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[What It Means] Gadsden Flag: Don’t Tread on Me

“Don’t Tread on Me”

You’ve seen the flag…you know what I’m talking about.

Gadsden Flag
This flag

What you may not know is just where the hell that flag came from, and why it has become a symbol of America in general and gun owners in particular (and also the US Men’s Soccer team, for some reason).

Well, let’s talk about the Don’t Tread on Me Flag, properly called the Gadsden flag, and why it’s important.

The Historical Aspect of the Gadsden Flag

The Gadsden flag is actually one of the earliest symbols of America. The first reference to the flag that I can find was when a flag with a “coiled rattlesnake with 13 rattles depicting the 13 colonies of America” and the iconic “DONT TREAD ON ME” motto underneath was used on drums carried by some of the very first United States Marines after their enlistment in Philadelphia in late 1775.

From there, it was (maybe) flown at the mainmast of the then newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Navy’s flagship. It was gifted to Commodore Esek Hopkins, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy at that time, by Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden, which is where the flag gets its name. There is some doubt now however whether or not the flag was ever actually flown during the Revolution.

The Gadsden Flag Today

That doesn’t necessarily matter though.

Today, the Gadsden flag has found supporters in several areas as a symbol of patriotism, American pride, disagreement with a tyrannical government, and the support of civil liberties, particularly gun ownership in our current political climate.

No Step on Snek Lower
Palmetto State Armory “No Step on Snek” AR-15 Lower

The Gadsden flag can now be found on bumper stickers, morale patches, and Facebook cover photos around the country, and even around the world wherever Americana and a desire for civil liberties, including gun ownership.

It’s also a very common meme online and you can find thousands of variations like the one below.

King of the Hill DTOM
King of the Hill is the best animated show on television and I’m prepared to fight over it if you disagree.

But it’s also one of the chief symbols of the Global War on Terrorism, as chosen by the US Navy. You can also find the flag on the US Army’s Drill Sergeant Identification Badge.

Parting Shots

The Gadsden flag is a cool piece of history and one of the only memes to be officially supported by the US military.

Whatever the actual historical significance is, in its pure form it has become a rallying flag for American patriots, sports teams, and those who are against the erosion or oppression of civil liberties.

Want to learn more origin stories?  Check out our What does AR mean in AR-15.

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7 Leave a Reply

  • Ruth

    Thanks for the info. That King of the Hill flag is hilarious! My favorite episode!

    December 9, 2020 5:53 am
  • Shepherd of Fire

    We flew this on my ship during deployments. USS Lake Erie CG-70.

    January 31, 2019 2:56 pm
  • Myles Harvey

    Please let responsible patriotic Americas reclaim the and other Revolutionary War symbols back from the White Nationalist movement.

    January 30, 2019 4:25 pm
    • Steve

      It has always been a symbol of civil liberties and patriotism. It just so happens that the primary people who actually still value these things are conservative white men.

      July 11, 2021 8:59 pm
  • Chris Torres

    Yeah, so the MLS (Major League Soccer) reference comes from the Philadelphia Union which used a variation of the snake, but cut into 13 pieces (for the 13 original colonies) with the motto 'Join or Die.' This image appeared in Benjamin Franklin's The Pennsylvania Gazette just prior to the Revolutionary War.

    Please feel free to fact check.

    January 30, 2019 10:56 am

    the narrative I enjoyed the narrative it was very enlightening. Thank you Matthew you did a good job.

    January 30, 2019 8:20 am
  • Hector Marroquin

    Thank you very much for the quick lesson.

    January 29, 2019 7:55 pm