SAN DIEGO (NNS) — At morning colors on Sept. 11 2002, all U.S. Navy ships will begin flying the Don’t Tread On Me flag, the First Navy Jack, in place of the Union Jack for the duration of the global war on terrorism.
The flag, which was first used by the Continental Navy in 1775, consists of a rattlesnake superimposed across 13 alternating red and white stripes with the motto, Don’t Tread On Me flag.
Commodore Esek Hopkins used the First Navy Jack as a signal to engage the British in the American Revolution. The Jack in today’s fleet represents a historic reminder of the nation’s origin.
In a brief ceremony on Sept. 5, Capt. Ray Berube, Commanding Officer of the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center San Diego, presented Cmdr. Clayton Saunders, Commanding Officer, USS Rushmore (LSD 47) with a set of four flags.
Rushmore, along with the rest of the fleet’s ships, will begin flying the First Navy Jack on Patriot Day as directed by Secretary of the Navy Gordon England.
In accordance with the guidelines set forth by Secretary of the Navy Gordon England and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark, it is my pleasure to deliver to you the First Navy Jack to be flown on board USS Rushmore and all U.S. Navy ships during the global war on terrorism,” stated Berube.
Upon receiving the flags, Saunders spoke on how the First Navy Jack will bring to mind the part the Navy plays in attaining freedom.
In the years since 1775, our primary mission, to ensure the freedom of the seas, has remained unchanged. Today, terrorists threaten free commerce and individual liberty. This flag represents a renewed commitment by the Navy to our first principles, to secure freedom, both at home and abroad,” remarked Saunders. “It is fitting that the honor of receiving the first flag should fall to the Rushmore, America’s Gator.”
Each ship in the fleet will receive four flags (one holiday and three regular). Non-deployed ships received their initial Jack through their local FISC Logistics Support Center representative.
The flags were sent directly from the commercial vendor by mail to deployed ships. The flags will eventually be stocked and available through the Navy supply system. By Susan Civitillo, FISC San Diego Public Affairs.
The U.S. Navy’s First Jack & Don’t Tread On Me Flag
A jack is a flag corresponding in appearance to the union or canton of the national ensign. In the United States Navy, it is a blue flag containing a star for each state.
For countries whose colors have no canton, the jack is simply a small national ensign. On a sailing vessel, the jack is hoisted at the jack-staff shipped at the bowsprit cap when at anchor or in port.
The United States Navy originated as the Continental Navy, established early in the American Revolution by the Continental Congress by a resolution of 13 October 1775.
There is a widespread belief that ships of the Continental Navy flew a jack consisting of alternating red and white stripes, having the image of a rattlesnake stretched out across it, with the motto Don’t Tread on Me flag. That belief, however, rests on no firm base of historical evidence.
It is well documented that the rattlesnake and the motto “Don’t Tread on Me flag” were used together on several flags during the War of Independence.
The only question in doubt is whether the Continental Navy actually used a red and white striped flag with a rattlesnake and the motto Don’t Tread on Me flag as its jack. The evidence is inconclusive. There is reason to believe that the Continental Navy jack was simply a red and white striped flag with no other adornment.
The rattlesnake emerged as a symbol of the English colonies of North America about the time of the Seven Years War, when it appeared in newspaper prints with the motto “Join or Die.” By the time of the War of Independence, the rattlesnake, frequently used in conjunction with the motto Don’t Tread on Me flag was a common symbol for the United States, its independent spirit, and its resistance to tyranny.
Two American military units of the Revolution are known to have used the rattlesnake and the Don’t Tread on Me flag motto: Proctor’s Independent Battalion, of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and Sullivan’s Life Guard during the Rhode Island campaign of 1777. The rattlesnake and the motto also appeared on military accoutrements, such as drums, and on state paper currency, during the Revolution.
The image of the rattlesnake and the motto “Don’t Tread on Me” certainly had associations with the Continental Navy.
On 27 February 1777, a group of Continental Navy officers proposed that the full dress uniform of Continental Navy captains include a gold epaulet on the right shoulder with “the figure of a Rattle Snake Embroidered on the Strap . . . with the Motto don’t tread on me.”
In early 1776 Commodore Esek Hopkins, the first and only commander in chief of the Continental Navy fleet, used a personal standard designed by Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina.
This flag consisted of a yellow field with a coiled snake and the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.” There is no doubt as to the authenticity of Hopkins’s personal standard, usually referred to as “the Gadsden flag.”
Documentation on the Continental Navy Jack
The Pine Tree Flag
Col. Joseph Reed to Col. John Glover and Stephen Moylan, 20 October 1775, referring to Washington’s fleet of schooners:
Please to fix upon some particular Colour for a Flag–& a Signal, by which our vessels may know one another—What do you think of a Flag with a White Ground, a Tree in the Middle-the Motto (Appeal to Heaven)-This is the Flag of our floating Batteries.”
Sir Hugh Palliser to Lord Sandwich, 6 January 1776, referring to the flag of the captured brig Washington, of George Washington’s fleet:
Captain Medows has brought the American vessel’s colours, it is a white field with a green pine tree in the middle: the motto, Appeal to Heaven.”
The Massachusetts General Court established the flag of the state navy on 26 July 1776:
that the Colours be a white Flagg, with a green Pine Tree, and an Inscription, “Appeal to Heaven.'”
The Pine Tree and Rattlesnake in Combination
Journal of John Greenwood, midshipman in American privateer Cumberland, captured by HMS Pomona, 26 January 1778:
The Cumberland’s colors were a very large white flag, with a green pine tree painted in the middle of it, beneath which was represented a large black snake in thirteen coils and cut into as many pieces, emblematic of the thirteen United States; under the snake, in black letters, was the motto-“Join or Die.'”
A strange flag has lately appeared in our seas, bearing a pine tree with the portraiture of a rattlesnake coiled up at its roots, with these daring words, “Don’t tread on me.” We learn that the vessels bearing this flag have a sort of commission from a society of people at Philadelphia calling themselves the continental Congress.”
A contemporary English writer, quoted without citation in David Eggenberger, Flags of the USA (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1959), p. 25.
State and Merchant Flags of the United States
American Commissioners in France Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to the ambassador of Naples at the Court of France, 9 October 1778:
Some of the States have vessels of war distinct from those of the United States. For example, the vessels of war of the state of Massachusetts Bay have sometimes a pine tree; and those of the state of South Carolina a rattlesnake in the middle of thirteen stripes. Merchant ships have often only thirteen stripes, but the flag of the United States ordained by Congress is the thirteen stripes and the thirteen stars above described.”
The Gadsden Flag
Journal of the South Carolina Provincial Congress, 9 February 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 rattle-snake in the middle, in the attitude of going to strike, and these words underneath, “DON’T TREAD ON ME!”
Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg, Virginia, 11 May 1776:
The colours of the American Fleet to have a snake with thirteen rattles, the fourteenth budding, described in the attitude of going to strike, with this motto, “Don’t Tread on Me!“
Letter from New Providence, Bahamas (after the Continental fleet’s raid on New Providence), dated 13 May 1776, printed in London Ladies’ Magazine, July 1776:
The colors of the American fleet were striped under the Union, with thirteen strokes called the United Colonies, and their standard, a rattlesnake; motto-‘Don’t Tread on Me!'”
John Jay to Alexander McDougall, 23 March 1776:
As to continental Colors, the Congress have made no order as yet respecting them, and I believe the Captains of their armed Vessels have in that particular been directed by their own fancies and Inclinations. I remember to have seen a flag designed for one of them on which was extremely well painted a Rattle Snake rearing his Crest and shaking his Rattles, with this Motto “Dont tread on me”. But whether this Device was generally adopted by the fleet, I am not able to say. I rather think it was not.”
Don’t Tread On Me Flag: The Striped Jack
Esek Hopkins, “Signals for the American Fleet,” January 1776:
Signal for a General Attack-or the whole Fleet to Engage-The Standard at the Main top G. Masthead, with the strip’d Jack and Ensign at their proper places.”
Note: The “standard” refers to the Gadsden flag and the “ensign” to the Grand Union flag.
Notation in Esek Hopkins’s handwriting on letter to Hopkins from Christopher Gadsden, 15 January 1776:
Som one of the Fleet if to gather or the Small Sloop if a Lone will higst a striped flagg half up the flying Stay.”
Captain Charles Alexander’s Signals for the Continental Fleet in the Delaware, 25 August 1777, mentions the Continental jack several times, as in “To get under Way Continental Jack at the fore top Galant Mast Head,” as well as Dutch, English, and French jacks. The signal instructions do not describe the Continental jack.
The Rattlesnake Jack and the Modern Navy
As part of the commemoration of the bicentennial of the American Revolution, by an instruction dated 1 August 1975 (SECNAV Instruction 10520.3) the Secretary of the Navy directed the use of the rattlesnake jack in place of the union jack (blue field with white stars) during the period 13 October 1975 (the bicentennial of the legislation that created the Continental Navy, which the Navy recognizes as the Navy’s birthday), and 31 December 1976.
By an instruction dated 18 August 1980 (SECNAV Instruction 10520.4), the Secretary of the Navy directed that the commissioned ship in active status having the longest total period in active status to display the rattlesnake jack in place of the union jack until decommissioned or transferred to inactive status.
By an instruction dated 31 May 2002 (SECNAV Instruction 10520.6), the Secretary of the Navy directed the use of the rattlesnake jack in place of the union jack for the duration of the Global War on Terrorism.
28 July 2003