Last modified: 2014-11-01 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | rattlesnake | dont tread on me | culpeper | virginia |
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image by Rick Wyatt, 5 April 1998
The Culpeper flag is somewhat doubtful historically. It only dates to Lossing's 19th Century book on the American Revolution and there isn't any documentation about it otherwise. Also, there are no colors as it was illustrated as a line drawing. Also, Lossing says the Culpeper Minute Men used it but also says they were active 1776-77, so 1775 date not supported at all. There is supposed to be a contemporary account of this flag, but it cannot be found.
Dave Martucci, 21 December 1997
While I personally cannot account for the historical usage of the flag, I know that the flag was indeed used in the Revolution by soldiers from Culpeper County, Virginia. I know this because Culpeper County is just north of Madison County, where I am from, and during the Revolution Madison was still part of Culpeper and Orange counties. Several people
from the Madison area fought in the Culpeper Minutemen. I also know that the Culpeper flag was flown by several Civil War Confederate units from the area. Quite a few Madison residents served in those units and the flag is documented in their letters home which are preserved at the Madison Public Library and the Kemper Mansion in the town of Madison. I also know that the flag of the Culpeper Minutemen is currently used as the official flag of Culpeper County, Virginia.
Randy Young, 29 November 1998
I recently received from the Culpeper County administrator some photocopied pages from the book "Culpeper: A Virginia County's History Through 1920," written by the Culpeper Historical Society, Inc., and Eugene M. Scheel, (c) 1982, published by Green Publishers, Inc., Orange, Virginia. In the book there is an account of the Culpeper Minutemen flag as written in the diary of Philip Slaughter, one of the soldiers in the unit, during the summer of 1775 when the unit was raised. Beginning on page 55 it says of the unit:
"Their flag was special. Philip Slaughter described its central symbol as a coiled rattlesnake about to strike, and below it the words 'Don't tread on me!' At each side was the inscription 'Liberty of Death!' - those words of Patrick Henry, spoken that March at the second Virginia revolutionary convention. At the flag's top was the inscription 'The Culpeper Minute Men.' Benjamin Franklin had used the snake, cut into pieces, in his 1754 'Join, or Die' cartoon, and continued use of the serpent in newspapers in the post-1765 period undoubtedly prompted the Culpeper banner. The flag appears to predate the more famous Rhode Island rattlesnake banner presented by Col. Christopher Gadsden to the South Carolina Provincial Congress in February, 1776, and is contemporaneous with the Fifth Pennsylvania Regiment rattlesnake flag. Both these banners also bore the words 'Don't tread on me.'"On page 57, it goes into more detail about the flag:
"And following the name was the fascination of the flag. The Reverend Slaughter happened to come across a February 25, 1776, copy of the London 'Morning Chronicle,' and in it he saw, as he called it, 'a remarkable article in these words': 'The Americans have a flag with a snake with 13 rattles on it, in the attitude to strike, and with the motto, "Don't tread on me." It is a rule in heraldry that the worthy properties of an animal on a crest should alone be considered. The rattlesnake is an emblem of America, being found in no other part of the world. The eye excels in brightness. It has no eye-lids, and is therefore an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, and never surrenders, and is therefore an emblem of magnanimity. She never wounds until she has given warning. Her weapons are not displayed until drawn for defence. Her power of fascination resembles America - those who look steadily on her are involuntarily drawn towards, and having once approached, never leave her. She is beautiful in youth, and her beauty increases with age. Her tongue is forked as lightning.'"So, according the book "Culpeper: A Virginia County's History Through 1920," there is a reference to the flag in the diary of one of the soldiers, written in the summer of 1775, and also in an article of the London "Morning Chronicle" in February 1776.