Palmetto logs and sand. What resistance could they offer to British warships? But defenders waited and they had a flag that proclaimed “Liberty.”
The attacks and campaigns in the Southern states during the Revolutionary War are sometimes overshadowed by “where Washington fought,” but important events happened in that region and a flag with important symbolism emerged from this area of conflict.
A Flag For The Fort
William Moultrie – a militia leader and veteran of frontier conflicts – served as colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment in 1775. One of his missions: defend Charleston from British attack. Sullivan’s Island guarded the harbor, and Moultrie built a small fort there.
His construction of the log and sand fortification (which would later be named Fort Moultrie in his honor) did not inspire confidence and was still unfinished when the British fleet appeared.
However, Moultrie had commissioned a flag that clearly stated his and his regiment’s stance: Liberty.
The Fort Moultrie flag is simple and clear. Blue field with a white crescent in the upper left corner. On the crescent, “Liberty” is written.
Interestingly, the modern state flag for South Carolina still features a crescent in the upper left corner, a nod to this important militia banner. The crescent is also traced through the decades of the state’s history with prominent featuring during the Confederacy years of the Civil War.
Sometimes, you’ll find an image labelled “The Fort Moultrie Flag” that shows “liberty” written across the center or lower portion of the flag. This is an interpretation of the original and not the actual designed used in 1775/1776.
A Flag Under Fire
The Battle of Sullivan’s Island took place on June 28, 1776. British Commodore Sir Peter Parker and nine British men-of-war vessels attacked the fortifications, resulting in an approximately nine-hour bombardment.
During the fight, Fort Moultrie’s flag toppled, and Sergeant William Jasper rushed to raise it again, inspiring the defenders to keep holding. The scene became a key point in the battle and in the patriotic stories from the attack. The story spread across South Carolina and the people suddenly felt fond of this “Rebel” flag, seeing it as a symbol of independence and courage.
The defense of Sullivan’s Island prevented Parker from taking Charleston in 1776. In gratitude for Colonel Moultrie’s actions, the Continental Congress promoted him to brigadier general, issued a resolution to thank him, and accepted the 2nd South Carolina into the Continental Army.
Why This Flag Matters
Colonel Moultrie’s defense of Charleston delayed the British occupation of that harbor for several years, giving liberty’s dream a chance to strengthen. Much of that strengthening and surge of patriotism was inspired by the fort’s defense and the account of saving the flag.
The symbolism and wording in the Fort Moultrie flag offered a precedence for South Carolina’s history that continues through the modern era. The actual historic flag serves as a reminder that the American War for Independence was not just fought in the north or central states; the south voted and fought for liberty, too.