Before this week, the quiet little city of New Rochelle, New York was perhaps known as the hometown of American Pie writer Don McLean and of 1960s "Catch me if you can" conman Frank Abagnale. Going further back, during the Revolutionary War, George Washington stopped in the town on his way to assume command of the Army. Patriot Thomas Paine considered the he Father of the American Revolution because of the pamphlet "Common Sense" he penned, settled in New Rochelle after the War of Independence and was buried there.
This is even more shocking because the city council just banned the historic Gadsden Flag from being flown on city property.
Why the ban?
Citing their belief that the flag is the symbol of the Tea Party, the city council of New Rochelle voted 5-2 to order the familiar rattlesnake banner removed and banned from all city property. Specifically the town's historic Armory, where the Gadsden flag was raised and lowered by local veterans under the US and State flags, was ordered to strike the suddenly offensive symbol.
The City Manager Chuck Strome had originally ordered it taken down and then reversed his decision after the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association of New Rochelle protested. After this Pyrrhic victory, the matter was addressed by the City Council who decided to ban it once more.
Why a rattlesnake
Dating back to the 1750s, political satirist Ben Franklin commented that the 13 colonies in the New World would need to join together. A snake cut into eight segments with the caption "Join or Die" illustrated this. Within a few years, the coiled rattlesnake became a symbol of minutemen and liberty groups across the colonies including the Culpeper Minutemen and Proctor's Regiment.
Who was Gadsden anyway?
Christopher Gadsden was a patriot from the South Carolina colony who became so outspoken on the subject of liberty from England that he was commonly referred to as ' "the Sam Adams of the South." A military man, he first served in the Royal Navy then in the South Carolina militia, fighting in King George's War, and the French and Indian War before leading a brigade in the War of Independence against the British. While representing South Carolina in the Continental Congress, Gadsden presented in December 1775 a yellow flag with a rattlesnake and the motto "Don't Tread on Me" for use by the newly formed Continental Marines. Captured after the siege of Charleston, he was later arrested by Cornwallis spending 42 weeks in solitary confinement in a prison before being released, but his flag lived on.
It wasn't until 1777 that the flag we know today as the Stars and Stripes was adopted.
Never truly out of fashion, the Gadsden flag is still a historical flag flown by military drill teams, honor guards, and museums. I can remember one being carried by my ROTC unit in the 1990s-- being official issue from CNET. Since the first Patriot Day in 2002, its use has exploded and it is seen everywhere and it is commonly seen at gunshows, Appleseed shoots, and DCM matches in the shooting community.
Today the First Navy Jack, a version of the same flag, is flown proudly from every US Navy ship at sea.
I guess the council of New Rochelle didn't get the memo. If you like, the number to city hall is (914) 654-2159 and the website for email is right here.
(Perhaps this would be a better flag for our times...)