A Rattlesnake on the American Flag Instead of an Eagle?

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Was our country’s national symbol almost a poisonous reptile rather than the eagle we’ve all come to know and love? If Benjamin Franklin had his way, this may very well have been the case. In fact, Franklin didn’t even like the eagle, so much so that he believed the majestic bird of prey was “a bird of poor moral character.” The rattlesnake, on the other hand, was a fierce, but honorable creature, never attacking unless provoked and never surrendering unless a fight was over. 

An Early Symbol of National Identity

In 1754, Franklin sketched the image of a snake cut into eight sections, each one representing the individual colonies at the time. Under the snake was scrawled the words, “Join, or Die,” which were intended as an appeal to unity during the French and Indian War.

A snake chopped into several pieces may sound morbid, but the image stemmed from a well-known superstition of those days that was based on the belief that a snake that was sliced into pieces could rejoin the living if the body was put back together before sunset. As more newspapers printed this picture, the snake gradually became a symbol of national identity and pride.

Symbol of American Independence

The snake was used many times as Americans united over the years. In 1765, the British, in an attempt to pay off the debt they had incurred from the French and Indian War, started the Stamp Act. Many colonists believed that they had thrived despite the British government, not because of them, and, therefore, were not indebted to them.

The colonists soon became known as the “Sons of Liberty,” and the general public became more and more ready to revolt against the British. Once again, Franklin’s chopped-up snake reared its head and made its presence felt as a source of unity and, this time, independence.

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Don’t Tread on Me

The snake symbol eventually spread beyond the newspapers and, by 1775, it was on everything from paper money, to banners, to flags. During its ascent, the snake symbol changed significantly. Rather than being shown as a generic snake, it was now typically depicted as an American timber rattlesnake. Although historical accounts differ as to how and why the now-famous coiled rattlesnake came to represent our country on the Gadsden flag, the ominous and equally now-famous words, “Don’t Tread on Me” send a clear message to all who see it.

Back to Benjamin Franklin

“An American Guesser” anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal toward the end of 1775, noting that he had seen some drums belonging to Marines with the aforementioned snake accompanied with the same warning.

This anonymous writer went on to explain why a snake would be the ideal American symbol, noting that there were thirteen rattles on the snake, which equaled the number of colonies in America, also eloquently observing “how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, how firmly they are united together” and how “one of those rattles, singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man alive.”

This anonymous writer is now widely believed to have been Benjamin Franklin due to his well-known fondness for the rattlesnake as a national symbol.

Why Is It Known as the Gadsden flag?

Franklin may have designed the original rattlesnake symbol, but the flag on which “Don’t Tread on Me” appears is not named after him. That honor was bestowed upon Colonel Christopher Gadsden. According to historical records, Gadsden presented one of these flags to Esek Hopkins, whom Gadsden had chosen as the Navy’s commander-in-chief. Gadsden soon made a copy of the flag and proposed to Congress that it should be the official standard of the head of the United States Navy.

Don’t Tread on Me

You could say that the Gadsden flag and its powerful mantra were initiated in 1776 when Commodore Hopkins proudly flew them when the Navy’s ships set out to sea for the first time in its now-storied history. The Gadsden flag has one of the more fascinating origins of any flag in the world. This flag is in large part distinguished by the message it bears so clearly: We value freedom, and if our freedom is threatened, we will do what is necessary to defend it. Of course, the flag says it much better and more simply.

The Revolutionary War Depicted in Flags

The birth of our nation occurred at a tumultuous time, amid battles, cannons, and a fight for freedom. Flags became a part of the scene to unite, inspire, and rally the colonists to win the war against the British so that all those living here in America could do so without tyranny or taxation without representation.

To have a better understanding of the Revolutionary War, and the role flags played in the unification of our country, we will be taking a look at the flags that have enriched our history with their own unique stories.

Cartoon turned flag, the Join or Die flag was a rallying standard which Benjamin Franklin originally created on wood in order to spur the colonies to unite. First used during the French and Indian War, then as a symbol of freedom in the Revolutionary War, this flag represented the thirteen colonies with a snake cut into eight pieces.

The head of the snake symbolized the whole of New England, followed by New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Franklin knew that the dream of a free nation would not survive unless the colonies united, much like a snake cut into pieces would surely die.

In keeping with the rattlesnake theme, the Gadsden flag was the first flag of the U.S. Marine Corps, commissioned in 1775. Depicting a rattlesnake with thirteen coils and the motto “Don’t tread on me,”it served as a warning to the British that America was not to be taken lightly or trivialized. In December of 1775, a letter was written by “An American Guesser” who historians now agree was Benjamin Franklin, and it was published by the Pennsylvania Journal:

“I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has
no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal: Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her. Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?”

There is still some debate today as to whether or not the eagle should have been our nation’s symbol, and not the American Timber Rattlesnake, as Franklin deemed it so fitting for America.

Widely accepted as the first flag of America, the Grand Union flag is said to have been first raised in Charlestown, Massachusetts by George Washington’s army on New Year’s Day 1776.

Consisting of 13 stripes and the British Union Jack in the corner, it was to represent the Second Continental Congress which was now the recognized, de facto government of the colonies. Though it was only the flag for a short time (approximately a year), it was the first of our country and has a firm place in our history.

The Battle of Brandywine Creek was fought on September 11, 1777 and was the longest battle of the Revolutionary War, lasting 11 hours, with continuous fighting between the forces of British General, Sir William Howe and George Washington’s army.

It was the largest battle of the war; also, and because of these honors, there is a flag representing this battle which hangs today in Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, though it was not a flag of George Washington’s army, but a militia banner representing Captain Robert Wilson’s Company, the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment.

Because there were no specific guidelines or flag regulations, it was made with 13 red stars and 13 red and white stripes, representing the colonies, and was the first flag with stars and stripes flown, according to some historians.

The oldest complete flag in our rich history is the Bedford flag. There are no records of who made it or when it was first used as a rallying standard; however, it can be loosely traced through the Page family history to the 1720s. It is most famously known as the flag that Nathaniel Page brought to the battle at North Ridge in Concord, Massachusetts, which is infamous as the first battle of the Revolutionary War.

The Page family has a long history of being the Cornet of the Troop of the horse, which is simply the standard bearer for the cavalry. It is believed that the Bedford flag was the inspiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s stanza in the poem Concord Hymn:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The flag is made from damask silk, depicting a mail-encased arm reaching out from the clouds holding a sword. The banner on the flag reads “Vince autMorire” which means “Conquer or Die”―an apt slogan for the period. The flag is still displayed at the Bedford Library in Massachusetts.

The Serapis flag has a unique and interesting story tied to it, involving U.S. Navy Captain John Paul Jones. In 1779 at the Battle of Flamborough Head, Jones captured the Serapis, a British frigate, but in the process his own ship the Bonhomme Richard sank.

He wanted to dock the foreign ship at the nearby port, Texel, which was controlled by the Dutch United Provinces. However, without a standard and sailing a captured ship, there was argument that he was a mere pirate.

So, hastily, with the description Ambassador Franklin had given the French of the U.S. flag (for international recognition), they made a standard that consisted of “thirteen stripes, alternately red, white, and blue; a small square in the upper angle, next to the flagstaff is a blue field with thirteen white stars, denoting a new constellation.” Hence, the Serapis flag was born.

History is not without controversy. During the Battle of Bennington, General John Stark’s militia, with reinforcements from Colonel Seth Warner and the Green Mountain Boys, fought valiantly against a detachment of General John Burgoyne’s regiment as part of the Saratoga campaign. While it may have been a minor defeat to the British, it led to a larger victory for the Patriots.

It is said that the Bennington flag was flown during this battle, named for the town in which it was fought, carried by Stark’s men. However, there is much evidence to suggest that the flag once thought to have been at this battle was actually made for either the 50th or Centennial celebration of our nation’s birth.

The Moultrie flag was made famous from the decisive battle fought in South Carolina, where Colonel William Moultrie defended Sullivan’s Island from the British fleet and resulted in a resounding victory for the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. The battle saved Charleston, turning the British fleet on its heels.

Moultrie commissioned the flag in advance of the war with the British, knowing he would need a rallying standard under which his men could gather. During the battle, the flag was shot off its post, and, in a daringly brave move, Sergeant William Jasper ran out in the open to grab it and re-hoisted the flag until a new post could be had. This act of bravery, along with the victorious win, made the Moultrie flag part of our rich history and the hearts of South Carolinians.

The Battle of Cowpens was a turning point in the war for the Americans. With a stalemate in the north, the British had turned their focus south in hopes of gathering support from Loyalists and planned to use them against the colonists still fighting for freedom.

Initially, their plan seemed to work. Then Washington put Major General Nathanael Greene in charge of the campaign in the Carolinas. The series of battles that ensued began to turn the tide of war in favor of the colonists.

Initially, their plan seemed to work. Then Washington put Major General Nathanael Greene in charge of the campaign in the Carolinas. The series of battles that ensued began to turn the tide of war in favor of the colonists.

Carrying on the victory wave, Major General Greene faced the seasoned forces of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis on the steps of the Guilford Courthouse. The British lost significant troops in against Greene, and he had underestimated the will of the colonists.

This battle was the pivotal engagement of the Revolutionary War, as it sent Cornwallis out of the Carolinas up to Virginia, where he fought and lost at Yorktown and surrendered to Washington after the final battle of the war.

This battle was the pivotal engagement of the Revolutionary War, as it sent Cornwallis out of the Carolinas up to Virginia, where he fought and lost at Yorktown and surrendered to Washington after the final battle of the war.

Charles James Fox, a British statesman, said of the battle, “Another such victory would ruin the British Army.” The flag is unique, as the stripes are red and blue instead of the standard red and white. It was never intended to be a national flag, but a regimental flag, and now is a reminder of the incredible victory that changed our nation’s course in the Revolutionary War.

At the close of the war, after the Treaty of Paris had been signed on September 3, 1783, Washington and the citizens of the United States waited for the British to disassemble seven years’ worth of infrastructure and military encampments from New York. It was no small feat, and was finally completed on November 25th.

The celebration, known as Evacuation Day, was planned to commence once the last British ship sailed from the coastline, with a procession through the city which would end at Fort George, where the British flag would be taken down and the American flag would be hoisted in its place.

The British had one last move to make, which served as a parting practical joke. They had removed the halyard of the Union Jack flying over Fort George and greased the flag pole.

When the Americans went to take the British standard down, they realized what the freshly departed soldiers had done.Fearful of Washington’s procession arriving while the Union Jack was still in the air, they tried every way possible to take the flag down, short of cutting down the flag pole. Well, Washington’s procession arrived, and there the British flag flapped in the breeze.

A young sergeant from New York, John Van Arsdale, with help from a run to the local hardware store, climbed the pole while nailing cleats in as he went to get to the flag. With Washington looking on, Arsdale got close enough to grasp the flag and tear it down, with cheers and roaring from the crowd below: Such an end to a hard fought war for freedom, showing the true spirit for which we Americans are known for today.

The History of the American Flag- For Kids

The American flag is a symbol of the United States’ long history––and it might be much older than you thought! A flag is a very important part of a country’s identity. Some of them are hundreds of years old and are very important to the people who live in that country. Did you know that there are almost 200 independent countries in the world? That’s a lot of flags! Each one is made with its own specific colors and designs. How many flags can you describe?

Are you curious about the history of the American flag and how it came to be? Read on to find out more about how old the flag is, how it has changed, and what it looks like today.

June 14th, 1777

Did you know that America wasn’t always an independent nation? Long before it separated into its own country, America was a part of a British colony. Once America decided to separate from the British colony, then the creation of the flag took place.

When the United States of America was a very young nation, it needed a flag of its own. On June 14th, 1777, a group called the Continental Congress agreed that the United States should have their own flag made. This was a very important step in American history. While the flag has changed over time, it has always been an important symbol for America and its citizens. Read on to learn more about this important piece of history.

The Design

Are you wondering what the first flag looked like in 1777?

In its first year, the flag was designed to have thirteen stripes: red and white stripes, to be exact! The stripes would switch between red and white, with the final design having seven red stripes and six white stripes in between them. (Kind of like a candy cane!)

In the top corner of the flag it was decided that there would be a blue background with thirteen stars, so that it would look like stars in the night sky, which is also known as a constellation. The stars were shaped in a large circle; nowadays, there are too many stars to use that same shape!

The colors of the flag have always been red, white, and blue since its very start. Many of the flags in history have been designed with these three colors, including Great Britain and France. Do you know what the colors mean?

It has been said that the blue in the flag represents a variety of symbols, including grit, freedom, justice, and care. The red coloring stands for revolution, bravery, and toughness, while the white is a symbol for purity, peace, and innocence. The American flag was created with all of these symbols in mind, in order to represent the people who lived in this country.

Between 1777 and1960, the flag was re-designed to look a different way. As the country has gotten older, it has welcomed new states to join in. When this happened, the American flag would add another star to its design to represent the new state. Do you know how many stars the flag has today? The answer is 50: just like the number of states now included in the United States. The flag today has the same 13 stripes to represent the 13 colonies, and 50 stars for all of the states. Very cool! stars for all of the states. Very cool!

The flag has definitely come a long way … let’s take a look at more of the history behind this great flag!

Who Made It?

We are not totally sure where the first American flag came from. It is believed that it was designed by a Congressman of New Jersey by the name of Francis Hopkins, and that it was sewn by a woman named Betsy Ross from Philadelphia.

Since its creation, the American flag has been re-created and sold to millions of people located all over the world! Did you know that the flag is still bought by hundreds of Americans? Just three years ago in 2013, Americans spent almost 4 million dollars on American flags! (That’s a LOT of flags!)

Rules of the Flag

Because the American flag has been so important to the country’s history, it is always treated with a large amount of respect. It is expected that anyone taking care of an American flag will not let it touch the ground when it is being handled. This makes raising and lowering the flag quite hard. Those who are responsible for the raising and lowering of the flag are trained to do it properly. Do you think you would want to have that responsibility?

When there is a great loss in the country, the American flag may also be lowered to half-mast to show respect to those who have lost their lives or suffered tragedy. The term “half-mast” describes the way a flag sits half-way down a pole. Do you know the routine for raising a flag to half-mast?

Those who are responsible for raising the flag to half-mast must hoist it to the very top of the pole before lowering it halfway. Similarly, when they are lowering it, they must hoist the flag to the top before lowering it to the ground. Even though it’s a tricky routine, it is very important to make sure it is done properly!

Once a flag is lowered, it must be folded into a specific triangular shape to rest in for the night. Families of fallen American soldiers receive folded flags as a sign of respect for the hard work the soldier has done for his or her country.

Nicknames in History

Do you have any nicknames that your family members or friends have given you? These nicknames are special, because they are created by people who know you well, and who see you in a certain way. Just like you, the American flag has its nicknames, as well.

One of its oldest nicknames is “Old Glory,” which was given to an American flag that was very big––10 feet by 17 feet, to be exact! The flag was given its nickname by its owner, who was named William Drive, and who was a captain at sea. The nickname stuck, and people still use the nickname today. The flag is also commonly referred to as the “Stars and Stripes,” named after the design on the flag.

National Anthem

Do you know all of the words to the American National Anthem? Many people start and finish their day standing at attention to this important song, and it’s important that we show respect and stand when it is being played.

Have you ever wondered where the song came from? The song was written by a poet named Francis Scott Key. He was inspired to write the song when he saw the American flag flying over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. Even though there was a battle going on, the flag remained unharmed, and the poet wanted to write a song about it. As a result, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was created!

If you still need to work on your national anthem singing, check out these lyrics to help you get all of the words down perfectly … and don’t forget to take off your hat!

1900s

The American flag has since become a very experienced traveler, with lots of individuals carrying the flag with them on trips all over the Earth, and beyond. In 1909, Robert Peary traveled to the North Pole, where he happily set into the ice an American flag that was sewn by his wife.

In 1963, another famous traveler by the name of Barry Bishop carried an American flag with him to the top of Mount Everest! Mount Everest is the largest mountain on the planet Earth, and Bishop set his flag proudly into its peak when he finally made it up there.

Did you know that the American flag has even made it into space? It’s true! In 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong packed an American flag with him when his team flew their rocket to Earth’s moon! This was a very important moment for Americans everywhere. Many countries had been trying to become the first country to make it to the moon, but American astronauts were able to complete the trip first.

Do you know the famous quote Neil Armstrong said when he took the first human steps on the moon? They were, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” How cool is that? Where do you think the American flag will end up next?

The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a very special day. Did you know that it is the birthday of the United States? Many people celebrate the day by wearing and showing off the red, white, and blue colors of the flag, and many people enjoy food, fireworks, and fun to celebrate this great country!

While the Fourth of July is very well-known for being America’s birthday, a new date began to take significance in the year 1885. A school teacher by the name of BJ Cigrand decided that on June 14th he and his students would celebrate “Flag Day” or “Flag Birthday,” in celebration of the American flag being created 108 years earlier. After that special day, many more people started to take notice of the celebration and wanted to be a part of it.

Within the next ten years, many people started to put together celebrations for Flag Day on June 14th. On June 14th 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia put on celebrations for Flag Day, and in the following years many more organizations started to celebrate the special day as well.

One of the largest celebrations of Flag Day took place in 1894, when the first children’s public school celebrations for Flag Day took place. There were more than 300,000 kids who took part in the events! There were lots of different speeches, and songs to sing, and children were given small American flags to take home.

On May 30th 1916, Flag Day was officially established by the proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson. It was a great day for Americans, because they could finally have a day to celebrate their country’s flag and all of the important things it represented! To make it official, President Truman signed an Act of Congress that stated June 14th would now always be National Flag Day for everyone to enjoy!

Do you celebrate National Flag Day?

Being Respectful

It’s always a great practice to show off your country’s flag and to be proud of where you come from. There are so many things you can wear to show your pride, including patriotic hats, t-shirts, pins, and more! However, it is important to remember, if you have an American flag, that you must always display it in the appropriate manner.

Throughout its history, the American flag has always been meant to be hoisted on a pole and fly freely. The flag is not meant to be worn, re-designed, or re-shaped for any reason! If you are celebrating America’s birthday or National Flag Day, make sure to show respect for the flag and display it in the proper manner.

A flag is a very important symbol for any person or country. A flag can represent what an individual values and what is important to them. The American flag has gone through a lot of changes since its creation in 1777, but it is still one of the most important symbols for the country.

If you want to start celebrating National Flag Day for the American flag, you can always start your own event at school or at home. There are lots of things you can do, including baking some flag-themed foods or wearing red, blue, and white. Use what you’ve learned today to help teach others about the history of the American flag, and to spread awareness of how the flag has changed over time.

If you could use any shapes or colors, what would your flag look like if you designed your own?

Know What You Are Celebrating

American Flag

American Flag. 4th of July City Decoration. Vintage Grading.

On the heels of Memorial Day, many people take the opportunity to post sentiments on social media about the true meaning of the holiday. Usually the three day weekend is an opportunity to get outside for cookouts, picnics, fireworks and just spending time with friends. But what are we celebrating?

With the bevy of posts on social media about supporting the veterans (always a great cause, without the need for a holiday to do so), it seems people have forgotten what the difference is between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Both are related to the military, and they both are symbolized by the American flag being waved throughout neighborhoods and businesses across America.

Memorial Day began three years after the Civil War ended, originally called Decoration Day. General John A. Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), declared May 30th as a day when men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice would be honored by decorating the graves of these fallen soldiers.

The first observance of a grand scale was in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant hosted the ceremony from their home on the property of the cemetery.  It concluded with the GAR, accompanied by children from Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home, decorating the graves with flowers and singing hymns as they made their way through. It is rumored he chose the end of May because flowers would be in bloom across the country at that time of year. 

Initially, the holiday was only to honor those who died in the Civil War. It wasn’t until after World War I that it was expanded to include all who gave the ultimate sacrifice in any American war. By an act of Congress, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday in 1971, to be observed on the last Monday in May. The holiday continues to be celebrated to this day, and many observers decorate graves on this day to truly honor those who have died for our country.

World War I was called “The Great War” and officially ended on June 28, 1919 with the signing of the Treaty at Versailles. However, the fighting stopped at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when an armistice was called between the Allies and Germany; hence, the symbolic nature of November 11th, Veterans Day.

In November 1919, President Wilson declared the 11th to be Armistice Day. His speech was moving and powerful:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations …” (Schmid, “Yesterday’s Reflections: A Repository of Memories”, pg 78)

An act of Congress on May 13, 1938 declared November 11th as a national holiday, honoring the veterans from World War I, the war to end all wars. A mere three years later, World War II began, which marked the largest mobilization of military our nation had ever seen. In 1954, the 83rd Congress amended the initial act to include all American veterans who served our country.

Around the world, November 11th is a day to remember those who fought for their country. In Canada, it is known as Remembrance Day, and countries from Africa to Australia, Britain to South America all honor those who gave selflessly to their country.

Lieutenant Colonel John McRae was a Canadian soldier fighting on the Western Front in World War I who died in 1918. A physician and soldier, he wrote a poem that is without a doubt the most famous poem from the Great War. It encompasses the emotions and heart-felt feelings of those celebrating Veterans Day and Memorial Day:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

So, when you enjoy the holiday with a day off from work and a family barbecue, take a moment to remember why these holidays exist, and honor our military accordingly.

A Legacy of Liberty

Each morning, across America, our nation’s youth pledge allegiance to our flag. The brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces defend that flag each and every day. The “Stars and Stripes” is flown the world over as a symbol of liberty and justice, representing the great republic that we have grown from humble beginnings. From a small collection of independent colonies, through the passion and valor of brave men and women who raised first their voices and then their arms against tyranny, these colonies have grown into a continent-spanning nation.

However, the “Stars and Stripes” flag that we fly today is but the latest incarnation in a long line of flags, stretching back to the 1760s, that have represented our burgeoning nation, the groups who fought for its creation, and the growing republic birthed out of the turbulent decades of the late 18th century. Looking back at these flags is like looking back at the history of our nation itself, from the idea of rebellion, to the birthing of a nation, and then its expansion across the continent.

Flags of the Colonial Period

The Bedford Flag 1775

From antiquity through the 18th century, military unit flags, banners, and other emblems served many roles. They were the emblem of the unit, the symbol by which it was recognized, but they were also the rallying point for the unit on the battlefield. As the political unrest in the 13 colonies turned violent,many militia groups arose to protest the tyranny of British rule by force of arms.

In April of 1775, the famed “Shot Heard Round the World” was let fly at the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Flying at the battle was the flag of the Bedford Minutemen. This banner bears the emblem of an arm enclosed in medieval armor holding a dagger. It includes the inscription “Vince autMorire,” which translates to “Conquer or Die.” Certainly an apt motto for the small militias that were about to take on the largest and most professional army in the world at the end of the 18th century.

Remarkably, the original Bedford Militia banner has survived to this day and is currently on display at the Bedford Free Library, in Bedford, Massachusetts.

Sons of Liberty – The Rebellious Stripes 1767 & 1775

Another militia group from the early Revolutionary period was the Sons of Liberty. Early in their formation they adopted a flag that was known as “The Rebellious Stripes.” As with the Bedford banner, the original still exists.

This flag was composed of 9 vertical stripes. The exact meaning of the design is unknown, but it has been suggested that the 9 stripes might represent the 9 colonies that were coming together to determine how they would handle protesting new taxation imposed on the colonies by Great Britain.

Later the group would adopt a more familiar-looking flag, with the design including 13 horizontal red and white stripes that would eventually come to be ubiquitous with American flag design.

Interestingly, the Sons of Liberty were also associated with other flags of 13 horizontal stripes, but in colors ranging from red and black to green and white, and also yellow and white.

Forster – 1775

Also flying at the Battle of Concord and Lexington was the flag of a group of Minutemen led by Samuel Forster. His men marched under a red banner with 13 white stripes. For this reason, it could be argued that this flag was the first to represent the 13 colonies that would become the United States.

Just as militias were being put together hastily, so, too, was this banner. The original was a red banner with the British Union flag in the upper left (known as the canton of a flag). Over top of this was quickly sewn a red patch with 13 white stripes.

Very few of these flags remain in existence. In 2014, one of the originals was put up for auction, with the owner hoping to raise between 1 and 3 million dollars for it. Despite its history and provenance, the flag failed to sell.

The Continental Flag or Trumbull’s Flag – c1775

The Continental flag has a controversial “history.” This flag, a simple red banner with a white field and green pine tree in the canton, was allegedly flown by colonial fighters at the second battle of the Revolution, the Battle of Bunker Hill. While these symbols were common enough on flags within New England at the time, there is no hard evidence that the flag was flown at the battle. In fact, there are precious few references to any flags at all among the colonial fighters. Among the accounts of the British soldiers taking part in the battle, most make no reference to any flags, and only a few allude to a red flag with no other details.

How, then, does the flag enter into the history books? In this case, the earliest clear “evidence” for the flag being at Bunker Hill is from a painting known as “The Death of General Warren at the Battle Bunker Hill,” by the artist Jonathan Trumbull, which is the source of its alternate name, the “Trumbull flag.”

Trumbull was a soldier, and he did observe the battle from a distance, through a looking glass. Though he was well known for his drawing skill, having been employed to draw maps of Boston, the painting was completed more than 10 years after the battle by someone who had not been present. Thus we are left with only legend and artwork to provide context for whether or not this flag truly flew at Bunker Hill.

Moultrie – 1775

Many of these early flags, representing either the burgeoning nation, regions, or militia units also lead us back to the individuals who were leading the way toward the birth of the United States. In many cases, these individuals would be considered the great men of history: militia leaders, regional military commanders, and George Washington himself. However, history is more than the story of the famous and well known people of our past; it also belongs to individuals, often forgotten, whose bravery made the success of those great men possible. The Moultrie or Liberty flag is one that carries the weight of history, both of the great and of the small.

In 1775, war with Great Britain imminent, a colonel from South Carolina by the name of William Moultrie commissioned and designed the Liberty Flag, a simple design of a blue field with a white crescent moon inscribed with a single word “Liberty” in the canton of the flag.

Under this banner his men successfully defended Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor in June of 1776. During this battle, Moultrie and his men survived 10 hours of bombardment by British artillery, and then forced the British to retreat. The brave men of Moultrie’s 2nd South Carolina Regiment saved Charleston from the British.

During the battle the flag was shot down by British fire. Risking his life, William Jasper, a sergeant in Moultrie’s regiment, ran out from under cover, braving the British guns, and retrieved the flag, hoisting it once more. While the retrieval and re-hoisting of the Liberty Flag may not have had the full rallying effect legend has ascribed to it, it does stand as a testament to the lengths that our early forebears went to ensure our liberty, as emblazoned on the banner.

The history and meaning of the banner continue to grow, to the point that at the end of the war in 1782 the banner was presented to General Nathan Greene as the first American flag to be flown in the South.

Culpeper Minutemen – 1775

“Liberty or Death” and “Don’t Tread on Me” are two famous phrases that have come down to us from the days of the Revolution. The flag of the Culpeper Minutemen was a white banner emblazoned with both mottos surrounding a coiled snake. While the meaning of the coiled rattlesnake is not expressly mentioned in the documentation of the flag, one could imagine a Minuteman seeing himself as a coiled snake, ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

The Culpeper Minutemen formally originated at the Virginia Convention in May of 1775 and was to be made up of men from Culpeper County, Virginia. The unit was not officially organized until later that summer, legends say, under an old Oak Tree on Catalpa Farm. Another legend states that one local man thought the motto too severe, and he would only enlist if the motto was changed to “Liberty or be Crippled.”

The men wore simple uniforms of brown shirts also bearing the mottos found on the flag, and they took part in the first battle of the Revolution to take place in Virginia, the Battle of the Great Bridge. After that battle, the unit was absorbed into official Continental Regiments by the Act of Assembly in October of 1776.

Nearly 100 years later, when war again came to Virginia, the Culpeper Minutemen were reformed, supposedly under the same oak tree as the original Minutemen. They carried the same banner into battle as part of a Virginian Infantry Regiment in the Confederate army during the American Civil War.

Gadsden – 1775

Unlike others discussed here, the Gadsden flag is one which the modern American is likely already familiar. In fact, it is available for sale here on AmericanFlags.com. Today, the flag has come to be a symbol of those who feel, as our ancestors did, that their rights are being troddenupon. As with the flag of the Culpeper Minutemen, the Gadsden Flag was emblazoned with a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase “Dont tread on me,” (no apostrophe), but this timeset on a yellow field.

The central images of the coiled rattlesnake and “Dont tread on me” phrase can be found across the colonies in the days leading up to and during the Revolution. In addition to banners and flags, these motifs could be found in newspapers, on buttons, and even on money printed in the Colonies. The history of this flag, though, is rather simple.

When Congress established this first Colonial Navy, it needed a flag for the ships of that small fleet to fly, and thus was born the Gadsden Flag: the first Ensign of the original American Navy, and also, by extension, the first symbol of the five companies of Marines that were mustered to accompany the fleet.

The flagship of that fleet, a captured British frigate renamed “Alfred,” the others that would join the growing navy, and the marines that fought along with the navy played a necessary role in the eventual victory of the Thirteen Colonies.

Of course, there is a story as to how this banner came to be known as the Gadsden flag. When Congress established the Continental Navy, it enlisted a man to be commander-in-chief of the Navy. For this role they chose Esek Hopkins of Rhode Island.

At this time, a man by the name of Colonel Christopher Gadsden,believing a distinctive banner was required for the prestigious role, presented the newly minted Commodore Hopkins with a flag as described in the South Carolina Congressional Journals:

“Col. Gadsden presented to the Congress an elegant standard, such as is to be used by the commander in chief of the American navy; being a yellow field, with a lively representation of a rattle-snake in the middle, in the attitude of going to strike, and these words underneath, “Don’t Tread on Me!”

Thus the Gadsden banner takes its name from the Colonel who presented the now famous banner to the first Commodore of a Continental Navy, to represent the Commodore, his fleet, his sailors, and his marines.

Washington’s Cruisers Pine Tree – 1775

The “Pine Tree Flag,” also known as the “Appeal to Heaven Flag” and “Washington’s Cruisers Flag,” was initially the naval flag of a series of 6 vessels commissioned by George Washington in 1775. It continued to be flown as the flag of the Massachusetts navy as well as that of privateer vessels that set sail from Massachusetts.

This was a simple white banner with the phrase “An Appeal to Heaven” above a green pine tree. As we have already seen, the pine tree was a very common emblem on the banners of New England during this era. The phrase “an appeal to heaven” also has an intriguing provenance and was used during the revolution on more than just this banner. It could be said, in fact, that based on the origin of the phrase, the entire Revolution was an appeal to heaven.

British Philosopher John Locke had written extensively about the “divine right of kings” and of the rights of a people to rise up against a tyrannical monarch. Without delving too deeply into philosophical tangents, Locke wrote in his Second Treatise on Civil Governmentthat a people have a divine right to rise up against tyranny. He states that when a long series of abuses are suffered by a people, and those people have attempted to remedy these injustices through all earthly means, they are left with no choice but to appeal to heaven and the morally supreme justice of God.

Locke’s influence on the founding fathers is well known and well documented, so it is no surprise that his ideas would find expression in the emblems and documents of our revolution.

Washington’s Commander-in-Chief – 1775

In 1776, the Continental Congress appointed General George Washington Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Although no particular flag was assigned for the position, the “Commander-in-Chief Flag” has come to be recognized as the flag of General Washington and his command. The flag is of relatively simple design with 13 white 6-pointed stars arranged on a dark blue field. There have been varying descriptions and depictions of the arrangement of those stars, but the most common seems to be with the stars arranged in rows of 3-2-3-2-3. In fact, there is one flag which has survived from the Battle of Valley Forge with this arrangement. In 1912 the surviving flag was donated to the Valley Forge Historical Society by a descendant of Washington’s only sister, Betty Washington Lewis.

Continental Colors/Grand Union – 1775

If any flag can lay claim to being the first truly national flag of what would become the United States of America, then that honor belongs to the “Grand Union Flag,” also known as the “Continental Colors,” and “Congress Flag.”

This flag was comprised of the 13 red and white stripes representing the 13 colonies, but, unlike later American flags where a blue field and white stars would adorn the canton of the flag, this contained the British Union Flag. Here we have an example of another flag undergoing changes over time. The flag, now known as the “Union Jack,” includes all of the elements of the Union Flag, but with the red Cross of St. Patrick added to reflect the addition of Ireland to the United Kingdom.

This flag, signifying Colonial Unity, was well liked by George Washington, and he had the flag flown to celebrate the first anniversary of the formation of the Continental Army on January 1st, 1776.

Flags You May Not Notice but Would if They Weren’t There

Flags are everywhere—not just American flags and state flags, but flags of every shape, size, and color in almost every area of our lives. You may not notice them, because they are such a common sight, but if one day they were suddenly not there … you would most assuredly miss them.

Consider these 10 areas where flags exist, but which you may not even think about:

Streets

Next time you take a drive down your local street, take a look at the street lights and various other posts that line the drive. In most areas of the country, there are many colorful flags and banners announcing everything from sales to celebrations. Others proudly declare historic routes or attractions. One thing is certain: If the flags were to suddenly go missing, the streets would be a lot less colorful. If you want to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to have your message seen, street banners from AmericanFlags.com come with banner arm mounting sets and full customization. 

Residences

As you drive through the neighborhood, look at the yards and planter boxes that you pass by. Chances are, there are flags and banners in many of them. From the American flag to POW banners, from political slogans and sports teams, to banners representing colleges and fraternities, people love to celebrate their past and remember the good times. Flags help them do just that.

Golf

Next time you are on the golf course, just think about what the next hole would look like without a flag blowing in the distance. Not only does the flag show the pin position, but it lets you know how to adjust your shot for the wind. Golf flags from AmericanFlags.com are printed on high-quality 200 denier nylon to stand up to the elements. Whether they sport a simple number or an advertisement for the 19th hole, the absence of these flags would most certainly be noticed.

Clubs

Whether you are giving a presentation, overseeing an awards banquet, or simply holding a regular meeting, service clubs and organizations need flags. Not only are American flags an important part of almost every club meeting, but most also have their own flags and banners proudly displayed on the walls, head tables, podiums, and on flag stands. Look around at the next meeting you go to and imagine what the rotunda would look like without any of the flags and banners.

Races

From the starting flag to the checkered flag at the end, and any number of caution flags in between, a race just wouldn’t be a race without flags and pennants. In addition to the flags used by the officials, many cars fly flags as well. From the pace car to the winner doing donuts in the winner’s circle, flags are an important part of the race experience.

Cars

You don’t have to be in a race to display a flag. Car flags are a great way to show your patriotisms or allegiance to a team or organization. Made out of high quality, weather resistant material, customized car flags are attached to window brackets and flown above the car so they don’t distract the driver. Next time there is a national holiday or a big game, look around town and see the number of your fellow citizens that are flying car flags. Now, think about how cool it would be to have your logo or information on one, or several thousand, of them.

Street decoration

On every major holiday your city likely dresses up their streets, drives, and boulevards with custom banners and flags. You might drive right on by without noticing them, but if one day they were not there you would wonder what was missing. Next time you drive through the center of town, take a look at all of the flags, banners, and pennants that you see. You just might be amazed.

Cemeteries

One of the great ways to pay your respects to those who have served our country is to place an American flag at their gravesite. If you have not been doing so, rest assured, you will not be alone when you show up to the cemetery. Millions of American flags fly freely at sites around the country on every major patriotic holiday. Others grave markers are never without one.

Beaches

Each color has a meaning. From dangerous riptides to jellyfish warnings, closed beaches, and the safe “all clear,” flags are an important part of beach life. When a diver heads out from the beach, they take flags to mark their dive spot, and fishermen use flags and buoys to mark their set lines and traps.

Sports

From on-field flags during matches to massive hanging pennants proudly proclaiming the championships won, there is a long and meaningful relationship between sports and flags. After all, it is sports that gives us the term “pennant race.” We often look right past all of the colorful flags and banners, but next time you are at a game or match, just imagine what it would look like if they were all gone.

These are just a few of the many places flags are seen in our everyday life. There are so many more, from the nautical world to politics, hotels, and the military. Did you ever wonder where all of these flags come from? If you are in need of a flag or flags, get yours from the same place many of the organizations listed above get theirs: AmericanFlags.com.

How the American Flag Inspires Us

American FlagWhen it came time to come up with a flag design for our new nation, legend has it that Washington and fellow Congressmen went to Ross and asked her to take on the task. Fact for thought: It is proven that she had sewn many colors for Pennsylvania state’s ships, so it isn’t hard to believe that she would have been asked to design and sew a flag for a much more important need.\

The Flag and the Spanish-American War

While it is only legend, with many historians proving it cannot be true, it is still one that gives pride to every American, knowing the creation of our flag. We believe the legend because it is heartwarming to feel we know the story of how the roots of our country were planted.

Next is a famous battle that became a decisive fight in the Spanish-American War known as The Battle of San Juan Hill, or San Juan Heights.  This running heights just east of Santiago, Cuba was one of the bloodiest battles of the war, but also the most famous victory of the Rough Riders.  Their commander was none other than the future president, Theodore Roosevelt.

There is documentation of this valiant battle, a firsthand account from Richard Harding Davis who was a reporter and present on this no-name hill in 1898. Writing about the charge up the hill, led by Colonel Roosevelt and General Hawkins, he describes,

“These two officers were notably conspicuous in the charge, but no one can claim that any two men, or anyone man, was more brave or more daring, or showed greater courage in that slow, stubborn advance than did any of the others . . .” (Courtesy of http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/roughriders.htm)

Continuing his account, Davis writes about the charge up the hill, men fighting all along the way, and concluding with this detailed description of the flag being hoisted to signify the taking of San Juan Hill.

“They drove the yellow silk flags of the cavalry and the Stars and Stripes of their country into the soft earth of the trenches, and then sank down and looked back at the road they had climbed and swung their hats in the air.” (Courtesy of http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/roughriders.htm)

The exhausted joy these men must have felt, knowing they survived and won, yet not knowing the picture of them surrounding the raised American flag would live on well over a century later.

The Flag and World War II

During World War II in the Pacific arena, there was an incredible battle in which the U.S. Marines landed and captured the island of Iwo Jima. It could easily be argued that this image is the most powerful image in our entire history.

The Japanese were hunkered down in underground bunkers, with hidden artillery units and miles of tunnels connecting it all.  For the Marines, it was like fighting a hornet’s nest. The Battle at Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest of the war, where the casualties of Americans were higher in number than on Japan’s side. This is mostly due to the quantity of soldiers sent to Iwo Jima, in order to guarantee a win.

The Marines had naval support and the Air Force dominated the skies, raining bombs on the Japanese bunkers. On the 5th day of the battle, which only lasted a total of 36 days, a group of American soldiers made up of five Marines and one Navy combat corpsman, raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi. Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo has become a symbol that is synonymous with World War II and the U.S Marine Corp.

The Flag and September 11th

A hauntingly similar photo, which elicits a strong emotional reaction ranging from anger, to sadness, to patriotism is the American flag-raising at Ground Zero, hoisted just hours after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center Towers. Three fireman, standing about 20 feet off the ground on debris, raised the flag in a way that is so eerily reminiscent of the Iwo Jima photo.

The terrorist attacks inspired such fear and anger in the American people that it created a unity which was unparalleled in this generation. People from all around the world rose to the challenge of helping New York clean up and recover from this tragedy. The photo truly serves as a rallying point for a wave of patriotism that rippled not only through America, but the world.

With all of the emotions tied into the emblem of our nation, it seems almost blasphemy to think of purchasing one made in China or Taiwan. If you want an American flag to display in your yard, home, or anywhere else, for that matter, buy American. AmericanFlags.com, located on Long Island, New York, opened their doors shortly after the September 11 attacks.  Check out our high quality products made by Americans, for Americans.