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US Flag: The Snake Flags   10 comments

I hate snakes.  Hate’em.

The rattlesnake, a reptile found only in the Americas, was the first animal used to symbolize the colonies prior to the creation of the USA.

When the colonies began to chafe under English rule, it was observed that England was sending convicts to America.  Benjamin Franklin suggested that we return the favor by sending them rattlesnakes.  His thoughts were published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1751:

“In the Spring of the Year, when they first creep out of their Holes, they are feeble, heavy, slow, and easily taken; and if a small Bounty were allow’d per Head, some Thousands might be collected annually, and transported to Britain. There I would propose to have them carefully distributed in St. James’s Park, in the Spring-Gardens and other Places of Pleasure about London; in the Gardens of all the Nobility and Gentry throughout the Nation; but particularly in the Gardens of the Prime Ministers, the Lords of Trade and Members of Parliament; for to them we are most particularly obliged…I would only add, That this Exporting of Felons to the Colonies, may be consider’d as a Trade, as well as in the Light of a Favour. Now all Commerce implies Returns: Justice requires them: There can be no Trade without them. And Rattle-Snakes seem the most suitable Returns for the Human Serpents sent us by our Mother Country. In this, however, as in every other Branch of Trade, she will have the Advantage of us. She will reap equal Benefits without equal Risque of the Inconveniencies and Dangers. For the RattleSnake gives Warning before he attempts his Mischief; which the Convict does not.”

I like Ben Franklin.  And if his plan would have rid the country of snakes, I’m sad it was never implemented.

Known for their fierce response when disturbed, the rattlesnake became a prominent feature on early battle flags in the Revolutionary War. Rattlesnakes were native throughout the original 13 colonies.

A rattlesnake on a flag was first used as a symbol for US Marines attached to the seven ship United States Navy.  General George Washington established the navy to make raids on English shipping, and the Second Continental Congress approved the creation of five companies of Marines to accompany the Navy on the first mission.  Those Marines, enlisted in Philadelphia, carried drums painted yellow with a 13-rattle rattlesnake and the motto “Don’t Tread On Me.”

Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden presented what has become known as the Gadsden flag to Commodore Esek Hopkins to serve as the personal standard of his flagship.

For a time, it was thought that the First Navy Jack was used in the Revolutionary War by the Navy, but those accounts were apparently in error.  A striped jack was used in the war, but there’s no evidence that it had a snake on it.  That tradition took hold, however, and the symbol is now used in today’s US Navy.

Said to be the first political cartoon, Benjamin Franklin's "Join or Die" illustration was first published in the Pennsylvania Gazette,  May 9, 1754.

Said to be the first political cartoon, Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” illustration was first published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, May 9, 1754. It indicated N.E. for New England at the head, and then identified the colonies in order going south down the coast.

200 men from the Virginia colony fought under this flag in 1775.

200 men from the Virginia colony fought under this flag in 1775.

Various versions of the flag had an apostrophe (or not), a grass base for the snake (or not), and the snake facing left or right.

Various versions of the Gadsden Flag had an apostrophe (or not), a grass field for the snake to spring from (or not), and the snake facing left or right.

The First Navy Jack is now flown on the oldest navy ship in service: currently the aircraft carrier USS Constitution.

The First Navy Jack is now flown on the oldest navy ship in service: currently the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

Today, sailors fighting in the war on terror wear First Navy Jack patches on their camouflage uniforms. Other U.S. military personnel, particularly special operations personnel, have worn First Navy Jack embroidered patches as well.

More

Benjamin Franklin, AKA “An American Guesser” on the rattle-snake

Department of the Navy on the First Union Jack

Conservapedia

US Flag: The First

US Flag: The Second

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