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Rattlesnake Flags (U.S.)


Last modified: 2023-11-11 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | gadsden | culpeper | rattlesnake | jack | sullivan's life guards |
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Origin of the Rattlesnake

[Ben Franklin's Join or Die] image by Rick Wyatt, 5 April 1998
Ben Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette Sketch
9 May 1754

In 1751 Benjamin Franklin's paper carried an article recommending that a cargo of rattlesnakes be sent to England. Three years later, in 1754, Benjamin Franklin published a drawing of a snake cut into eight parts (Georgia was not included). This was to show the members of the Albany Congress the danger of disunity. By 1754 the segments of the snake had grown together, and the motto had been changed to read 'United Now Alive and Free Firm on this Basis Liberty Shall Stand and Thus Supported Ever Bless Our Land Till Time Becomes Eternity'.

The rattlesnake had become a favored symbol among pre-Revolutionary War colonists.

David S. Cohen
Dave Martucci
Rick Wyatt
          22 December 1997


Secessionist Rattlers

Several Southern states, upon the secession of late 1860, early 1861, used rattlesnake flags for secession banners - as well as for company flags.

These seem to have been most popular in South Carolina and Georgia - two of the original 13 colonies from the American Revolution. Since many Southerners considered their secession of 1861 no different from the secession of 1776 the symbolism was the same.

One South Carolina company flag that I know of had a palmetto tree on one side with a coiled rattlesnake wrapped about the trunk of the tree. There were quite a few others, some with the phrase "Don't tread on me."

Greg Biggs, 5 January 1999

I'm now watching the HBO miniseries "John Adams" on DVD. (For non- Americans, it concerns the patriot and second president of the United States, and covers a period from 1770 to 1826.)

Naturally, it's full of flags. In fact, the opening credits consist of one flag overlapping another. There are those you'd expect, at appropriate times- Pine Tree with "An Appeal to Heaven", Grand Union, First Stars and Stripes with the stars in a circle, and, later, in 3- 2-3-2-3 rows, and so on. One common theme is rattlesnake flags, including the "First Navy Jack" seen on a ship (the flag is likely a myth and wouldn't fly at sea anyway, but the whole series is, how shall I say, a bit easy with certain facts), the Gadsen flag, and others. One interesting flag seen over and over again, however, is a flag version of Franklin's famous "Join or Die" cartoon (somewhat modified to include Georgia)- in fact, it was the image used on all advertising for the series. Is there any evidence it was used as a flag? I find it a bit incongruous that such exact replicas appear again and again with 18th Century manufacturing the way it was.

Also interestingly, a Dutch-like flag is shown being flown at patriotic events in the late 18th Century alongside the US flag. As has been pointed out on this list, such flags are widely flown in the US today, usually with lettering on the white stripe. French tricolors are also shown during the period of that country's revolution.

Like I said, the series is not exactly true to the facts at all times, but I thought this bore pointing out.
Nathan Lamm, 4 November 2008

Sullivan's Life Guards

[Sullivan's Life Guards flag]     
image by Rob DelRé, 29 September 2001
[Sullivan's Life Guards flag]
image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 24 October 2001

Standard of General Sullivan's Guard of the Rhode Island Militia. In this version, the arching scroll encompasses all the canton and is contiguous with one of the flag stripes.
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 24 October 2001

Other Rattlesnake Flags

There were also these Rattlesnake flags:

South Carolina Navy
      Described by Ben Franklin Oct 9, 1778 as
      13 stripes with a snake.
      Traditionally, the stripes are red and blue.
2nd PA Regiment of 1777.
      White with coiled snake and motto,
      but which motto is uncertain.
Dave Martucci, 21 December 1997

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