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Source of Crescent and Tree on the South Carolina Flag? (U.S.)

Last modified: 2011-12-17 by rick wyatt
Keywords: south carolina | crescent | palmetto |
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[Flag of South Carolina] image by Mario Fabretto, 24 February 1998

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The Crescent

Smith (1975a) dates the crescent to 1775 but gives no reason.
Al Kirsch, 13 June 2002

I have heard, but can't remember the source, that the crescent originated from a remnant of a knights armor. British officers wore a metal crescent, often silver or gold plated on their chests, left over from a protective piece of armor over the heart area. General Cornwallis can be seen wearing this in the movie "The Patriot" and I have seen actual pieces in the national park museums at forts in South Carolina and Georgia. It has been reported that their appearance is from a cap device worn by South Carolina troops in the revolutionary war, but the origin of the cap device is probably from the uniform decoration.
Michael P. Smuda, 19 June 2002

I believe the metal crescent you refer to is called a gorget. However, a number of websites say the 1775 South Carolina flag designed by Moultrie was preceded by a 1765 blue flag with 3 crescents used during the protests against the Stamp Act. I could not find an explanation of why that was chosen. For example, see and and
Ned Smith, 19 June 2002

From the Admiral Preble book, "History and Origin of the American Flag, Volume One:"
"In 1765, when the stamp paper reached Charleston, it was deposited at Fort Johnson. A volunteer force took the fort and captured the paper. Whilst they held the fort, they displayed a flag showing a blue field with three white crescents, which seems to have been improvised by the volunteers, of whom there were three companies." [pp. 194]
This flag is also described here:
John Evosevic, 8 November 2002

That design [of the crescent] isn't really a crescent moon, but an adaptation of the gorget - an item of personal protection for early soldiers - reduced to a symbol and used in the early times of defense in South Carolina history. The depiction on the flag of today is a derivation resulting from the age-old practice of designing and using flags without benefit of guidance, in that the points of this crescent have pointed in several directions through the years. Indeed, the final orientation of this crescent was a result of arbitrary choice instead of being based on historic positioning of the gorget upon the chest.
Bob Hunt, 25 July 2007

Is there any actual documentation for this? I believe that the use of crescents as SC symbols dates back to the time of the Stamp Act protests. A gorget (in the 18th century, anyway) was a ceremonial piece of an officer's uniform, worn on a chain around the neck and often suitably engraved. (There's a famous painting of young George Washington wearing one as colonel of the Virginia Regiment.) It's not too clear why the Stamp Act protestors would choose that for a symbol -- to them, army officers were the "bad guys!"
Peter Ansoff, 26 July 2007

The State of South Carolina publishes a little booklet called "A Flag Worthy Of Your State and People" by Wylma Wates. This covers the history of the crescent and palmetto symbols. According to this, the crescent was worn by South Carolina troops in the American War of Independence and this symbol inspired the first unit flags used by these troops - blue with a white crescent. The book does not state the origins of the crescent in the state/colony.
Greg Biggs, 26 July 2007

While the SC book indeed does not discuss the origins of the crescent used on the SC troops' hats, I think an examination of the evolution of body armor will disclose that the gorget originally was a large metal piece for breast protection, hanging from the neck (which is why the early crescents are depicted with the horns pointed upward). However, presumably as soldiers would be running (forward or to the rear?), that gorget would bang against their chests. Eventually, the common gorget was discontinued, but the design as a crescent was retained as a unit symbol. In the SC book there is a picture of the early troops with this symbol on their hats. This is the origin of the use of the crescent by Col William Moultrie when he designed the flag of that period.
Bob Hunt, 26 July 2007

The report of the 3-crescent flag in Preble's work admits use by a volunteer force. Who were these volunteers? Maybe they were volunteers from an assortment of military units which already used the crescent as their unit symbol; they may have used 3 such symbols to represent 3 units of the participants. This is conjecture. We cannot discount volunteer origins of flag designs, since all flags start with somebody making up some design. Use of many of the crescent variants in SC has been provided by testimony of other parties (and thus denied by some investigators who want harsher proof), rather than by the originators themselves (like Moultrie's written testimony after  the fact). There's even some question as to whether he took his Ft. Johnson flag with him to the palmetto log fort; there may have been another variant in use at the log fort. BUT at least we have somebody saying "I did it" rather than saying "somebody else did it".
Bob Hunt, 28 July 2007

What's disputed (or at least questionable), is that the crescent on the SC flag was originally supposed to represent a gorget. This appears to be nothing but speculation. The SC crescent could just as easily have had a heraldic origin, for example. The crescent is a common heraldic symbol; in England it is the mark of cadency for a second son. Heraldic crescents are most often shown with the points upward which, as you mentioned earlier, is the way that they appeared on early SC flags.
Peter Ansoff, 30 July 2007

Here is an intriguing possibility:

"On March 26, 1776, the Provincial Congress of South Carolina set up an independent government with John Rutledge as president. On Tuesday, April 2, 1776 the General Assembly passed the following: 'RESOLVED That His Excellency the President and Commander in Chief by and with the Advice and Consent of the Privy Council may and is hereby authorized to design and cause to be made a Great Seal of South-Carolina and until such a one can be made to fix upon a temporary public seal.' For a temporary seal President Rutledge used his private seal bearing his family coat-of-arms." (from The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. VIII No. 4, Oct 1907). According to the "Nobility in America" page on, John Rutledge's bookplate shows that the family arms were "argent on a chevron azure between three crescents two lozenges gules." [sic. What color were the crescents?] Presumably, these arms are what appeared on the temporary seal of South Carolina. Thus, for a brief time in 1776-77, the official seal of South Carolina depicted three crescents.

There are some problems with this connection, of course. For one thing, Col. Moultrie probably designed his flag before Rutledge became President, because Moultrie was replaced by Christopher Gadsden as commander of the SC forces on 13 February 1776. Another is Preble's reference to the use of the three crescents back in 1765. However, John Rutledge had been a leader in South Carolina politics before being appointed President. At the time of the Stamp Act, he chaired a committee of the Stamp Act Congress that drew up a petition to the House of Lords. His younger brother, Edward, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In any case, the fact remains that the crescent was part of the official seal of South Carolina for several months in 1776, including during the crucial battle with the British in June. This seems to be a rather more solid connection than the gorget idea.

Also in the "for-what-it's-worth" department: a contemporary sketch made by a British engineer of the 28 June 1776 battle (Lipscomb, The South Carolina Low Country April 1775-June 1776, p. 28) shows the crescent flag flying over the fort, and the horns of the crescent are facing the hoist.

Peter Ansoff, 3 August 2007

It is interesting to note that the supply of colours to an English regiment was originally the responsibility of its colonel who by the time of the English Civil War was (at least at the beginning of the war) also the person who raised it, These, in the main (although there were exceptions) followed a reasonably standard pattern, however, the charges which differentiated the grades of Captain (and in some cases also the major) were a matter of individual choice. These were most often a number of simple heraldic charges which might consist of stars or rowels, annulets or rings, roundels or discs, crescents or even the colonel's heraldic badge.

My point is simply this, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that this tradition had made its way to the colonies, and that the first colonel of the newly raised regiment of South Carolina could, therefore, have had considerable influence of the design of its colour? Thus by extension, its appearance on the state flag.
Christopher Southworth, 4 August 2007

Recent discourse, on my part, with the Fort Sumter National Monument (which includes Fort Moultrie) divulges reference to a rumor that the crescents of 1765 and subsequent, might be from a family coat of arms, that family being the sponsors of regiments of militia. There is no documentation to support this thesis, unless we can find that printed example of Rutledge's arms and assume a connection.
Robert Hunt, 4 August 2007

Concerning the statement above:
"According to the "Nobility in America" page on, John Rutledge's bookplate shows that the family arms were "argent on a chevron azure between three crescents two lozenges gules." [sic.What color were the crescents?]", according to blazoning convention, they would have been of the next tincture mentioned in the blazon: gules (red). However, the blazon is otherwise defective, since it places the red lozenges on a blue chevron, which is a violation of the rule of tincture. Bolton's American Armory suggests that it is correctly a chevron compony (i.e., a chevron composed of a single series of alternating red and blue squares) rather than a blue chevron with red lozenges.

And concerning the statement:
"Presumably, these arms are what appeared on the temporary seal of South Carolina. Thus, for a brief time in 1776-77, the official seal of South Carolina depicted three crescents ... In any case, the fact remains that the crescent was part of the official seal of South Carolina for several months in 1776, including during the crucial battle with the British in June. This seems to be a rather more solid connection than the gorget idea." - I think this reasoning misunderstands what the legislature did. It did not make Rutledge's arms the "official seal of South Carolina." It merely authorized Rutledge to use his personal seal to authenticate his signature on public acts in lieu of an official seal.

Joe McMillan, 4 August 2007

Quite true. As I mentioned [above], there are also a number of other inconsistencies. For example, it appears that the crescent flag may actually have been created before Rutledge became president. Nevertheless, it seems that the seal with the crescent symbol did appear on public acts of South Carolina, and represents an official connection between the symbol and early-revolutionary government.
Peter Ansoff, 4 August 2007

There is ample documentation to establish the use of the crescent by the South Carolina government in 1776, and its use by Moultrie at Fort Johnson. But our focal question has been concerned with the source of the crescent idea in the first place. Even if the symbol appeared initially in SC as a result of family arms, it doesn't establish the reason for the initial choice of crescent versus any other symbol.

With respect to Preble's report of correspondence including reference to a flag with 3 crescents in 1765, we now need to know who was sponsor to any/all militia regiments in South Carolina in 1765. We also need to see a printed version of John Rutledge's coat of arms in 1765, rather than of 1775. I suspect that many folks have seen, in researching their own coat of arms throughout the years, many variations of coats for any one family name. Perhaps it was a similar fact in 1765, that COA of families had variants within the family name - cousins, brothers, whatever the reason.

To me, the main facts become a) who was the sponsor of militia regiments in 1765, and b) what coat of arms was evident at that same time, in that place. Gules, argent, azure --- it becomes azure and argent in SC in those years.
Robert Hunt, 4 August 2007

No, people in 1775 as in 1765 understood that a coat of arms descends in a family, father to son. It does not belong to a name. While errors might creep in to successive emblazonments from one generation to another, it would be very unusual, verging on unheard of, for someone of Rutledge's prominence (and fundamental conservatism) to change his arms within his own lifetime, other than to impale the arms of his wife's family.

I don't understand the concept of sponsors of militia regiments during this period. Militia units comprised all the able bodied free white males of military age in a given county. They had colonels, but they didn't have sponsors.
Joe McMillan, 4 August 2007

A bookplate belonging to John Rutledge's brother Edward showing a coat of arms can be seen at Also - note that in addition to the crescents on the shield, there is a single crescent on the crest.
Ned Smith, 5 August 2007

There was, of course, a strong anti-heraldry bias in parts of the infant US at this time, and as a result the crescent on the flag of South Carolina may perhaps have been derived from a gorget (it makes an interesting theory), but the fact that the crest of the most prominent family in the Revolutionary War period was actually a crescent - whilst possibly merely a co-incidence - contains a very powerful (if not the most convincing) argument as to its origin?
Christopher Southworth, 5 August 2007

I'm not sure it's at all clear that the Rutledges were the most prominent family in South Carolina during this period; certainly that status would not have been conceded by the Middletons, Draytons, or Pinckneys. Also, while I don't detect a particularly strong anti-heraldry bias in SC in the 1770s (or much of anywhere else--that generally came later), I think it most unlikely during a revolutionary period that people would have been looking to some individual's personal arms as a source for state symbols.

I would note that the Company of Military Historians illustration of the uniform of the South Carolina Provincial Regiment (Middleton's) in 1760-61 shows the same crescent badge on the caps to which Moultrie refers 15 years later. This regiment would have been called Middleton's based on the name of its colonel at the time. The Middleton arms are "Argent fretty Sable, on a canton per chevron Or and Sable a unicorn's head erased per chevron Gules and Or, the horn Sable." The crest is a winged garb; not a crescent in sight.

The same crescent appears on the caps of the Charleston Regiment of 1773-76. Link from numbers 561 and 611 at (Plate 494 from the same page shows a SC gorget with rattlesnake engraved where the royal cypher of George III would previously have been, just demonstrating that the wearing of the gorget remained a live custom during the Revolution.)
Joe McMillan, 5 August 2007

The militia units needed a sponsor ("organizer") to supply the money for the arms and uniforms, etc. Thus, the unit often took symbols of the sponsor as the unit designator or unit descriptor. The members of the militia unit, in that time, were supplied by themselves. It is this distinction - no government supplied them - which empowers the People in the US 2nd Amendment (and others).
Robert Hunt, 5 August 2007

The militias of the 13 colonies were founded upon the same ideals of England - a citizen-soldiery that came to the aid of their nation in time of  war. In my study of colonial militias, with respect to Georgia anyway, I have not found so much as a sponsor per se that outfitted the units with uniforms and weapons along the lines of what the colonels of British regiments were then responsible for doing. Typically, officers of such units were elected to rank - unless there was a benefactor, who then probably obtained command by such largesse. The tradition of officer elections remained into the early years of the American Civil War by the way for both the Union and Confederacy, in particular the latter.

American colonial militias rarely had standardized uniforms unless the men that made up the unit were of sufficient status and economic standing to afford them on their own. Considering that the genesis of the American colonies were the middle classes of England coming over to start new lives (the rich stayed behind mostly and the poor could not afford it), these people were already of some means to be able to afford their own muskets and rifles. The oldest militia unit in America is the Ancient and Honorable Artillery of Massachusetts and, not being an expert on this formation, I do not know how they obtained their cannons other than possibly by subscriptions from the areas they came from. In this respect of class status and militia, the American colonials were much like the citizen-soldiers of ancient Athens whose men only became armored hoplites if they could afford the equipment to do so! Unlike Sparta, the Athenian city-state did not supply its troops the equipment.

Once the United States began and the new Federal government created the Constitution, the Bill of Rights included the right to keep and bear arms, the people's militia being the foundation of national defense. What most people (including Americans) don't realize is that the Congress defined exactly who made up the militia with the Militia Act of 1792, which stated that every male from 18 to 45 years of age constituted the militia. I forget offhand, but around this time I think each state created militia districts from which units could be raised - and these districts still exist today in all 50 states. This law, via the various National Defense Acts passed since then (starting in the late 1800's), is still in force today with the people's militia now being described as the "unorganized militia" and the National Guard being the "organized militia." It was also expected that the various states take care of funding and arming their militias with something resembling standardized weapons along the lines of the nascent US Army (not officially created until 1792). It is because the various states did a mediocre to poor job of doing so that the National Guard was created in the 1880's under Gen. William T. Sherman to standardize the "organized militia" along the lines of the regular US Army. The first of the National Defense Acts creating the National Guard retained the citizens militia as a component, as I have already detailed.

Now having said all of this, with South Carolina being amongst the most British of colonies in terms of settlers, I can see the use of a coat of arms as a basis for a colonial seal if the family was prominent enough, and from that the Revolutionary War use of crescents by South Carolina troops. The coat or arms shown here is the most convincing argument that I have seen yet on the origins of the South Carolina crescent.
Greg Biggs, 5 August 2007

The touchstone of the discussion about the SC crescent is this quote from Col Moultrie's memoirs:
"A little time after we were in possession of Fort Johnson, [the state troops occupied it on 15 September 1775] it was thought necessary to have a flag for the purpose of signals: (as there was no national or state flag at that time) I was desired by the council of safety to have one made, upon which, as the state troops were clothed in blue, and the fort was garrisoned by the first and second regiments, who wore a silver crescent on the front of their caps; I had a large blue flag made with a crescent in the dexter corner, to be in uniform with the troops: This was the first American flag which was displayed in South Carolina . . ."(Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution, vol. 1)

It's not exactly clear how long Moultrie's "little time" was. However, Col. Gadsden, commanding the first regiment, issued a General Order on March 9 1776 directing his men to raise and lower "the new Provincial flag . . . as many times as there are men-of-war seen," and also directed use of the "old common blue fort flag" at fort Johnson. (Diary of Capt. Barnard Elliot, quoted in Wates). It's not too clear what the "old flag" and "new flag" were, but one of them was probably Moultrie's crescent flag. Either way, the crescents on the flag and the regimental caps seem to have existed before John Rutledge became president and started using his arms as the temporary seal.

I agree with Greg that the Rutledge arms is a convincing possibility for the origin of the SC crescent, but the actual connection still seems to be a puzzle. I know that we're all familiar with the old fable about the US flag being based on Washington's arms. Coincidences do happen . . .
Peter Ansoff, 5 August 2007

Here is the detailed response from Patrick McCawley of the South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History with regards to our topic of discussion:

  1.  William Moultrie designed the flag after receiving instruction from the Council of Safety in September 1775 to make a flag to signal between Fort Johnson (on James Island) and Charleston. His memoirs indicate that the flag was raised over Fort Johnson soon after it was taken over by provincial troops in mid-September. It is also his memoirs that establish the link between the flag and the uniforms of the 1st and 2nd SC Regiments. I have not seen any evidence of a connection between the flag design and John Rutledge. In September 1775, Rutledge was absent the colony and in Philadelphia attending the Continental Congress. He would not return to SC until January 1776.
  2. The speculation that crescent came from a coat of arms is based on the Bull family coat of arms. William Bull served as Lt. Governor and de facto Governor when the royal appointees were not in the colony from 1750's until 1775. He issued commissions to the officers of Thomas Middleton's Regiment of Foot that was raised in 1760 for service against the Cherokees. William Moultrie was a captain in that regiment as were several other officers that served in the 1st & 2nd Regiments of 1775. Thomas Middleton's wife was Mary Bull (and cousin of William). She died during preparations for the expedition and the theory is that the crescent may have been used in her honor as a symbol of home and family. It also speculated that the uniforms of the 1st and 2nd Regiment were patterned after the earlier unit through the influence of those that served in 1760. The problem I believe is that there is no strong evidence of what the uniform of Middleton's regiment looked like.
  3. Middleton's Regiment of Foot was authorized and paid by the colonial General Assembly specifically for duty against the Cherokees. The 1st and 2nd SC Infantry Regiments (and a third regiment of Rangers) were authorized by the Council of Safety and paid by the SC Provisional Congress. The SC colonial militia was supported through the General Assembly. In 1775, it consisted of 12 regiments set up by geographical area. There was also a Regiment of Horse commanded by William Moultrie. A number of the officers of the militia also were commissioned in the three provisional regiments.
  4. The notion of the crescent representing the waxing moon and a harbinger of good fortunes for the patriots' cause is first mentioned in John Drayton's Memoirs published in 1821.
  5. My understanding is that the crescent in heraldry is used to represent the cadet branch of the family. I am not an expert in heraldry so I may be wrong in this assumption.
  6. The connection with the gorget comes from a gorget that had the motto "Ultima Ratio" engraved upon it, which was the motto engraved on the crescents of the caps of the 1 SC Regiment. The gorget belonged to William Cattell who was commissioned a captain in the 1st SC Regiment in June 1775. Which came first may be an egg or chicken argument.
  7. John Rutledge's use of his personal seal was always intended to be temporary while a committee designed and had engraved the official seal of South Carolina. While Rutledge was a leader in the struggles against English authority as early as 1762, he was in London studying law in 1760 when Middleton's regiment was raised. He does not return to SC until 1761.

Greg Biggs, 6 August 2007

This is very helpful.
Concerning point 2. "The speculation that crescent came from a coat of arms is based on the Bull family coat of arms." According to the SC Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol I (1900), p. 76, the arms of the Bull family, based on seals and silver plate belonging to members of the family, were "Gules [red] an armored arm bearing a sword Argent [silver]," with a bull passant [walking] for a crest. No crescent. General Stephen Bull bore the arms with an inescutcheon [a smaller shield on the center of the main shield] of the arms of Woodward (Azure [blue] a pale [vertical stripe] between two eagles displayed Argent) representing his wife's status as a heraldic heiress. Again, no crescent. (SCH&GM, Vol VII (1906), p. 30, citing the seal and silver plate belonging to Gen. Bull). Did William Bull bear different arms from those borne by the rest of the Bulls of SC?

Concerning point 5. "My understanding is that the crescent in heraldry is used to represent the cadet branch of the family." As mentioned in a previous message, a small crescent can be placed on a coat of arms to indicate that the bearer is the second son of the person who is entitled to the basic arms of the family. However, not all crescents on arms indicate cadency. Those on the Rutledge arms, for instance, are simply part of the basic composition of the shield.

Concerning point 6. "The connection with the gorget comes from a gorget that had the motto "Ultima Ratio" engraved upon it, which was the motto engraved on the crescents of the caps of the 1 SC Regiment." "Ultima ratio," is short for "Ultima ratio regum," which means "The last argument of kings." It was a common way at the time to allude to military force (see, e.g., letter of Ralph Izard, a prominent South Carolinian living in London, to the British resident at Venice, 13 June 1775, "The [British] Administration instead of arguments have thought proper to substitute bayonets and cannon, the ultima ratio regum."
Joe McMillan, 6 August 2007

 Lieutenant Governor William Bull was a second son, according to
Ned Smith, 7 August 2007

Possibly, but in an era when the colonial gentry actually did know something about heraldry (even if they "borrowed" the arms of completely unrelated families sometimes), it would be little short of bizarre to mistake a cadency mark for a charge symbolic of a particular family, let alone to use it as the basis of a military insignia.
Joe McMillan, 7 August 2007

I agree entirely that, while the origin of the crescent on the flag can be attributed to its use on the caps of provincial troops, the origin of its use on caps so far is all pure speculation and nothing more. But we can at least examine some of the premises upon which the various conjectures are based. The fact that William Bull used a crescent as a mark of cadency (and he did - see below) may well be simply coincidence, but I don't see how the fact that it was a mark of cadency and not the actual charge rules it out. No need to assume that only actual arms could have been chosen as the basis for military insignia. I don't see why it would be considered bizarre to knowingly select a cadency mark IF the intent was to honor a man who was second son (if they used an undifferenced charge from the arms, might not it be viewed as honoring William's older brother Stephen? Maybe the Lt. Gov. suffered from a bit of sibling rivalry?).

Evidently Bull did indeed use a seal of his arms with a crescent, including on his commission to Colonel Middleton to command the regiment in question (South Carolina Historical Magazine, 1902, p. 202)

This of course is very far from conclusive as to the origins of the crescent on the troops' caps, but I don't see why, at this stage, it should be considered unlikely either.
Ned Smith, 7 August 2007

I found and purchased the digital reprints of Sarmiento and Hamilton. The info presented concerning the SC crescent is rather scanty and already covered by us in our earlier banters. I summarize for you, in case you want to pursue independently. Note that Hamilton has a nice presentation on the history of the crescent, as well as an inaccurate estimate of Moultrie's selection of the crescent. Neither book referenced the 3-crescent flag of 1765.

Ferdinand Sarmiento [Quite an animated and patriotic presentation!] - The History of Our Flag (orig. publ. 1864) ISBN: 1429728566
Cornell Library digital collection:
He refers only to Moultrie's Memoirs. (p.65-6) The accompanying plate shows the Moultrie flag with horns pointed to the hoist (left). (p.41)

Schuyler Hamilton - History of the National Flag of the United States of America (orig. publ. 1852) ISBN: 1425508154
Univ of Michigan digital collection: (p.28-9) He does not reference Moultrie's Memoirs, instead uses a quote from Holmes's Annals, Vol. ii, p.227. Uses plain reference to crescent only, n.f.i. Also gives a nice history of the adoption of the crescent throughout history, ending with the statement about Moultrie's use of the crescent"

"As is well known, the screscent, of, as it is usually designated, the crescent montant, has become the symbol of the Turkish empire, which has thence been frequently styled the empire of the Screscent. This symbol, however, did not originate with the Turks. Long before their conquest of Constantinople, the screscent had been used as emblematic of sovereignty, as may be seen from the still-existing medals struck in honor of Augustus, Trajan, and others; and it formed from all antiquity the symbol of Byzantium. On the overthrow of this empire by Mohammed II, the Turks, regarding the crescent, which everywhere met their eye, as a good omen, adopted it as their chief bearing: *It was, doubtless, "as the emblem of sovereignty,: that it was adopted by colonel Moultrie.
* Brande's Dictionary of Literature, &c. Crescent.
Bob Hunt, 10 August 2007

I have been trying to track down the three crescent flag. According to Edward McCrady, the preeminent SC historian of the late 19th century, the story came from John Drayton's 1st volume of Memoirs of the American Revolution. The story related by McCrady (we don't have a copy of Drayton's first volume) was that the stamps arrived in a sloop of war which anchored off of Fort Johnson, that a party of 150 citizens crossed the river from Charleston in the night, seized the fort, confined the garrison, loaded the cannons, and raised a blue flag with three crescents. When the captain of the sloop saw the flag and demanded its meaning, an officer of the sloop was shown the preparation of the citizens to fire on the sloop if the stamps were not taken away. The captain agreed to do so and sailed away.

McCrady, in his research for The History of South Carolina under the Royal Government, 1719-1776 could find no other confirmation of this event and noted that Drayton's account was written 50 years after the events and contradict numerous other accounts of the activities and whereabouts of the stamps. As he notes in a footnote on page 563-564 of the above mentioned book:

  1. "It is scarcely credible that a British naval officer would have acted such an ignominious part, and taken away the stamps at the threat of a mob. The execution of Byng was of too recent occurrence. Such cowardly conduct would have been noised over England and America"
  2. "There is no mention in the Gazette of the arrival of any such sloop of war. The stamps were brought in a merchantman, the Heart of Oak."
  3. Lt. Gov. William Bull makes no mention of such an event in his proclamation issued October 21, 1765 asking for information regarding the mob actions in Charles Town the previous Saturday.
The first report of the stamps arriving in Charleston was published on Friday, October 18, 1765. The next morning, an effigy was hung near the corner of Broad and Church Street. It was left hanging all day, then paraded about town and finally burned by the mob. During the procession, the mob stopped at the houses of several people thought to be involved in the distribution of the stamps and searched for the stamp papers. The same day, the Gazette reported that papers were being stored in Fort Johnson and that the garrison had been strengthened.

However, the stamps actually arrived on the Heart of Oak on Saturday, October 26, and were taken directly to Fort Johnson along with Caleb Lloyd who was to be the distributor of the stamps. Lloyd and another official to be involved with the stamps volunteered to suspend the execution of their offices until the King acted upon the colonies request for a repeal of the Stamp Act. The officials landed on a Charleston wharf the following Monday, October 28 to tumultuous crowd. According to the Gazette, they stepped from "a boat, in the head of which was hoisted an Union flag, with the word Liberty in the center and laurel branch on the top of the staff."

Regarding the Bull family seal with the crescent, a drawing of the seal is recorded with Bull's September 1760 commission of Thomas Middleton and the other officers of his regiment as recorded in the Secretary of the Province Miscellaneous Records, Vol. LL (1758-63). This is what is cited in the 1902 SC Historical and Genealogical Magazine.

Another personal thought regarding the so-called seizure of Fort Johnson in 1765. It bears a resemblance to the seizure of Fort Johnson in September 1775 by the troops raised by the Council of Safety. Robert Weir, in his A Most Important Epocha describes a group of 150 men going by boat to seize Johnson in 1775. This is also the number that Drayton reports seize Johnson in 1765. It may be that Drayton was mixing up some of his recollections.
Patrick McCawley, South Carolina State Archives, 14 August 2007

The Word "Liberty"

A side question: modern replicas of the Moultrie flag have the word "Liberty" across the field in white, in addition to the crescent. Moultrie didn't mention this, and the two contemporary pictures that I'm aware of don't show it. Where did the "Liberty" inscription come from?
Peter Ansoff, 5 August 2007

I have a small pamphlet by Thomas Thornhill, "Flags over Carolina" (1975, The Provost Press, Charleston, SC), which says "...Various historians have written that when the fever of independence was high, the word 'Liberty' was added to the flag across the bottom or in the white crescent. There is no evidence to support this belief." He does not mention the 3-crescent variety.
Bob Hunt, 6 August 2007

The Palmetto Tree

It was the symbol worn on the hats of South Carolina troops in the American Revolutionary War. Where they got it from I do not know. The Palmetto tree on the same flag is a tribute to the palmetto logs that were used to build Ft. Moultrie in the Rev War, which withstood bombardment by British warships quite well (palmetto is a soft wood and the cannon balls were pretty much absorbed). Another Confederate Civil War flag also used a crescent symbol - that of Gen. Earl Van Dorn's Army of the West. In this case it was an appeal to the patriotism of Missouri troops as the crescent was part of that state's coat of arms. For an example please visit the website Flags Of The Confederacy at
Greg Biggs, 13 June 2002

The palmetto tree shows up on South Carolina militia colors officially in 1838 with their Militia Act.
Greg Biggs, 8 November 2002

If I'm not mistaken, the palmetto already appeared on the state seal before this time, which makes sense-- as Greg pointed out in an earlier message, militia colors were typically the state "coat of arms" (i.e., seal or central design therefrom) on a blue field, modeled on the U.S. Army pattern of the national coat of arms on a blue field.
Joe McMillan, 8 November 2002

The State of South Carolina publishes a little booklet called "A Flag Worthy Of Your State and People" by Wylma Wates. This covers the history of the crescent and palmetto symbols. According to this, the palmetto tree comes from the war itself; the palmetto logs of Ft. Moultrie withstanding the bombardment by the British fleet at Charleston.  Thus, a new symbol was added to the state's lexicon. It was also part of the state's Coat of Arms dated to the late 1770's I believe. The palmetto tree does not really show up on flags until the Nullification Crisis of the 1830's, when resistance flags with crescents and palmetto trees first star to appear. The state's own 1839 Militia Act sets the flag for state troops as being the crescent and palmetto emblems (the SC Relic Room & Museum has a flag of this period with these symbols - the Abbeville Dragoons). With the secession crisis of 1860-1861, these symbols are finally encoded as the official flag of the Republic of South Carolina after its secession from America in December, 1860. It, of course, remains the state's flag today. The palmetto tree is a much more known symbol in the state today than the crescent.
Greg Biggs, 26 July 2007