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Today In Charleston History: December 5

1769 – Population.  

Lt. Gov. William Bull reported that there were 45,000 white inhabitants and 80,000 Negroes in South Carolina. Charlestown contained 5.030 whites and 5,831 Negroes. During the year 5,438 slaves were imported and sold for £200,000 sterling. Bull also reported:

We have thirty lawyers … several earned from £1000 to £1200 sterling annually. Literature is but in its infancy here. We have not one good grammar school … our gentlemen, who have anything of a learned education, have acquired it in England, and it is to be lamented they are not more numerous.

Exports were listed to value £402,000 sterling and included:

  • Hemp: 526,131 pounds
  • Rice: 123,317 barrels
  • Pork: 2170 barrels
  • Pitch & tar: 7752 barrels
  • Lumber: 678,350 feet
  • Shingles: 1,987,000
  • Bricks: 42,800
  • Indigo: 309,570
  • Tobacco: 214,210
  • Deerskins: 183,221

The commander-in-chief of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, received a yellow rattlesnake flag from Christopher Gadsden to serve as the distinctive personal standard of his flagship. It was displayed at the mainmast. Gadsden, representing South Carolina in the Continental Congress, was one of seven members of the Marine Committee who were outfitting the first naval mission.


The Gadsden Flag

The first American naval ships were used to intercept incoming British ships carrying war supplies to the British troops in the colonies. One ship captured had 30,000 pairs of shoes on it, but the admiralty agent demanded his 2 1/2 per cent commission before he would release the cargo for Washington’s army, so many soldiers marched barefoot in the snow. The Second Continental Congress authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines to accompany the Navy on their first mission. The first Marines enlisted in the city of Philadelphia, and they carried drums painted yellow, depicting a coiled rattlesnake with thirteen rattles, and the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.” This is the first recorded mention of the future Gadsden flag’s symbolism.

The timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback rattlesnake both populate the geographical areas of the original thirteen colonies. Their use as a symbol of the American colonies can be traced back to the publications of Benjamin Franklin. In 1751, he made the first reference to the rattlesnake in a satirical commentary published in his Pennsylvania Gazette. It had been the policy of Britain to send convicted criminals to America, so Franklin suggested that they thank the British by sending rattlesnakes to England.

On Feb. 9, 1776, Gadsden presented a copy of this flag to the Congress of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina, as recorded in the South Carolina Congressional Journal:

Col. Gadsden presented to the Congress an elegant standard, such as is to be used by the commander in chief of the American Navy; being a yellow field, with a lively representation of a rattlesnake in the middle in the attitude of going to strike and these words underneath, “Don’t tread on me.


Plans to build a fort in Charleston harbor were adopted by Congress. The fort was to be named “Sumter” in honor of South Carolina’s hero of the American Revolution, Thomas Sumter, who was still living at that time.

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