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“I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, “Don’t tread on me.” As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America; and as I have nothing to do with public affairs, and as my time is perfectly my own, in order to divert an idle hour, I sat down to guess what could have been intended by this uncommon device…”

Benjamin Franklin is well known for his cartoon “Join or Die” which features a rattlesnake divided into 13 pieces. Well, that is not the only association between Franklin and the snake that is found on both the North and South American continents. On December 27, 1775, Franklin published a letter in the Pennsylvania Journal under the pseudonym “The American Guesser.” You can read the entire letter at:

The rattlesnake is also the well known symbol of the Gadsden Flag. Associated with Colonel Christopher Gadsden, leader of the South Carolina Sons of Liberty group beginning in 1765, the flag carries the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.” The flag was actually the personal standard for Esek Hopkins who served as the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. The Marines that Franklin referenced in his letter may have been one of the first five companies of Marines authorized by the Congress that served aboard the Alfred. It is said that when some of those Marines enlisted, they held yellow drums emblazoned with the now famous motto.

If you were to create a personal standard, what colors, images, and statements would you choose to include? Not only is it an interesting topic to consider, but it is a wonderful way to teach a child about meaning of the flags flown during the Colonial Period.

Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D. – Get your copy of my book: Everyone’s Guide to the Constitution: