“DONT TREAD ON ME”: The Gadsden Flag History And Symbolism

If you live in America, then you will probably have come across the Gadsden flag at least once in your life. 

The flag has a rattlesnake on a yellow background with the words “DONT TREAD ON ME.” It is tough to miss.

You will see a lot of people waving the flag during rallies and some will also wear baseball caps or t-shirts with the flag printed on it. 

Some patriots that genuinely understand the meaning of the flag will fully stand behind it, while others will criticize it as racist.

Have you ever wondered what this flag truly means and what it stands for?

Read this article to get to the truth behind this flag.

In this article, will discuss its appearance, uses, history, symbolism and also some of the racial controversy behind it.

It’s Appearance

It is a banner with a yellow background. In the background, you will notice a coiled up rattlesnake on a green patch of grass.

The rattlesnake is facing to the left and looks aggravating while it is hissing at something. You will also notice the words below the snake that says “DONT TREAD ON ME.”

It’s Uses

This insignia has been seen or used several times during history and modern times. In this section, I will discuss some of the instances where this flag was used.

US Navy

Currently, there are some instances where the US Navy is using this flag. The navy version of this flag is called the First Continental Navy Jack.

This flag was used in the war against terrorism. There are also some instances where Commodore Hopkins has used this flag in the year 1776.

The First Continental Navy Jack flag also contains a rattlesnake that is facing to the left. The snake is in a straight position and is not coiled up as in the case of the official Gadsden flag.

It also has the words “DONT TREAD ON ME” below the snake. One significant difference is the background which contains white and red stripes as indicated by the image above.

During the year 1975, the flag was also used by the commissioned ships of the US Navy. This flag is also displayed on older decommissioned ships to remember them by.

Marine Corps

During the American Revolution, the navy was also accompanied by several companies of marines. During ceremonies, the marines also carried yellow drums which symbolizes the Gadsden flag.

Some even painted a rattlesnake on the drum.

Tea Party Movement

It was very common to see the Gadsden flag waved by the tea party movement during the year 2009. This movement was initiated by the Republican party to lower tax rates and national debt.

The symbol was seen on flags, t-shirts and also posters. There were also instances where this flag was seen as political.

License Plates

There are currently six states where you can register for a Gadsden license plate. Below is a list of the six states that currently offer this license plate.

  • Arizona
  • Texas
  • Arkansas
  • Alabama
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia


In this section, I will cover on on its creator and the origins of the flag. I will also delve into the “Join Or Die” cartoon and its meaning.

Who Designed It (Christopher Gadsden)

Christopher gadsden

The man behind the flag is Christopher Gadsden who was the leader of the South Carolina patriot movement.

He was born in the year 1724 in South Carolina. He went to school in England and then went back to America in the year 1740.

He was also a member of the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress. He was also a merchant where the wharf in Charleston still has his name.

He was later held as a prisoner of war where he spent 42 weeks in a prison cell inside a Spanish fortress. He was also known as the “Sam Adams of the South.”

It’s Origin And Development

It is important to note that this flag was created during the American Revolution which took place between 1765 and 1783. The war was between the thirteen colonies of America against Great Britain.

The fight was for independence against the British monarchy and is commemorated every 4th of July. It is through this revolution where the United States was born.

It is mentioned somewhere that the origin of the Gadsden flag is purely anti-British. The rattlesnake is a prevalent symbol in the US.

The symbol of the rattlesnake was first made famous by Benjamin Franklin who created the “Join or Die” cartoon and was later incorporated onto a flag by Christopher Gadsden.

The Join Or Die Cartoon

This cartoon played a significant role in the development of the original Gadsden flag. It all started when the British sent convicts to America.

Franklin who was one of the founding fathers of the US remarked that they should thank them by sending them ships full of rattlesnakes.

This started the symbolism of the rattlesnake in the US. After this event, a paper was published with a cartoon that stated: “join or die.”

The image shows a snake that has been cut into eight pieces. Each piece also represents one or two colonies. The meaning of the cartoon was simple.

If the colonies of America do not stand together against their common enemy, they will all die.

The snake that is cut into several pieces in the cartoon symbolizes the disunity of the thirteen colonies.

Symbolism And Meaning

In this section, I will cover all of the different elements of the flag with a description and explanation of each one starting with the rattlesnake.

The Rattlesnake

It is tough to look at the flag and not notice the snake firsthand. Many types of snakes could have been used, but the rattlesnake got the first choice to be on the flag.

Both the Diamondback and Timber rattlesnake is native to North America especially the eastern side of the continent.

The rattlesnake is not like most other snakes which will lay in a pathway waiting for someone to step on them.

Instead, they will use their rattle as a warning which can be easily heard from meters away. If you have ever been in a room full of rattlesnakes, then you will understand what I mean.

If you look closely at the rattle of the snake on the flag, then you will notice that it consists out of thirteen segments which represent the thirteen colonies of North America.

The rattlesnake is not a violent or aggressive snake such as that of the Black Mamba and will instead warn you with its rattle when you are too close. If you get too close, it will start to strike and will not stop.

It is known for these snakes to continually strike which will result in several bite marks. The snake on the flag is also coiled up which means it is ready to strike.

The Yellow Background

The color of the background is a bright yellow color that symbolizes the power of will. In ancient esoteric occult knowledge, the color yellow represents the solar chakra of will.

This color also comes from the planet Mercury and is mostly to do with the power of the mind. It is often used to improve concentration, creativity, and imagination.

The Motto Used

The motto is the words at the bottom of the flag which says: “DONT TREAD ON ME.” It is unmistakable that it means “not to step on me” or “do not walk on me.

”The definition of “tread” is: “to step or walk on or over.” The text is also all capital letters which sends a strong message.

It’s Final Message

I have discussed each segment and part of the flag separately, and I think it is time to give you the message that this flag is sending.

It is a flag that represents freedom and independence from external forces, and the Americans should never be underestimated as they are not afraid to fight when it comes to their freedom.

They are a considerable force when unified and are not the initiators of violence and will explicitly warn you before all hell breaks loose.

Racial Controversy

Sometimes the meaning of something such as the Gadsden flag can change over the years. I have already explained the true meaning and symbolism of this flag and how it historically came to be.

The topic of racism is very sensitive, and any form or act of racism should be condemned. It is evil by its purest and has the potential to divide an entire nation.

Symbolism has a lot of emotion and meaning behind it.

Let’s look at some of the points for today’s discussion:

Christopher Gadsden Was A Slave Trader

Through visiting historical records, it is indicated that Christopher Gadsden was a slave trader and owner of African Americans. It is also stated that his wharf called the Gadsden’s Wharf also played a significant role in the slave trade.

The wharf was built in the 1760s, and it is known that around 80 ship cargoes full of black African Americans were brought to this wharf.

My question to you is the following:

Will all of the creations of a racist be labeled as racist?

The flag itself and the symbolism behind it does not have any racist remarks or meaning. While highlighting this point, do you think the Gadsden flag is racist?

The Tea Party

I have already highlighted that it was commonly known for the members of the tea party to wave the Gadsden flag.

Let’s have a look at what the tea party stood for:

The main focus of the tea party was for the government to lower the tax rate and its spending. The tea party was formed and became active in the year 2009 when Barack Obama became the president of the US.

It might have been seen for the tea party to be in opposition to Obama where he became the first African American to become president. It might be because of this situation when so-called “racism” took a foothold in the tea party.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

In the year 2014, a black employee filed a complaint against a colleague that worn a ball cap that featured the “don’t tread on me” insignia for being racially discriminated against.

Nowadays, wearing the Gadsden flag on your shirt or ball cap can label you as a racist. It can cost you your job and you racially harassment charges can be laid against you.

The EEOC did admit that the Gadsden flag does not have anything to do with race, but they still made a ruling that if you wear this flag, you can be charged with racial harassment.


The Gadsden flag is full of history and meaning. It was created during a time of war and symbolized the willingness of Americans to fight for independence.

It is essential to know the true meaning of the flag and not to confuse it with racist acts or groups.

What do you think about the flag?

Please leave a comment below and share with us your opinion.

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