Author Topic: Why the Rattle-Snake?  (Read 762 times)

Offline Publican

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Why the Rattle-Snake?
« on: July 05, 2012, 08:21:28 PM »
Most of you have seen the iconic symbol of the Rattlesnake on many flags including The Gadsden Flag. There are many people (including me) who have identified with one version or another of this symbol. But what do you really know about the earliest history of the Rattle-Snake(Purportedly Ben Franklin's spelling), its symbolism and why it was adopted by so many of our Forefathers? Let me compile some of the information into 1 easily accessible source for you reading pleasure. I cross referenced this information from multiple sources in an attempt to be as historically accurate as is possible.


The earliest mention (by our Forefathers specifically) that I could find was in 1751. Ben Franklin purportedly suggested in the Pennsylvania Gazette that America should send a "cargo of Rattle-Snakes" back to England "...particularly in the nobleman's gardens." This was in retaliation for the "British practice of sending convicts to America."

Three years later on May 9th, 1754 Franklin published his famous cartoon. The Rattle-Snake (as seen in the picture) is severed into eighths. This was done to stress to the Albany Congress the danger of disunity(as the conflict between England and France over the Ohio Valley was expanding into war). During that era, there was also a superstition that a snake which had been cut into pieces would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset.

Each segment was labeled with the initial of a British/American Colony or region. New England was represented at the head. This included  the colonies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Continuing from the head back are: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina at the tail. Delaware and Georgia were omitted completely.

Robert C. Newbold has speculated that Georgia was probably excluded from the snake image "because, as a defenseless frontier area, it could contribute nothing to common security..."Only three laws had been passed in Georgia since its founding as a colony in 1732, prompting a historian of the colony and state to conclude, "The hope that Georgia might become a self-reliant province of soldier-farmers had not succeeded, and even the early debtor-haven dream had not come to pass."

Delaware, Newbold added, "shared the same governor, albeit a different legislature, as Pennsylvania; hence the Gazette probably considered it as included with Pennsylvania."  As with the snake image, the Albany Plan, drafted during the congress, did not include Georgia and Delaware in its proposed colonial union for mutual defense and security.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Now to why Franklin viewed the Rattle-Snake as the perfect symbol for America. If you subscribe to popular opinion that the author of the following letter from "An American Guesser" published in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 27, 1775 was Benjamin Franklin - then you can get a glimpse into his frame of mind.

Understand now that this letter was written AFTER the Rattle-Snake was borrowed by others (In 1774, Paul Revere added it to the title of his paper, the Massachusetts Spy, as a snake joined to fight a British dragon). The letter can be seen below:

Quote
I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, "Don't tread on me." As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America; and as I have nothing to do with public affairs, and as my time is perfectly my own, in order to divert an idle hour, I sat down to guess what could have been intended by this uncommon device - I took care, however, to consult on this occasion a person who is acquainted with heraldry, from whom I learned, that it is a rule among the learned of that science "That the worthy properties of the animal, in the crest-born, shall be considered," and, "That the base ones cannot have been intended;" he likewise informed me that the ancients considered the serpent as an emblem of wisdom, and in a certain attitude of endless duration - both which circumstances I suppose may have been had in view. Having gained this intelligence, and recollecting that countries are sometimes represented by animals peculiar to them, it occurred to me that the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America, and may therefore have been chosen, on that account, to represent her.
 
But then "the worldly properties" of a Snake I judged would be hard to point out. This rather raised than suppressed my curiosity, and having frequently seen the Rattle-Snake, I ran over in my mind every property by which she was distinguished, not only from other animals, but from those of the same genus or class of animals, endeavoring to fix some meaning to each, not wholly inconsistent with common sense.
 
I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. 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.
 
Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America? The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food, and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies. This may be understood to intimate that those things which are destructive to our enemies, may be to us not only harmless, but absolutely necessary to our existence. I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, 'till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. Perhaps it might be only fancy, but, I conceited the painter had shown a half formed additional rattle, which, I suppose, may have been intended to represent the province of Canada.
 
'Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.
 
The Rattle-Snake is solitary, and associates with her kind only when it is necessary for their preservation. In winter, the warmth of a number together will preserve their lives, while singly, they would probably perish. The power of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood to mean, that those who consider the liberty and blessings which America affords, and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but spend their lives with her. She strongly resembles America in this, that she is beautiful in youth and her beauty increaseth with her age, "her tongue also is blue and forked as the lightning, and her abode is among impenetrable rocks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            - An American Guesser



Note that in his letter Franklin refers to our Country as well as the Snake in the feminine.



Below you can see the consolidated list of qualities Franklin saw in the Rattle-Snake:

-Her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. 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.

- 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.

-The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food, and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies. This may be understood to intimate that those things which are destructive to our enemies, may be to us not only harmless, but absolutely necessary to our existence.

-I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles(on the standard), 'till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America....'Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.

-The Rattle-Snake is solitary, and associates with her kind only when it is necessary for their preservation. In winter, the warmth of a number together will preserve their lives, while singly, they would probably perish.

-She strongly resembles America in this, that she is beautiful in youth and her beauty increaseth with her age.

-Her tongue also is blue and forked as the lightning, and her abode is among impenetrable rocks.





When described in this fashion, how can anyone not agree that the Rattle-Snake was the perfect symbol for America.
"I regard giving as necessary to right the balance..." Hu Chung

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Offline oladcock

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2012, 08:44:33 PM »
Good read! To go with that, the Navy Jack used the 13 stripes, the out-stretched rattlesnake with "Don't Tread on Me" below it started being used sometime in 1780's and is still in use today...O.L.

http://www.navyjack.info/history.html
« Last Edit: July 05, 2012, 08:46:23 PM by oladcock »
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Offline Johnnyappleseed

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2012, 09:43:46 PM »
Very enjoyable read . I learned a lot about the symbol colonist's used and more importantly why.

Some years back I  read a rattle snake is a nice little animal that bothers no one until you provoke it . Then it unleashes a furious attack .

This well researched post confirms my earlier thoughts and adds so much more . May be fun to use 2-4 minutes on this earliest american symbol on Sun during a water break. Probably best to ask questions and then credit Frankin with clarifing the concept.

Thanx so much for posting this Publican  O0 
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
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Offline slim

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2012, 10:41:15 PM »
Awesome post! Thanks, Publican.

Now, can you find us one on why Franklin thought the TURKEY!!! ought to be our national bird?

Offline Mutti

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2012, 10:45:37 PM »
For more interesting symbols,    "Liberty and Freedom" by David Hackett Fischer has some very interesting discussions of the "whys".  While not confined to the Revolutionary War - this is a book one might enjoy borrowing from the Library:

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Liberty-and-Freedom/David-Hackett-Fischer/e/9780195162530/

*edited for spelling.

« Last Edit: July 05, 2012, 10:50:04 PM by Mutti »
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Offline Barbie

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2012, 11:26:18 PM »
Awesome post! Thanks, Publican.

Now, can you find us one on why Franklin thought the TURKEY!!! ought to be our national bird?

Glad You Asked: Did Benjamin Franklin really want the turkey to be our National Bird?
By Journal Times staff JournalTimes.com

Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be our object of national avian love and not the vitamin-injected, genetically engineered and farm-raised bird that today likely graces your dining room table.

The prolific American scientist, inventor, statesman, printer, philosopher, musician, postmaster, volunteer firefighter, economist and more thought the turkey to be one bad mother.

In a letter to his daughter, Franklin wrote, "For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character."

Franklin thought the eagle to be unethical, lazy and dishonest. He elaborated on his affection for the wild turkey in the letter to his daughter.

"I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as an eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For the truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America ... He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."

Just think if Franklin had his way. Try saying, "Mom, please pass me more eagle," or "Give me an eagle sandwich on rye with lettuce and brown mustard and a side of potato salad with a small Coke and a cookie."

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Offline Chainsaw

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2012, 12:27:43 PM »
Hey have you posted that on PAFOA?
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Offline Publican

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2012, 02:24:33 PM »
Hey have you posted that on PAFOA?
I have not. Good idea. If you want to/can copy/paste go for it.  I can't till I get home about 5ish.
"I regard giving as necessary to right the balance..." Hu Chung

"Things now every day begin to grow more and more serious" Lord Percy

"Please remember the 2nd Amendment each and every time you vote".....Cork

"I need to actively fight the external threat, so as not to become the internal threat!".....Publican

Offline Chainsaw

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2012, 02:28:32 PM »
Hey have you posted that on PAFOA?
I have not. Good idea. If you want to/can copy/paste go for it.  I can't till I get home about 5ish.

I'm running around getting ready for this weekend.  I won't be back online till Mon so go for it.
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Offline Publican

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2012, 07:39:13 PM »
"I regard giving as necessary to right the balance..." Hu Chung

"Things now every day begin to grow more and more serious" Lord Percy

"Please remember the 2nd Amendment each and every time you vote".....Cork

"I need to actively fight the external threat, so as not to become the internal threat!".....Publican

Offline Johnnyappleseed

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #10 on: July 07, 2012, 01:59:14 AM »
posted on calguns ;)
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Calvin Coolidge

Offline Publican

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2012, 04:39:15 PM »
posted on calguns ;)

Cool - Thanks. The more exposure the better. The PAFOA link has had 194 views so far.
"I regard giving as necessary to right the balance..." Hu Chung

"Things now every day begin to grow more and more serious" Lord Percy

"Please remember the 2nd Amendment each and every time you vote".....Cork

"I need to actively fight the external threat, so as not to become the internal threat!".....Publican

Offline NJ-rattler

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #12 on: July 09, 2012, 02:33:32 PM »
The eagle is also a carnivore eating, rotting dead animals it doesn't kill which was another reason he wanted the wild turkey as a national bird.  to me, most turkeys are dumb. the eagle is more majestic and powerful and so I'm glad the eagle was chosen.  thanks for the posts from rattlesnakes to turkeys!

Offline oladcock

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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2012, 03:45:52 PM »
The bald eagle will eat carrion but do hunt, at least fish and ducks which I've witnessed. Turkeys dumb? You've never hunted them have you? :) It's been said if they could smell no one would ever kill one....O.L.
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Re: Why the Rattle-Snake?
« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2012, 04:12:03 PM »
Domesticated turkeys are as dumb as a stump, in Grandpa's words. He told me he tried to raise some when he had a farm and several drowned while trying to drink rain. He stuck with chickens after that.

Wild turkeys, on the other hand, are a wily bunch.

Dave