Coiled Rattlesnake – Symbol of America

By Faye Higbee

Benjamin Franklin’s writings from the Revolution were often satirical, sometimes serious. One of his signature issues was to use the Rattlesnake as a symbol of the colonies. Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children has produced a challenge coin with the coiled Rattlesnake on it and perhaps if you read on, you’ll see why.

Franklin was upset about a lot of things, but England dumping their felons on the colonies made him angry. So he wrote that the colonists should catch a bunch of rattlesnakes and send them all to England as fair “trade” for the King’s actions.

“In the Spring of the Year, when they first creep out of their Holes, they are feeble, heavy, slow, and easily taken; and if a small Bounty were allow’d per Head, some Thousands might be collected annually, and transported to Britain. There I would propose to have them carefully distributed in St. James’s Park, in the Spring-Gardens and other Places of Pleasure about London; in the Gardens of all the Nobility and Gentry throughout the Nation; but particularly in the Gardens of the Prime Ministers, the Lords of Trade and Members of Parliament; for to them we are most particularly obliged…I would only add, That this Exporting of Felons to the Colonies, may be consider’d as a Trade, as well as in the Light of a Favour. Now all Commerce implies Returns: Justice requires them: There can be no Trade without them. And Rattle-Snakes seem the most suitable Returns for the Human Serpents sent us by our Mother Country. In this, however, as in every other Branch of Trade, she will have the Advantage of us. She will reap equal Benefits without equal Risque of the Inconveniencies and Dangers. For the RattleSnake gives Warning before he attempts his Mischief; which the Convict does not.”

Franklin used the rattlesnake in one of his cartoons, seen here in the famous “Join or Die” picture from the Pennsylvania Gazette in May of 1754. The old myth that a snake cut in pieces would eventually rejoin together is where the idea originated. His desire was that the colonies stop bickering and become unified.

In 1775, Georgia issued a $20 note with the image of a coiled Rattlesnake on it. Some of those notes are now offered on E-Bay for $3,000- $5,000.

It carries the inscription, “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit” – “No one will provoke me with impunity.”

Ben Franklin even wrote in the Pennsylvania Journal, an op-ed in which he called himself “an American Guesser,” that the Rattlesnake was an exceptional example of the colonies. The Rattlesnake is found only in the Americas.

Franklin saw US Marine drums emblazoned with the image of the coiled snake on them, and noted that the picture had 13 rattles…which he felt were a sign of the unity of the colonies. He felt the Rattlesnake was perfect as an emblem of fledgling nation.

“…She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.” Benjamin Franklin – “the American Guesser”

 USMC

The famous “Don’t Tread on Me” flag – the Gadsden Flag- was presented to Esek Hopkins, the Commander of the Navy in 1775 by American General Christopher Gadsden, who flew the design on his own ship.  It became one of the Continental Marines’ first mottos and flags.

“The Gadsden flag, designed by Christopher Gadsden who was one of three men who commissioned the first five companies of Marines. Marines enlisting had a coiled rattlesnake with “Don’t Tread On Me” on their drums.”

Eventually, the Marine Corps adopted the Eagle,Globe, and Anchor as its symbol in 1868. But the coiled Rattlesnake remains an important part of not just American history, but USMC history as well. And there is a correlation to what we are facing today…

Do the enemies of today notice the coiling of Patriotic Americans? No one will continue to provoke us continuously with impunity.

The coin is made of 100% US steel and is made with lead-free pewter. By Americans for Americans.

You can get your own challenge coin at this link:

https://unclesamsmisguidedchildren.com/collections/accessories/products/usmc-challenge-coin