South Carolina State Flag – Rich in Natural History

The South Carolina state flag is a flag that is full of Natural History.  It is one of the most popular state flags in the country due to the beautiful scene it creates and the rich (sometimes controversial) history of the state.

Like most of the 13 original colonies, South Carolina did not need a flag until around 1776 when the states declared independence from Great Britain to become their own nation.  Prior to this declaration there was the Stamp Act of 1765 which put a tax on most paper goods for the colonies.  To protest this act in the state of South Carolina, a famous flag (that was dyed blue and had 3 white crescents upon it) was flown.  This flag became very popular around the state as an act of protest (especially in Charleston, SC where residents love to stake our protest with symbolic flags even to this day).  In 1775, just before the Declaration of Independence, a famous colonel William Moultrie was tasked to come up with a flag design for the state to fly during the ensuing war to come.  He came up with a simple Blue flag with a upward facing crescent on it.  Here is an image of that original flag:


The protest flag from the Stamp Act had influence on this design, but the symbolic meaning of the different aspects of this flag have been debated.  Here are a few things I found out doing a quick search online.


The color of the flag was said to be picked because it was the color of the uniforms that the soldiers wore.  Many people believe that both flags (the Moultrie flag and the Stamp Act flag) were both dyed blue with one of the major cash crops at the time, indigo.  This was South Carolina’s second major cash crop.  The technique and many of the seeds were brought here in 1739 by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Wife of Col. Charles Pinckney and mother of Charles Pinckney (a signer of the US Constitution and whose original plantation was later converted into a country club and housing development in which I now reside).  This indigo caught on great because it grew well along with our other major cash crop, Carolina Gold Rice.  Many historians believe that these flags were dyed this deep blue (with the indigo dye) as a symbol of this states indigo production.  If anything the very fact that the dye was used to produce the first flags hold significance.

The Crescent:

The crescent on the flag is the most controversial thing on the flag.  Some historians say that the crescents represent gorgets, which are crescent shaped breastplates used in battle at the time by soldiers to protect themselves and represent soldiers going to war for what they believe in.  Another was that the coat of arms of a famous lawyer/politician John Rutledge had 3 crescents on it and that was what was the reasoning why it was used on the original flag for the Stamp Act protest.  John Rutledge was a major protester of the Stamp Act and later became the first President of South Carolina and was an author and signer of the US Constitution.  There are other more far-fetched reasons why the crescents made it on that original flag, but these seem the most credible.

This simple but elegant flag held as our state flag from 1775 until the Civil War in 1861.  When South Carolina became the first to Succeed from the United States of America in 1861 a national flag was needed for South Carolina (which was for a brief period its own country).  This is when they added the palmetto tree to the flag.  Here is a picture of that flag and the symbolism of it to follow:


Palmetto Tree:

The palmetto tree was added to the flag as a symbol of the great victory that Col. William Moultrie gained in an un-named, incomplete fort on Sullivans Island, SC (later named Fort Moultrie and stood from 1776 until just after World War 1) during the Revolutionary war.  This Fort was constructed from a vast building material on this barrier island, the trunks of the Palmetto Tree (or Sabal palmetto).  This tree is in the palm family and has a vascular network much more in common with grasses than the other hard wooded trees around.  This makes the trunks of these trees very spongy, which help them bend and move freely during the high winds of tropical storms and hurricanes that plague the environments with which they grow.  This was great for Col. Moultrie because the cannonballs that were fired by the British ships on June 28th, 1776 would just bounce off or be absorbed but this spongy exterior causing little to no damage to the fort.  It helped them win a decisive battle that day and push the British out of Charleston for 4 years.  The fate of Charleston that day lied in the natural spongy properties of these palmetto trees that have evolved to grow in the hurricane ridden environment around the coastal regions of South Carolina.  This has solidified the palmetto tree as a symbol not only on our flag, but for our state as a whole.  South Carolina is not referred to as “The Palmetto State” to this day because of that important battle.

This version of the flag stood as our national flag for a very short time then our confederate state flag after that.  Upon the Charlestonians taking control of Fort Sumter as the first battle of the Civil War.  This Flag became the First Confederate flag to be hoisted over a captured US Territory.  This flag continued to be our state flag and is still flown over Fort Sumter today.

The flag was slightly updated in the early 20th century by the SC Secretary of Historical Commission Alexander Samuel Salley Jr.  He slightly tilted and enlarged the crescent and added details to palmetto tree and the grass below it.  The current revised version is below and stands as the popular flag in South Carolina today.


I know that wasn’t all about nature, but I put enough about nature in there to make it an acceptable post on a nature blog.  The history is interesting all the same.


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