symbol representing individual rights and limited government.[5] The libertarian Free State Project uses a modified version of the flag with the snake replaced with a porcupine, a symbol of the movement.[17]

Use as a Tea Party symbol[edit]

Beginning in 2009, the Gadsden flag became widely used as a protest symbol by American Tea Party movement protesters.[18][19][20] It was also displayed by members of Congress at Tea Party rallies.[21] In some cases, the flag was ruled to be a political, rather than a historic or military, symbol due to the strong Tea Party connection.[22]

Gadsden Flag being used by rioters in the area of riots during the Invasion of the Capitol.

Far-right ideology[edit]

The Gadsden Flag has also been used as a symbol by far-right groups and individuals. In 2014, the flag was used by Jerad and Amanda Miller, the perpetrators of the 2014 Las Vegas shootings who killed two police officers and a civilian.[23] The Millers reportedly placed the Gadsden Flag on the corpse of one of the officers they killed.[24][25]

The Gadsden flag was featured prominently in a story surrounding the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol where 34-year-old Rosanne Boyland was allegedly trampled to death while brandishing it over her shoulders.[26][27][28][29]

Legal cases involving the Gadsden flag[edit]

In March 2013, the Gadsden flag was raised at a vacant armory building in New Rochelle, New York without permission from city officials. The city ordered its removal[30] and the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association, which had maintained the U.S. flag at the armory, filed suit against the city. A federal judge dismissed the case, rejecting the United Veterans' First Amendment argument and ruling that the flagpole in question was city property and thus did not represent private speech.[31]

In 2014, a US Postal Service employee filed a complaint about a coworker repeatedly wearing a hat with a Gadsden Flag motif at work. Postal service administration dismissed the complaint, but the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reversed the decision and called for a careful investigation. The EEOC issued a statement clarifying that it did not make any decision that the Gadsden flag was a "racist symbol," or that wearing a depiction of it constituted racial discrimination.[32]

A rainbow Gadsden flag

Modern derived designs and parodies[edit]

Street Patrol, a 1990s queer self defense group affiliated with Queer Nation/San Francisco, used as its logo a coiled snake over a triangle holding a ribbon with the motto "Don't Tread on Me".[33][34] Some libertarian circles use a version of the flag with the snake and motto placed over a rainbow flag.[35] Following the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, posters containing a rainbow Gadsden flag inscribed with "#ShootBack" were placed around West Hollywood, upsetting members of the community and city government who opposed its apparent violent message.[36]

Parodies of the Gadsden flag are common, altering the image or motto to mock the symbol. One common parody design replaces the "Dont Tread on Me" motto with "No Step on Snek", sometimes paired with a crudely drawn snake.[37]

Appearances in popular culture[edit]

The Gadsden Flag has made numerous appearances in popular culture, particularly in post-apocalyptic stories.

In film and television[edit]

In videogames[edit]


In the video game Assassins Creed 3 Remastered Gadsden flags can be found in Boston.

In music[edit]

Elsewhere in culture[edit]

  • NASCAR driver Carl Edwards displayed the Gadsden Flag next to his facsimile signature on his race car.[42]
  • In WWE, the tag team Real Americans, composed by Jack Swagger, Cesaro and the manager Zeb Colter, used the Gadsden Flag. Also Dolph Ziggler often has the snake as a design on his long wrestling tights.[citation needed]
  • In the 1979 novel Alongside Night, the flag is used by an organization called the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre which seeks a second American Revolution. The flag also appears in the 2014 Alongside Night movie adaptation.[43]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ During the 18th century, when contractions were coming into widespread use, they were often written without an apostrophe. The standard form for the contraction of "do not" later came to include the apostrophe.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Waser, Thomas. "The Symbolism of the Timber Rattlesnake in Early America". Herpetology Guy (Thomas Waser) on Steemit. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  2. ^ "Timber Rattlesnake Conservation Strategy for Pennsylvania State Forest Lands". Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. April 7, 2010. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  3. ^ Robert Lowth, A Short Introduction to English Grammar: With Critical Notes. 1794. pp. 67, 79.
  4. ^ Sottile, Leah (August 19, 2020). "Inside the Boogaloo: America's Extremely Online Extremists". The New York Times. Retrieved November 7, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Walker, Rob. "The Shifting Symbolism of the Gadsden Flag". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 7, 2020.
  6. ^ "A figure and a flag at the centre of America's Charlottesville culture war". The Independent. July 6, 2019. Retrieved November 7, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Byron McCandless; Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor (1917). Our flag number: with 1197 flags in full colors and 300 additional illustrations in black and white. National Geographic Society. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  8. ^ Leepson, Marc; DeMille, Nelson (May 30, 2006). Flag: An American Biography. Macmillan. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-312-32309-7. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  9. ^ "A More Perfect Union: Symbolizing the National Union of States". Library of Congress. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  10. ^ "Flag of the United Train of Artillery of Providence - The Monticello Classroom". classroom.monticello.org. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  11. ^ Hicks, Frederick Cocks (1918). The flag of the United States. United States Government Printing Office. p. 23. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 31, 2018. Retrieved January 31, 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Service Organizations & Associations".
  14. ^ "Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park". www.friendsofsycamoreshoals.org. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  15. ^ "Seven States Now Offer 'Don't Tread on Me' License Plates; Is Yours on the List? - Tea Party News". Tea Party. Archived from the original on August 12, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  16. ^ Schwarz, Hunter (August 25, 2014). "States where you can get a 'Don't Tread On Me' license plate". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  17. ^ Doherty, Brian (November 16, 2016). "Free State Project Supporter Shot in Fight That Began Over Its Porcupine Flag". Reason. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
  18. ^ Staff writer (May 26, 2010). "Gadsden flag denied over State Capitol". WTNH. New Haven, Connecticut: Nexstar. Archived from the original on January 13, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  19. ^ Hayes, Ted (May 27, 2010). "'Tea Party' flag rankles some". East Bay Newspapers. Archived from the original on June 11, 2010. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  20. ^ Macedo, Diane (April 7, 2010). "Connecticut Marines Fight for 'Don't Tread on Me' Flag Display". Fox News. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  21. ^ "Gadsden Flags Flying Off the Shelves in Support of the Tea Party Tax Protest" (Press release). Marketwire. April 16, 2009. Archived from the original on August 14, 2009. Retrieved July 7, 2009.
  22. ^ "Tea Party flag will not fly at Connecticut Capitol". NECN. April 8, 2010. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  23. ^ "Las Vegas shooting suspects left swastika, "Don't tread on me" flag on dead officers". CBS News.
  24. ^ "Two Cops, Three Others Killed in Las Vegas Shooting Spree". NBC News. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  25. ^ "Las Vegas Shooters Allegedly Spent Time At Bundy Ranch, Embraced White Supremacy – ThinkProgress". web.archive.org. February 25, 2020. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  26. ^ "Yellow Gadsden flag, prominent in Capitol takeover, carries a long and shifting history". January 7, 2021. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  27. ^ "In Photos: The Pro-Trump Mob's Invasion of Congress". The Verge. January 6, 2021. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  28. ^ https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-09/killed-in-capitol-riot-war-vets-a-qanon-follower-motorcyclist
  29. ^ https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/01/09/rosanne-boyland-trump-supporter-who-died-followed-qanon-family/6608289002/
  30. ^ "Flag's Believed Ties To Tea Party Lead To Removal From New Rochelle Building". CBS 2 New York. April 22, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  31. ^ "New Rochelle veterans lose Gadsden flag case". The Journal News / Lohud. December 24, 2014. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  32. ^ "What You Should Know about EEOC and Shelton D. v. U.S. Postal Service (Gadsden Flag case)". Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  33. ^ Miles, Sara (July 1, 1992). "The Fabulous Fight Back". Outlook (17): 57, 59. OCLC 17286887. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  34. ^ Collie, Robert (April 29, 1991). "Squad patrols Castro for gay-bashers". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  35. ^ "Gadsden Flag (U.S.)". Flags of the World. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  36. ^ Branson-Potts, Hailey (June 16, 2016). "West Hollywood plastered with rainbow #ShootBack signs". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  37. ^ Kim, Eddie (September 30, 2020). "The Beautiful, Insane World of 'Don't Tread on Me' Parody Flags". MEL Magazine. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  38. ^ "screenshot". Imgur. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  39. ^ "Jericho Video – Jericho – Season 2: Episode 7: Patriots And Tyrants w/ Commentary". CBS. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  40. ^ "Screenshot of Sons of Liberty Flag".
  41. ^ "Lyrics on official Grateful Dead website".
  42. ^ "Carl Edwards". Joe Gibbs Racing. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  43. ^ "Alongside Night — Chapter XIV « J. Neil Schulman". jneilschulman.agorist.com. Retrieved November 17, 2016.

External links[edit]

Media related to Gadsden flag at Wikimedia Commons