Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Gadsden Flag - Don't Tread On Me

There was a story in the news recently about a City Council that has ordered one of America's Historic Flags, one of our Nation's original banners used during the American Revolution, the Gadsden Flag, to be removed from a building. Their reasoning? Well, they said it is "a symbol of the Tea Party" - and subsequently they ordered it removed from a military armory in New Rochelle, New York. 

Isn't it amazing how many people don't know American History? So allow me to help. Yes, the Gadsden Flag was used during The Revolutionary War, aka the American War of Independence 

In 1775, General George Washington stopped in New Rochelle on his way to assume command of the Army of the United Colonies in Massachusetts. The British Army briefly occupied sections of New Rochelle and Larchmont in 1776. 

Following British victory in the Battle of White Plains, New Rochelle became part of a "Neutral Ground" for General Washington to regroup his troops.

So yes, as incredible as it sounds, a city back East which has roots in the American Revolution has ordered that one of America's Historic Flags which was actually used during the American Revolution, the Gadsden Flag, be removed from one of their buildings. 

Thankfully soon after that took place, a veterans group in New York started actions to take the City of New Rochelle to court over the issue of having ordered the Gadsden Flag be removed. 

What took place? 

Well, the city of New Rochelle, N.Y., removed the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag from the New Rochelle Armory after the City Council refused to let a Veterans Organization display the flag.

The United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association of New Rochelle is now fighting the decision, ordered by City Manager Chuck Strome after complaints that the flag is "a symbol of the Tea Party movement."

Chuck Strome changed his mind after Peter Parente, president of United Veterans Memorial, sent Mr Strome the history of the Gadsden Flag, which is flown beneath the U.S. flag on many military sites. But even though Strome was educated on the subject and subsequently changed his mind, the New Rochelle City Council overruled Strome and voted 5-2 to have the flag removed. Imagine that!

One can only wonder if the City Council was informed of the history behind the Gadsden Flag or not? If so, then they obviously don't give a shit what its historic significance truly is - or how it should be shown respect.

According to the Washington Examiner, the New Rochelle City Council objected to the flag because they said Parente is a member of the Tea Party and wants to display the flag to push a "political agenda." They assume such.

Now what was that which we were all told about the word assume? Oh yes, the City Council "assumes" that since Peter Parente said no one in the veterans group is a Tea Party member, it must be true.

"I'm a proud Republican," he told the city council, according to the Examiner.

Now, the veterans group has found an ally in the Thomas More Law Center and are ready to go to court. "Their outrageous decision to confiscate a cherished symbol of our War for Independence smacks of pure partisan politics," said Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.

"Many Americans fought and died for our independence under that flag, and the law center will take available means to return the Gadsden flag back on the veterans’ flag pole. As one Revolutionary War hero said, 'we have just begun to fight,'" he added.

The Gadsden Flag

The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a snake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the snake are the words "Don't tread on me".

The flag was designed by and is named after American General and statesman Christopher Gadsden. It was also used by the Continental Marines as an early motto flag.

Snake Symbolism 

The timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback rattlesnake both populate the geographical areas of the original thirteen colonies. Their use as a symbol of the American colonies can be traced back to the publications of Benjamin Franklin. 

Benjamin Franklin is famous for his wit and effective sense of humor. In 1751, he wrote a satirical commentary in his Pennsylvania Gazette suggesting that as a way to thank the British for their policy of sending convicted felons to America, American colonists should send rattlesnakes to England. Three years later, in 1754, he used a snake to illustrate another point. This time not so humorous.

Franklin sketched, carved, and published the first known political cartoon in an American newspaper. It was the image of a snake cut into eight sections. 

The sections represented the individual colonies and the curves of the snake suggested the coastline. New England was combined into one section as the head of the snake. South Carolina was at the tail, following their order along the coast. Beneath the snake were the ominous words "Join, or Die."

This was the first political cartoon published in an American newspaper. 

This had nothing to do with independence from Britain. It was a plea for unity in defending the colonies during the French and Indian War. It played off a common superstition of the time: A snake that had been cut into pieces could come back to life if you joined the sections together before sunset.

When American colonies came to identify more with their own community and liberty than as subjects of the British empire, icons such as Franklin's snake that were unique to America became increasingly popular.

The rattlesnake, like the bald eagle and American Indian, came to symbolize American ideals and society. As the American Revolution grew, the snake began to see more use as a symbol of the colonies.

In 1774, Paul Revere added it to the title of his paper, the Massachusetts Spy, as a snake joined to fight a British dragon.

In December 1775, Benjamin Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal under the pseudonym American Guesser in which he suggested that the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit:

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 shewn 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? -- Benjamin Franklin

Gadsden's flag

In the fall of 1775, the United States Navy was established by Commander in Chief of all Continental Forces, General George Washington, before Esek Hopkins was named Commodore of the Navy, with seven ships.

Often called "Washington Cruisers", that flew the simple triangle shaped green tree with a trunk, the "Liberty Tree Flag" with the motto "Appeal to Heaven" according to the 20 October 1775 letter of Washington's aide Colonel Joseph Reed, that is in the Library of Congress.

Throughout the early Revolutionary War period there were several of these "Liberty Tree" flags used by the colonists.

In the book, Our Flag, the author writes:

The old liberty tree in Boston was the largest of a grove of beautiful elms that stood in Hanover square at the corner of Orange . . . and Essex streets . . . It received the name of liberty tree, from the association called the Sons of Liberty holding their meetings under it during the summer of 1765. The ground under it was called Liberty Hall. A pole fastened to its trunk rose far above its branching top, and when a red flag was thrown to the breeze the signal was understood by the people. Here the Sons of Liberty held many notable meetings, and pacards and banners were often suspended from the limbs or affixed to the tree.

Meetings were held at this tree and following the repeal of the Stamp Act and the Boston Tea Party, the British cut down the tree. And yes, that's when it became a symbol for the American colonists.

Our Navy and Marine Corps and the Gadsden Flag

In the fall of 1775, the British were occupying Boston and the young Continental Army was holed up in Cambridge, woefully short on arms and ammunition.

At the Battle of Bunker Hill, Washington's troops had been so low on gunpowder that they were ordered "not to fire until you see the whites of their eyes."

In October, a merchant ship called The Black Prince returned to Philadelphia from a voyage to England.

On board were private letters to the Second Continental Congress that informed them that the British government was sending two ships to America loaded with arms and gunpowder for the British troops.

Congress decided that General Washington needed those arms more than General Howe, so a plan was hatched to capture the British cargo ships.

They authorized the creation of a Continental Navy, starting with four ships. The frigate that carried the information from England, the Black Prince, was one of the four. It was purchased, converted to a man-of-war, and renamed the Alfred.

To accompany the Navy on their first mission, Congress also authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines. 

Those first ships were used to intercept incoming British ships carrying war supplies to the British troops in the colonies to both deprive the supplies to the British and to supply to the Continental Army.

One ship captured by Captain John Manley had 30,000 pairs of shoes on it, but the admiralty agent demanded his 2 1/2 per cent commission before he would release the cargo for Washington's army, so many soldiers marched barefoot in the snow.

Remember, to aid in this, the Second Continental Congress authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines to accompany the Navy on their first mission.

By 1775, the snake symbol wasn't just being printed in newspapers. It was appearing all over the colonies, on uniform buttons, on paper money, and of course, on banners and flags.

The snake symbol morphed quite a bit during its rapid, widespread adoption. It was no longer cut up into pieces. It was usually shown as an American timber rattlesnake, not just some generic serpent.

The first Continental Marines enlisted in the city of Philadelphia, and they carried drums painted yellow, depicting a coiled rattlesnake with thirteen rattles, and the motto "Don't Tread On Me." Yes, our Marines have the honor of being the first to have a recorded mention of the future Gadsden flag's symbolism.

At the Congress, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden represented his home state of South Carolina. He was one of seven members of the Marine Committee who were outfitting the first naval mission.

Before the departure of that first mission in December 1775, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, received the yellow rattlesnake flag from Gadsden to serve as the distinctive personal standard of his flagship.

It was displayed at the mainmast. Gadsden also presented a copy of this flag to the Congress of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina.

This was recorded in the South Carolina congressional journals on February 9, 1776:

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 rattlesnake in the middle in the attitude of going to strike and these words underneath, "Don't tread on me."

The Navy later adapted the snake emblem and "Don’t Tread on Me" motto into what is now known as the First Navy Jack. It features a rattlesnake stretched across 13 red and white stripes with "Don’t Tread on Me" below.

It is interesting to note that in 2002, the Secretary of the Navy under President George W. Bush ordered this powerful American symbol will fly on all naval ships for the duration of the War on Terrorism.

President Obama has ordered the Department of the Navy to stop flying this historic flag because they relate its use to the Tea Party who uses many items that the Obama Administration doesn't like to look at -- such as the Constitution of the United States.

About the same time Gadsden presented the Congress of South Carolina with his yellow flag another variation of the snake theme was gaining in popularity.

The Culpeper flag, the white banner carried by the Minutemen of Culpeper County, Virginia, is essentially the Gadsden flag with several additions.

A ribbon with the words “The Culpeper Minute Men” was added along with the words “Liberty or Death” in honor of the man who organized the Virginia militia, Patrick Henry.

The bright yellow Gadsden flag, which has long been a symbol of support for civil liberties, has its beginning deeply rooted in the days of the American Revolution. Yes, it is a part of our Revolution to be free, our history, and those who fought to make us free.

The rattlesnake, the Gadsden flag’s central feature, had been an emblem of Americans before and during the American Revolution. The Gadsden Flag stands for personal freedoms and liberties.

It's message, "Don't Tread On Me" is a message to anyone that tries to take them away.

And just for the record, if someone wanted to fly a real rebel flag, all they have to do is fly this one ...

Called the Grand Union Flag, or the Continental Union Flag, it is believed to be the first U.S. flag. The British saw it as a rebel flag, subsequently it is America's Original Rebel Flag!

Tom Correa


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