Gadsden flag

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Gadsden flag
Gadsden flag.svg
ProportionNot specified
DesignA yellow banner charged with a yellow coiled timber rattlesnake facing towards the hoist sitting upon a patch of green grass, the words "Dont 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 .[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]

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]

Rainbow Gadsden flag

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.

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

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 2006, the Free State Project libertarian movement began using its porcupine symbol on a modified Gadsden Flag.

Use as a political party symbol[edit]

Beginning in 2009, the Gadsden flag became widely used as a protest symbol by American Tea Party movement protesters.[17][18][19] It was also displayed by members of Congress at Tea Party rallies.[20] In some case, the flag was ruled to be a political, rather than a historic or military, symbol due to the strong Tea Party connection.[21]

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.[22] The Millers reportedly placed the Gadsden Flag on the corpse of one of the officers they killed.[23][24]

The Gadsden flag was featured prominently in the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol. 34-year-old Rosanne Boyland was allegedly trampled to death while brandishing it over her shoulders.[25][26][27][28]

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[29] 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.[30]

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.[31]

Copies and parodies of the Gadsden flag[edit]

  • In 1992, the queer Street Patrol group based in San Francisco used a modified version of the Gadsdsen flag, using the rainbow Pride flag as a background, as its organizational logo.[32][full citation needed]
  • In 2016, athletic apparel company Nike created a limited-edition uniform using the image of a rattlesnake coiled around a soccer ball for a "Don't Tread on Me" campaign in support of the United States men's national soccer team.[citation needed]
  • A common internet meme depicts the Gadsden flag with the motto "No step on snek" in the place of "Don't tread on me." The meme appears to have originated around 2015.[33]

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 the apocalyptic 2006 CBS TV drama Jericho, the flag makes several appearances, most notably in the series finale as Jericho's acting mayor takes down the flag of the "Allied States of America", which had been flying at the town hall and replaces it with a Gadsden Flag which the previous mayor had kept framed in his office.[34]
  • In the Futurama episode All the Presidents' Heads, Professor Farnsworth discovered a means of time travel using the fluid used to preserve heads and attempted to use it to prevent the nefarious actions of his ancestor David Farnsworth. After the original timeline is restored from one where Britain had won the American Revolutionary War, a modified version of the Gadsden flag featuring Bender and his catchphrase "Bite My Shiny Metal Ass" is displayed in the Head Museum's Hall of Presidents.[citation needed]
  • In the Simpsons episode "Bart Gets an F", during a dream sequence in which Bart sees the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin picks up a sled with a modified version of the flag reading "Don't Sled on Me".[citation needed]
  • In the Parks and Recreation episode "The Master Plan," a historical flag set that includes the Gadsden flag is featured on the desk behind Ron Swanson as he describes his libertarian beliefs.[citation needed]

In videogames[edit]

In music[edit]

Elsewhere in culture[edit]

See also[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]


  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. ^ 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". 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". 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. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Macedo, Diane (April 7, 2010). "Connecticut Marines Fight for 'Don't Tread on Me' Flag Display". Fox News. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ "Tea Party flag will not fly at Connecticut Capitol". NECN. April 8, 2010. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  22. ^ "Las Vegas shooting suspects left swastika, "Don't tread on me" flag on dead officers". CBS News.
  23. ^ "Two Cops, Three Others Killed in Las Vegas Shooting Spree". NBC News. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  24. ^ "Las Vegas Shooters Allegedly Spent Time At Bundy Ranch, Embraced White Supremacy – ThinkProgress". February 25, 2020. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  25. ^ "Yellow Gadsden flag, prominent in Capitol takeover, carries a long and shifting history". January 7, 2021. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  26. ^ "In Photos: The Pro-Trump Mob's Invasion of Congress". The Verge. January 6, 2021. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ "New Rochelle veterans lose Gadsden flag case". The Journal News / Lohud. December 24, 2014. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  31. ^ "What You Should Know about EEOC and Shelton D. v. U.S. Postal Service (Gadsden Flag case)". Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  32. ^ Sara Miles. The fabulous fight back. OCLC 556037654.
  33. ^ "Know Your Meme: Gadsden Flag/Don't Tread on Me". Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  34. ^ "Jericho Video – Jericho – Season 2: Episode 7: Patriots And Tyrants w/ Commentary". CBS. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  35. ^ "Screenshot of Sons of Liberty Flag".
  36. ^ Chheda, Manthan (January 9, 2021). "Trump Supporter Was Carrying a 'Don't Tread on Me' Flag Before Being Trampled to Death at US Capitol". International Business Times. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  37. ^ Pugh, Hilary (January 8, 2021). "Woman Who Was Trampled To Death At Capitol Coup Had A "DON'T TREAD ON ME" Flag". The Economic Left. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  38. ^ Reuters Staff (January 8, 2021). "Trump to blame for death of woman trampled in Capitol riot, family member says". Reuters. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  39. ^ "Carl Edwards". Joe Gibbs Racing. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  40. ^ "Alongside Night — Chapter XIV « J. Neil Schulman". Retrieved November 17, 2016.

External links[edit]

Media related to Gadsden flag at Wikimedia Commons