Christopher Gadsden lived a long a storied life. He was, among other things, deeply involved in the American Revolution. However, Gadsden may be best known for having designed the Gadsden Flag.
Gadsden was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 16, 1724. His father, Thomas Gadsden, sent him to be educated at a school near Bristol, England. Upon returning the States in 1740, Gadsden became an apprentice in a Philadelphia court house, and when his parents died one year later in 1741, he inherited a sizable fortune.
Starting in 1745, Gadsden spent time serving as a purser on a British warship, and by 1747 he had saved enough money to buy back the land that his father, a chronic gambler, had lost more than a decade earlier.
Gadsden soon became a prominent merchant in Charleston, and a wharf that he built there still bears his name to this day. However, despite being busy with his mercantile ventures, Gadsden found time in 1759 to captain a militia company during an expedition against the Cherokees.
In 1757, he was elected to the Common House of Assembly, and in 1765 the Assembly made him one of its delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City. During the Congress, Gadsden’s addresses caught the attention of Samuel Adams and the two began a long friendship; Gadsden eventually came to be known as the “Samuel Adams of the South”.
Upon returning to South Carolina, Gadsden became a member of a secret organization of American patriots known as the Sons of Liberty, and by 1774 he’d been elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.
One year later, in 1775, Gadsden was serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress when it created the United States Navy to stop British ships from reaching the Colonies. The Congress also ordered that a group of Marines be got together to accompany the new Navy on its first mission, and the first men enlisted happened to carry yellow drums with the image of a rattlesnake poised to attack and the motto “Don’t Tread on Me” painted upon them.
Whether Gadsden was inspired by the drums or had designed them himself is to this day unclear. However, what is clear is that the commander of the Navy, Esek Hopkins, received a flag from Gadsden bearing the same imagery as the soldiers’ drums before disembarking on the first mission. The South Carolina congressional journals also record that Gadsden presented a copy of the same flag to the state legislature in Charleston.
Later in life, Gadsden held a number of positions in South Carolina’s state government, including Lieutenant Governor, and became a prisoner of war before dying of an accidental fall in 1805. He is buried in St. Phillip’s Churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina.