Monday, March 31, 2008

Revolutionary Flags

The intro clip to the HBO John Adams mini-series shows some pretty cool historical flags and I got curious so I decided to do a little research.

The one displayed most prominently prints the words "Join, or Die" under a snake with the initials of several U.S. States along its path.

This image is from a political cartoon drawn by Benjamin Franklin and was originally used to urge colonial unity against France (not Britain) for the French and Indian War. It was first published in 1754, 22 years before we declared our independence.
It is a woodcut showing a snake severed into eighths, with each segment labeled with the initial of a British American colony or region.

During that era, there was a superstition that a snake which had been cut into pieces would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset.
The rattlesnake had become a symbol for the colonies ever since Benjamin Franklin suggested sending Britain rattlesnakes in gratitude for sending us their convicted criminals.

The cartoon was popular and was reprinted in newspapers across the country. Its popularity returned, with new meaning, leading up to the Revolutionary War. Appropriately modified versions of the image were also used by both sides of the Civil War.

My other favorite from the clip is displayed only briefly but appears to be based on the Gadsden flag seen here.

A few others are shown and described at here.