State Flag Spotlight: The Sweet Flag of South Carolina

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The flags of each of our 50 states are each very meaningful — full of symbols of the history and pride of the citizens living there. While many of these flags are well known only to state residents, there are a few state flags that generate instant recognition.

The state flag of South Carolina is one of those. Although the design is simple, the markings embody the rich history and traditions of South Carolina.

Early History

The territory that makes up the State of South Carolina was one of the earliest areas colonized by the Europeans. With so much history behind the state, it is not surprising that the South Carolina flag has gone through a long evolution.

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, citizens in favor of rebellion decided to create a banner under which the troops from South Carolina could rally. Colonel William Moultrie created a flag that is now known by his name: the Moultrie or Liberty flag.

The Moultrie Flag is actually very similar to the current state flag. It featured a white crescent moon in the upper left corner on a navy-blue field. The word “Liberty” was sometimes inscribed either on the crescent moon or across the bottom of the flag. The navy color matched the militia’s uniforms. There is some debate as to the origin of the crescent shape, but the most reliable historical sources agree that it matched the emblem on the uniform hat.

The Moultrie Flag flew over the newly founded state of South Carolina until the early days of the Civil War.

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The Civil War

South Carolina was the first to secede from the Union at the outbreak of the American Civil War. The State’s Civil War flag included some changes you can see in the flag today. It featured the white crescent on a navy field like the Moultrie Flag but added a golden palmetto encircled by a white oval in the center. This flag is often referred to as the “Two-Day Flag” because it was replaced just two days after it was adopted by the official state flag that still flies today.

The Secession Flag was another pennant flown in South Carolina during the Civil War. It had many similarities to the flag of the Confederate States of America. It featured a red field crossed horizontally and perpendicularly by blue stripes. White, five-pointed stars filled each blue stripe. The palmetto and crescent were still represented in white in the upper left quarter, though the crescent was larger in proportion. Many believe that this flag was the inspiration for the design of the Confederate Battle Flag. This Secession Flag was never the official flag of South Carolina, but it was recognized as the state’s symbol until the state reentered the Union after the war.

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Modern Flag and Images

The modern flag of South Carolina clearly shows the influence of the Moultrie Flag. It features a white palmetto tree in the center with a white crescent in the upper left corner on a navy field. The palmetto was added to the design to honor the Americans’ victory over the British Navy at Fort Moultrie at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

The fort was built of sand walls overlaid by palmetto tree trunks, and the British cannonballs bounced right off of these springy walls. This victory delayed the British takeover of Charleston, South Carolina for four years. It was also the British Navy’s first defeat in over 100 years, so it truly energized the patriots’ cause during the Revolutionary War.

The modern state flag has existed for over 100 years. The flag appears on nearly anything you can imagine: shirts, towels, belts, hats, sunglasses and more. Proud enthusiasts of the southern state wear their flag with pride at any occasion.

The flag flies over government buildings, state and private universities, and thousands of homes and businesses. However, the design of the flag has never been truly standardized by the state legislature. The navy color and the design of the palmetto tree can vary widely between manufacturers. A bill was introduced in January 2018 to standardize the color and design but has not yet been adopted.

Final Thoughts

Adopted in 1861, the South Carolina flag is the third oldest state flag behind Texas (1839) and Hawaii (1845). The simple design ranks No. 10 on the North American Vexillological Association’s survey of the state flags of the U.S. and Canada.

For state residents, South Carolina enthusiasts and history buffs, it is an icon of pride and tradition. It is the perfect flag to fly over your home whether you live in South Carolina or just wish you did!

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