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History of the South Carolina flag

Most of us probably don’t have our state flags memorized, but it’s worth studying up: Our flag’s design reflects centuries of history.

The South Carolina flag

Adopted in 1861, our flag’s history is much older.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Table of Contents

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a flag is a whole textbook.

Our state flag is a record of South Carolina history that experts read like a secret code. Every part carries some meaning, from hoist to fly end.

The colors

As one of the original 13 colonies, South Carolina stood at the forefront of America’s fight for independence from Great Britain. Flown over Sullivan Island’s Fort Moultrie in 1776, the earliest version of our flag mirrored the uniforms of its soldiers: navy coats and white buttons, chosen in contrast to the British redcoats.

The charge

In flag lingo, the symbol on a flag’s “field” (background) is called a “charge.” Our flag is charged with a palmetto.

Sabal palmettos absorbed 7,000 rounds of British cannonfire in the ten-hour defense of Fort Moultrie, allowing Continental forces to clinch an unlikely morale victory. As one British surgeon put it, “This will not be believed when it is first reported in England.”

The canton

A flag’s canton is its upper lefthand corner, where the stars are on the US flag. South Carolina’s bears a crescent — and that’s about all we know.

It resembles a moon, but some historians believe it’s actually a piece of neck-protecting armor called a gorget. Meanwhile, William Moultrie’s memoirs just call it a crescent. Moon, gorget, or crescent, we think it’s fun to let mystery be a part of our flag.