As the first ships of the Continental Navy readied in the Delaware River during the fall of 1775, Commodore Esek Hopkins issued a set of fleet signals. His signals for the fleet to engage the enemy provided for the "Strip'd Jack and Ensign at their proper places." Thus, the First Navy Jack was a flag consisting of 13 horizontal alternating red and white stripes bearing diagonally across them a rattlesnake in a moving position with the motto "Dont Tread On Me."
In 1977, the Secretary of the Navy directed that the ship in active status with the longest total period of active service shall display the First Navy Jack until decommissioned or transferred to inactive service, at which time the flag shall be passed to the next ship in line with appropriate honors. The display of this jack by the oldest ship in the fleet is an appropriate form of recognition and promotes pride of service, enhances morale, and contributes to the tradition of naval service.
USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) became the oldest active ship in the United States Navy upon the decommissioning of USS Independence (CV 62) on September 30, 1998. Kitty Hawk is only the second aircraft carrier ever to hold the honor of flying the First Navy Jack.
Excerpted from the Web site of the USS Kitty Hawk.
Uniform for the Navy of the United States of America
Captain's Uniform. FULL DRESSED COAT. Blue Cloth with long buff lappels, and a standing collar, and lining of buff--to be made and trimmed full with a gold epaulet on each shoulder. The cuffs buff, with four buttons to the pockets. Lappels to have nine buttons, and one to the standing collar. Buttons, yellow metal, and to have the foul anchor and American eagle on the same.
VEST AND BREECHES. Buff, with flaps and four buttons to the pockets of the vests, so as to correspond and be in uniform with the coat. Buttons the same kind as the coat, only proportionably smaller.
Lieutenants. COAT. Long, blue, with half lappels, standing collar, and lining of buff. The lappels to have six buttons, and one to the collar; below the lappel, right side, three buttons, left side, thee close worked button holes. Three buttons to the pocket flaps, and three to a slash sleeve, with a buff cuff. One gold epaulet on the right shoulder. Trimmings, plain twist.
VEST AND BREECHES. Buff-- The former to be made with skirts, and pocket flaps, but to have no buttons to the pockets. The buttons for the vest and breeches, and coat, the same as for the captain's uniform.
Lieutenant of Marines. COAT. Long, blue, with long lappels of red; standing collar and lining red. The lappels to have nine buttons, and one to the standing collar. Three buttons to the pocket flaps, and three to a slash sleeve, with a red cuff. One gold epaulet on the right shoulder, for the senior lieutenant, where there are two lieutenants for the same ship, and one on the left shoulder for the second officer. Where there is only one lieutenant, he is also to wear the epaulet on the right shoulder. Trimmings plain.
VEST AND BREECHES. The former, red with skirts and pocket flaps, but to have no buttons to the pockets.-- The latter blue-- Buttons for the suit, the same as the captains and lieutenants.
Surgeons. COAT. Long, dark green, with black velvet lappels, and standing collar.--Lappels to have nine buttons, and one to the standing collar-- No linings, other than being faced with the same cloth as the coat. Slash sleeves, the cuff the same as the facings, with three buttons. Pocket flaps, plain.
VEST AND BREECHES. The former, red, double breasted. The latter green, same as the coat. Buttons, the same as the officers.
Surgeon's Mates. The same as the surgeons, with only this difference in the coat, to wit--Half lappels, with six buttons, and one to the collar; below the lappel, right side, three buttons; left side, three close worked button holes.
Sailing Masters. COAT. Long, blue, with facings and standing collar of the same, edged with buff-- nine buttons to the lappels, and one to the standing collar. Lining blue, or faced with the same as the coat-- Slash sleeves, with three buttons-- Pockets plain.
VEST AND BREECHES. Plain buff vest-- and blue breeches. Buttons (for the suit) the same as for the officers.
Pursers. COAT. Plain frock blue coat, with the proper naval buttons-- no lappels.
VEST AND BREECHES. Buff and plain.
Midshipmen. COAT. Plain frock coat of blue, lined and edged with buff, without lappels, a standing collar of buff, and plain buff cuffs, open underneath with three buttons.
VEST AND BREECHES. Buff-- former to be made round and plain-- Buttons (for the suit) the same as before described.
Marines. Plain short coats of blue, with a red belt, edged with red, and turned up with the same, with common small naval buttons, with blue pantaloons edged with red, and red vests.
CAPTAINS, LIEUTENANTS, AND MARINE OFFICERS, to wear when full dressed, cocked hats, with black cockades, and small swords (yellow mounted) and when undressed, such swords as my be hereafter fixed upon or ordered, which said swords are to be worn at all times by the midshipmen, who are to wear cocked hats, &c. when fully dressed only-- surgeons; mates, sailing masters, and pursers, cocked hats and black cockades.
Secretary of War
War-Office, August 24, 1797.
N.B. SUMMER DRESS-- Vest and breeches (excepting for marine soldiers) to be white, or nankeen, as may correspond with the uniform, &c. &c. Marines, white linen overalls.