The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the snake is the legend “Don’t Tread on Me” The flag was designed by and is named after American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden. The United States Marine Corps used it as an early motto flag.
In fall 1775, the United States Navy was established to intercept incoming British ships carrying war supplies to the British troops in the colonies. To aid in this, the Second Continental Congress authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines to accompany the Navy on their first mission. The first Marines that enlisted were from Philadelphia and they carried drums painted yellow, depicting a coiled rattlesnake with thirteen rattles, and the motto “Don’t Tread On Me.” This is the first recorded mention of the future Gadsden flag’s symbolism.
First used by Commodore Esek Hopkins when his fleet was put to sea in February 1776, the design was borrowed by Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina and presented it to the Continental Congress. He was one of three members of the Marine Committee who were outfitting the first naval mission.
Considered one of the first flags of the United States, the flag was later replaced by the current Stars and Stripes (or Old Glory) flag.