by Ski Ingram

As with the Betsy Ross flag, some have been calling the Gadsden flag a symbol of racism.  In order to dispel this notion, the history of the flag is below.  Remember, just because a racist organization adopts a historic flag does not make that flag a symbol of their racist views.

The Gadsden flag came into being during the early days of the American Revolution. It was in the fall of 1775 when the British were occupying Boston and the newly formed Continental Army was holed up in Cambridge.  They were very short on arms and ammunition.  At the battle of Bunker Hill, the army was so short on ammunition, they were ordered “not to fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

In October of that year, it was learned that one of England’s ships was on its way to America loaded with arms and ammunition.  It was then that the Continental Congress authorized the creation of the Continental Navy and five companies of Marines in order to capture that ship with the supplies so needed for the Army.

The Marines that enlisted from Philadelphia were carrying drums painted yellow, emblazoned with a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike with the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” A few months later a person who identified himself only as “An American Guesser” wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal part of which is below.

“I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattlesnake, with this modest motto under it, ‘Don’t tread on me.’ As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America.” He continued by speculating on why the snake may be a fitting symbol for America.

“The Rattlesnake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America.”

The rattlesnake also has sharp eyes, and “may therefore be esteemed as an emblem of vigilance.” Furthermore, “She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. … she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.”

“I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, ’till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. …

“‘Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.”

The Gadsden flag is named after Christopher Gadsden, an American patriot and colonel in the Continental army from South Carolina.  Christopher Gadsden presented to Esek Hopkins, the new commander-in-chief of the navy, the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag to be used as the navy’s standard.  It has since been known as the Gadsden flag.

Christopher Gadsden also presented a copy of this flag to his state legislature in Charleston whish is recorded in the South Carolina congressional record:  “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 rattle-snake in the middle, in the attitude of going to strike, and these words underneath, “Don’t Tread on Me!”

It is believed by some that the person who Identified himself only as “an American Guesser” is in fact Benjamin Franklin.