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History of the Gadsden Flag
In the fall of 1775, the British were occupying Boston, and the young Continental Army was holed up in Cambridge, lacking the necessary supplies to last through the season. Welcome to the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was here that Washington’s troops—the young continental army—had been so low on gunpowder that they were ordered “not to fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”
Soon enough, a merchant ship was returning to Philadelphia from a voyage to England. On board were private letters to the Second Continental Congress that informed Washington’s troops that the British government was sending two ships their way loaded with arms and gunpowder. An opportunity to capture supplies that they couldn’t afford not to capitalize on.
A plan was hatched by Washington and the Second Continental Congress to capture the cargo ships. To do so, they quickly authorized the creation of a Continental Navy, starting with four ships, including the merchant ship that carried the information from England.
To accompany the Navy on their first mission, Congress also authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines. Some of the Marines that enlisted that month in Philadelphia were carrying drums painted yellow, emblazoned with a fierce rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike, with thirteen rattles, and sporting the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.”