What does a yellow snake flag, also known as a Gadsden flag, mean? During a number of recent protests, some people have been seen waving the historic yellow flag, which features a snake and the warning ‘don’t tread on me’. The meaning of this flag has changed over the centuries – so let’s look back at some of these meanings.

The meaning behind the yellow snake flag

After watching events at the Capitol building unfold on social media and TV this week, some people took to Twitter to share their curiosity about the yellow snake flags they noticed in the crowd.

The convoluted history of the Gadsden flag

The yellow snake flag was named after US general and politician Christopher Gadsden, who designed it in 1775 during the American Revolutionary war.

The flag is distinguished by its yellow background, featuring a coiled snake ready to strike and the words ‘don’t tread on me’.

Initially, the flag was widely used by the US Navy and Marine Corps and later became considered a symbol of freedom.

It is unclear where the expression ‘don’t tread on me’ originates from but its recorded usage dates to 1775.

According to a website dedicated to the flag’s history, the coiled snake, yellow background and message were displayed on drums of Philadelphia marines.

Other uses of ‘don’t tread on me’

In 1991, Metallica released a single entitled Don’t Tread On Me, the title and lyrics of which seem to allude to meanings associated with the Gadsden snake.

According to a Songfacts article about the single, the idea of the rattlesnake as a symbol of America was first thought of by Benjamin Franklin when he published the world’s first political cartoon in 1754.

The article states: “It was a rattlesnake cut into several pieces and each part labelled a different colony. Under the snake it said ‘Join, or Die’, encouraging colonial unity in standing up to the homeland monarchy (Britain) ruling them from across the sea.”

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