What Does 'Don’t Tread on Me' Mean

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What Does 'Don’t Tread on Me' Mean

If you grew up in the United States, at some point in your life, you’ve probably seen the historic “Don’t Tread on Me” flag being waved around somewhere. Typically printed on a yellow flag displaying a graphic of a coiled rattlesnake, this flag has been used by Americans for centuries. It’s one of the oldest, most classic American symbols ever. It is also known as the Gadsden flag. 

The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is one of the first original flags in our nation’s history. In the past, it’s been adopted by politicians, the military, and of course, the good ‘ol American people! Besides the country’s official stars and stripes banner, it is one of the most commonly used flags by Americans. 

But what exactly does it mean? And where does it come from? Most people today are unaware of the flag’s deep cultural ties and its connection to our nation’s history. This meaning has been blurred further by some political groups using the flag for their own, separate intent. However, every American should know what this flag truly symbolizes. 


There are a few different accounts of where the Gadsden flag first originated. Not all the timelines are the same, but there is a general consensus of how it was created. One thing is for certain: the flag was first used during the Revolutionary War in the 1770s. 

During this time, America was still just a faction of Great Britain, split up into different colonies in the New World. The story begins in the early years of the war when the Continental Army, led by General George Washington, was camped out at a base in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The troops were gravely undersupplied, with barely any gun powder left to fight. The British were occupying Boston at this time. 

The Americans’ luck turned when one of their merchant ships landed from England with information about several British supply ships. They received intel that the British were going to sail for America soon, equipped with ammunition and military supplies. The Continental Congress (the U.S. government at the time) had devised a plan to hijack these ships. 

The plan was to create a navy, which they would later call “The Continental Navy.” It was a fledgling navy with only seven ships. As part of this plan, Congress authorized the recruitment of five marine companies. This is where the Gadsden flag’s symbols were first recorded: many of the marines that enlisted were carrying yellow drums displaying an image of a rattlesnake, coiled and ready to attack. 

The words “Don’t Tread on Me” were printed on the drums as well. 

Gadsden Association

One of the marines that enlisted in The Continental Navy was continental colonel Chris Gadsden, a South Carolina native and one of seven members of the Marine Committee’s first naval mission. Before the conclusion of the first mission, Gadsden passed on the yellow rattlesnake flag to the newly hired commander-in-chief of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins. It is believed that he designed the flag himself.

Gadsden was one of the main advocates of the flag, even presenting a copy of it to Congress in 1776 in Charleston, South Carolina. He gave it to them so it could be used by every commander-in-chief of the Navy. It quickly became popular as an American symbol of independence. 

Christoper Gadsden was an American patriot and a very influential American military figure during the 18th century. He was ranked as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army. Aside from his military career, he was a merchant and politician. 

In the war, he was the commander of the First South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army. Later on, Gadsden also became a delegate to Congress. 

The Meaning of the Gadsden Flag

The rattlesnake is the main symbol on the Gadsden flag. Eastern diamondback and timber rattlesnakes were both fairly common in the colonies. However, it only became a symbol used by Americans when Benjamin Franklin began bringing attention to its value. 

In a satirical article, Benjamin Franklin suggests that Americans send rattlesnakes to Great Britain in retaliation for sending convicts to the colonies. In addition, Franklin wanted to brand the rattlesnake as an official mascot for America. He believed that the rattlesnake possessed qualities parallel to America’s vision. 

Originally, the rattlesnake was a symbol of Americans’ resistant, relentless nature, spurred on by Britain’s mistreatment of them. It painted a picture of America as the underdog, sort of a victim to outside forces. 

Today, the significance behind this symbol still rings true, as every day, new people are fighting for their freedom in our nation. Whether it is economic freedom, social freedom, or something entirely else, this underdog mentality is still extremely prevalent among Americans. No matter what, we will fight for what we deserve. 

Here at Printed Kicks, we’re keeping the Gadsden flag alive, offering over 40 articles of clothing and accessories that display the “Don’t Tread on Me” message. T-shirts, hoodies, hats, tumblers, decals; you name it. We’ve got it. 

Modern Day Relevance of the Gadsden Flag

The Continental Marines is the most popular group to have used the Gadsden flag, but it has been adopted by several other groups today. Most notably, the Tea Party movement, a fiscally conservative group within the Republican party, uses the flag.

It has been adopted as a symbol of freedom, particularly in the face of government overreach and tyranny. This iconic imagery of resistance is more relevant than ever in today’s day and age of unconstitutional lockdowns. This flag is absolutely pro-revolution, and demonstrates our right to do just that if it becomes necessary. If you’re proud of your heritage and the history of fighters, revolutionaries, and freedom fighters, this is the flag for you, and you should be able to display it proudly, whether as an actual flag or printed on clothing or a hat.

Those that know this flag’s origins and how it was used historically know its true meaning—and we continue to wear it proudly. 

Variations of the Flag

Over the years, several variations of this flag have been created. Occasionally, you may see some minor changes to the Gadsden flag, like a change in font, color, or the direction the snake is facing. Some variations of the flag will also omit the apostrophe in the word, “Don’t.”

Recently, many versions of the Gadsden flag also include a patch of green grass underneath the snake. The grass may be a symbol, suggesting that the snake is in its natural habitat, only striking when provoked by an outsider. 


The Gadsden flag sheds light on a very important era of American history. During the time these symbols were created, Americans were subject to the reign of Great Britain. They themselves were like a rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike against the predatory attacks by others. 

Today, this message is still relevant. There are so many Americans still trying to fight for their freedom and carve out a new life for themselves. This flag epitomizes the nature of all Americans; we are persistent. We will always rise up. 

These values were exemplified by the heroic actions of Chris Gadsden, who volunteered his life on the line to assist his comrades in need. His accomplishments, both as a soldier and as a creative visionary, are truly timeless.

As Americans, it is our responsibility to honor the contributions of our predecessors and keep these messages alive. 

Show your support of the Gadsden legacy by shopping at Printed Kicks! We have the widest selection of clothing and accessories displaying the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. We also have flags themselves, both for indoor and outdoor use. 



The Shifting Symbolism of the Gadsden Flag |The New Yorker 

Don't Tread on Me – The Gadsden Flag and its Meaning | Knife Up  

Gadsden Flag History: The Meaning Behind "Don't Tread On Me" | ammo.com 

Don't Tread on Me: The Meaning & History Behind the Gadsden Flag | More Than Surviving 

Continental Congress | History 

Gadsden, Christopher | South Carolina Encyclopedia

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