Culpeper flag was a white flag with a coiled American rattlesnake in the middle and the words “don’t tread on me”. Over the top of the snake is written “the Culpeper minutemen” and the words of famous Patrick Henry “liberty or death” are on the sides of the snake.
The Culpeper Flag represented the Culpeper Minutemen, a militia group based in Virginia and established around 1775. The minutemen were known so because of their ability to respond to an emergency at a minute’s notice. Culpeper Flag was famously used by the Culpeper Minutemen during the Revolutionary War when fighting the British forces.
The first use of the flag was when about three hundred minutemen assembled at the courthouse of Culpeper. These were led by Colonel Steven and headed for Williamsburg. It is also believed that the Culpeper flag was flown across the continental fleets and the flag or one of its variations has been used throughout the revolution by the American ships.
Except in American colonies, the rattlesnake is found nowhere else in the world and it seems to have been a favorite symbol of the Americans even before the revolution. Habitually, the rattlesnake is a harmless creature, but when angered or aroused it is firstly warned with a violent battle and then struck with a deadly bite.
The symbolism of rattlesnake on the Culpeper Flag symbolizes these qualities. These include being peaceable but ready to fight. The symbolism was meant to convey that the American Colonies wanted peace but would fight the British if the latter tried to oppress them.
The Culpeper flag is thought to be a variation of the Gadsden flag which was earlier created by Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina. Congressman Gadsden realized that it was very important for the fleet captain to have his own naval flag and thus he designed the Gadsden flag and handed it over to Hopkins at Philadelphia. Due to this reason, it is also sometimes called the Hopkins flag. The Gadsden flag is yellow having an American rattlesnake in the center below which are written the words “don’t tread on me.”
On December 9, 1775, the Culpeper minutemen carried their flag into the battle where the Virginia Patriots crushed Dunmore and his supporters. This battle was known as the battle of Great Bridge and was a complete American victory. The fighting of the battle later shifted to Norfolk which was occupied by the Patriots.
The bombardment from Dunmore’s royal navy ships destroyed the city and in spite of the loss, the series of events compelled Dunmore to flee to New York. The Culpeper Minutemen were however dissolved in February 1766 and the majority of them joined the Continental Army. The fourth Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, was one of the original Culpeper minutemen.
The Culpeper minutemen reformed for the Civil War in 1860 and joined the 13th infantry of the Confederacy. They also reactivated during the Spanish-American war and again during World War I when they joined with the 116th infantry.