Friday, June 26, 2015
The true history of the South Carolina flag
The Confederate flag is not the state flag of South Carolina. Read on.
Queen Anne appointed Nathaniel Johnson, soldier and former Member of Parliament, in 1703, to be governor of the Province of Carolina. His first task was to build a fort to protect the port of Charleston (then called Charles Towne) from attack from the French and Spanish. Fort Johnson was where, 62 years later, Governor William Bull sent for safekeeping all the stamps issued under the offensive Stamp Act of 1765. And Fort Johnson was where in 1775 the first flag of the nation rose.
The man who designed and flew that first flag was William Moultrie.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 23, 1730, Moultrie was a plantation owner who grew rice and owned 200 slaves. He fought in the Anglo-Cherokee War in 1761, which was a falling out between allies in the French and Indian War. Having helped the British take Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh in 1758, the Cherokee wanted a reward. A mixup in communications led to Indians killing Virginians, and Virginians scalping Indians in retaliation. As usual, the Indians got the worst of the bargain. But the British also sowed the seeds for dissension by promising the Indians in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 not to settle the lands west of the Alleghenies. As with the French and Indian War, the British unwittingly were training the officer corps of the Continental Army. Captain Moultrie of 1761 would be elected Colonel Moultrie of the South Carolina militia in 1775.
His first call to duty, however, would be quell a slave revolt. These occurred frequently as black men loved liberty as much as white men; they merely lacked firearms. Half the slaves traded among the 13 colonies arrived at Sullivan's Island in Charleston. Some have called it the black Ellis Island, a cruelty as there were no volunteers on Sullivan's Island.
His second call was to protect Charleston from the British. On September 15, 1775, he seized Fort Johnson.
"A little time after we were in possession of Fort Johnson it was thought necessary to have a flag for the purpose of signals (as there was no national or State flag at the 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 on the dexter corner, to be in uniform with the troops. This was the first American flag, which was displayed in South Carolina. On its being first hoisted, it gave some uneasiness to our timid friends, who were looking forward to a reconciliation; they said it had the appearance of a declaration of war; and Capt. Thornborough, in the Tamar sloop of war, lying in Rebellion Road, would look upon it as an insult and a flag of defiance, and he would certainly attack the fort; but he knew his own force, and knew the weight of our metal; he therefore kept his station and contented himself with spying on us," Moultrie wrote in his 1803 memoir of his Revolutionary War years.
At the same time, another South Carolina militia colonel, Christopher Gadsden, was designing his own flag -- a rattlesnake on a field of yellow sitting atop the words "Don't Tread On Me." Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 16, 1724, Gadsden was a merchant and plantation owner. A veteran of the French and Indian War, as well as the Anglo-Cherokee War, Gadsden, was definitely Moultrie's equal in military acumen. However, the Moultrie Flag, would be adopted as the Official Flag of the State of South Carolina with one addition, the Palmetto tree. That addition is a testament to the stout-heartedness of a plant, not a man.
The denizens of Charleston rightly feared a British invasion. In February 1776, the state legislature appointed Moultrie to build a fortification. He used Palmetto trees as logs. On June 28, 1776, the British attacked the fort before South Carolinians had time to complete or arm the post. But as designed, the Palmettos protected the fortification under construction. The logs were soft and could easily absorb the shots. In fact, a few cannonballs bounced off the logs.
That saved the city.
But four years later, the British succeeded and seized the city after laying siege. Both Moultrie and Gadsden became prisoners of war. General Clinton granted them parole. Moultrie was exchanged for British prisoners. Gadsden was not. When Cornwallis became commander, he revoked the parole for Gadsden and the others, and marched the men to St. Augustine, Florida, were they were offered parole. Only Gadsden refused, saying the British had violated the first parole. He spent the next 10 months in solitary confinement at age 56.
But Generals Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan would rescue the South and force Cornwallis into the corner at Yorktown, where he surrendered.
After the war, the legislature elected Gadsden governor, but citing ill health from his confinement, he declined. Moultrie would serve two terms as governor and the fort he built of Palmetto logs would be named Fort Moultrie. Both men died in 1805, Gadsden at 81 and Moultrie at 74.