Gadsden Flag
Don't Tread on Me

The Gadsden Flag's Namesake

Christopher Gadsden & Esek Hopkins

Although Benjamin Franklin helped create the American rattlesnake symbol, his name isn't generally attached to the rattlesnake flag. The yellow "don't tread on me" standard is usually called a Gadsden flag, for Colonel Christopher Gadsden, or less commonly, a Hopkins flag, for Commodore Esek Hopkins.

These two individuals were mulling about Philadelphia at the same time, making important contributions to American history and the history of the rattlesnake flag.

Christopher Gadsden was an American patriot if ever there was one. He led Sons of Liberty in South Carolina starting in 1765, and was later made a colonel in the Continental Army. In 1775 he was in Philadelphia representing his home state in the Continental Congress. He was also one of three members of the Marine Committee who decided to outfit and man the Alfred and its sister ships.

Esek Hopkins portrait with Dont Tread on Me flag in background
Commodore Hopkins, portrait by C. Corbutt, 1776. Click here for a larger image. The Don't Tread on Me flag in this image appears to be a First Navy Jack. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Gadsden and Congress chose a Rhode Island man, Esek Hopkins, as the commander-in-chief of the Navy. The flag that Hopkins used as his personal standard on the Alfred is the one we would now recognize. It's likely that John Paul Jones, as the first lieutenant on the Alfred, ran it up the gaff.

It's generally accepted that Hopkins' flag was presented to him by Christopher Gadsden, who felt it was especially important for the commodore to have a distinctive personal standard. Gadsden also presented a copy of this flag to his state legislature in Charleston. This is recorded 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!"

Next Page: The Culpeper Flag

Note: This history of the Gadsden flag was written by me, Chris Whitten, based on extensive personal research. It also appears on You are welcome to quote from it, reprint excerpts, or even republish the entire thing. However, please give me credit and link to If you want to copy images, see the Gadsden flag clip art page. Thanks!

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