What does the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag mean?

The Gadsden, Don't Tread On Me Flag,
The Gadsden, Don't Tread On Me Flag,





You’ve likely seen the flag before, whether in history class or popular culture. It’s golden yellow, a coiled snake in the center with the phrase of defiance “Don’t Tread On Me” stationed below it. Of all the flags representing eras in American history, this one, also known as the Gadsden Flag, is among the most recognizable.

The Flag In Parts

The Gadsden, Don't Tread On Me Flag, with distressed grungy vintage treatment
The Gadsden, Don’t Tread On Me Flag, with distressed grungy vintage treatment

Let’s break down each of the flag pieces, as they represent notable parts in the conception of America.

Yellow Color

There isn’t a lot of insight regarding why Christopher Gadsen, namesake and creator of the flag, chose the bright golden color to serve as the background of the flag, though the color earned a significant air of symbolism during the 1970s.

During the rise of libertarianism in the 70s, supporters of the movement repurposed Gadsen’s flag to represent the individual rights of the citizens and a limited government. The bright yellow color, subsequently, became deeply representative of the libertarian movement- its hex code being used to depict the cause even today. 


Benjamin Franklin championed one of the first political cartoons, depicting a snake cut into 13 pieces (representing the colonies). The picture is captioned “Join, Or Die”. This cartoon was originally made to showcase the need for colonial togetherness during the French and Indian War, but it later became a symbol for America’s revolt against the British.

Gadsden found the snake to be the perfect symbol for his flag, though he took it upon himself to join the once-separated pieces together, forming a snake- coiled and ready to strike. The snake is reminiscent of an American rattlesnake, an animal native to America, thus further driving home America’s separation from Britain.


The phrase “Don’t Tread On Me!” is coined by Gadsden himself. He was a soldier, as well as a politician from the colony of South Carolina.

The phrase was based on the depiction of the snake. “Tread” in this instance means to step, walk, or press on something with the intent to injure. If you were to step on a snake, you would be asking for a bite, as if to say if Britain tried to impede on the Americas in any way, they would be met with rage from all 13 colonies.

History Of The Flag

The Gadsden flag is widely thought of as the first flag of America, and it was later replaced with the standard stars and stripes flag that we’re so used to today.

It was initially flown on the USS Alfred, a merchant vessel that launched in 1774, and was put into the air by none other than John Paul Jones- the face of the Revolutionary War. It later became the first official flag for the US Marine Corps.

The flag hasn’t gotten lost in history, as it is frequently used as a symbol for individual liberties, and to showcase disagreement or unhappiness with the government (or the way a local government is running a state). 


Hi and welcome to my travel blog! Based in London, I work in investment banking in a quantitative field and although I am not part of the travel industry, I have a ton of passion for travel. My blog is a reference guide for my fellow travelers with the same passion as me. Hopefully the blog is easy to navigate and my aim is to bring the most relevant and interesting information before you begin your journey!