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First Navy Jack (U.S.)


Last modified: 2020-07-06 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | rattlesnake | dont tread on me | first navy jack |
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[First Navy Jack flag] image by Rick Wyatt, 5 April 1998

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Jack or Ensign?

The so-called First Navy Jack was probably not a Jack. It is illustrated in a painting of Commodore Hopkins (as you have described it) flying from the Ensign gaff. There was a common striped ensign at the time and it is believed this flag is a variant of that.
Dave Martucci, 21 December 1997

The so-called First Navy Jack did exist, but was most probably used as an ensign, not a jack. Though in the absence of detailed regulations it is also possible that it was sometimes used as a jack in conjunction with other ensigns. However, for the U.S. Navy to specify this flag as the jack for its oldest warship in regular commission is an agreeable tradition which keeps an historic American flag in regular use.
John S. Ayer and Tom Gregg, 17 July 1999

First Use

Excerpt from CNO message:

The first navy jack is a flag consisting of a rattlesnake, superimposed across 13 horizontal alternating red and white stripes with the motto "DONT TREAD ON ME". The jack was first employed by Commodore Esek Hopkins in the fall of 1775 as he readied the continental navy in the Delaware River. His signal for the whole fleet to engage the enemy was the striped jack and ensign flown at their proper places. The temporary substitution of this jack represents a historic reminder of the nation's and navy's origin, and will to preserve and triumph.
submitted by SM1(SW) Chris Moore,USS Bridge (AOE-10), 15 September 2002

Use Onboard Oldest Commissioned Ship

Following article from the November 20, 1998, "Kitty Hawk Flyer" explains U.S. Navy practice with regard to current use of the First Navy Jack.

USS Kitty Hawk earns "Don't Tread On Me" Jack

"Command Master Chief, break the First Navy Jack."

With that order from Captain Jack J. Samar, Jr., Commanding Officer of USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), a unique flag was raised on the ship's jack staff, distinguishing Kitty Hawk from all other ships in the U. S. Navy.

Kitty Hawk received the First Navy Jack during ceremonies November 20 in Yokosuka, Japan, making Hawk the oldest ship in the fleet. This distinction allows the 37-year-old aircraft carrier to display the First Navy Jack, flown from the oldest ship's jack staff, in place of the union jack flown aboard other Navy ships.

The First Navy Jack, a flag consisting of 13 horizontal, alternating red and white stripes and a rattlesnake moving across the center, bears the motto, 'Don't Tread On Me'. Conceived in 1775 by Commodore Esek Hopkins of the Continental Navy, the flag was first used as a signal between ships to engage the enemy.

In 1977, the Secretary of the Navy directed the ship with the longest total period of active service to display the First Navy Jack until decommissioned or transferred to the inactive reserve. At that time, the flag shall be passed to the next ship of the line with appropriate honors.

USS Kitty Hawk received the flag from the USS Independence (CV 62), following its decommissioning September 30, 1998, in Bremerton, Wash. MM2(SW) Patrick Higgins of Omaha, Neb., received the Jack on behalf of Kitty Hawk during Independence's decommissioning and brought it back to Japan. Higgins presented the flag to Capt. Samar and the Kitty Hawk during Friday's ceremony.

Joseph McMillan, 9 August 1999

First Navy Jack Revival During Fight Against Terrorism

On 31 May 2002, the Secretary of the Navy has directed all U.S. naval ships to fly the First Navy Jack for the duration of the war on terrorism, starting beginning September 11, 2002 (Patriot Day.)
Reported by numerous people including Tom Gregg, Joe McMillan, Peter Ansoff, Devereaux Cannon, David Schuetz, Miles Li, Jim Ferrigan ....

All U.S. Navy Ships to Begin Flying First Navy Jack on Patriot Day
submitted by: David Fowler, 11 September 2002