The Moultrie Flag (Flags That Inspire Me: A Series)

The Moultrie Flag, as Designed by Col. Moultrie for Sullivan's Island Fortification

The second flag in this series also comes from the early days of the revolution and also has connections to South Carolina.  It is the subject of some debate.  Known as “the Moultrie Flag,” it seems to be distinguished from a similar banner known as “the Fort Moultrie Flag” due to a common misunderstanding.

Fort Moultrie was actually a series of fortifications on Sullivan’s Island, SC, established for the defense of Charleston.  The earliest of these was constructed of palmetto logs.  Being softer than other wood, they were a perfect material for a fort that might experience seige and bombardment since they absorb or even sometimes repel cannon fire.  This is reportedly what happened when the British navy attacked in the summer of 1776.   The man in charge of the Continental defenses was Colonel William Moultrie.  The valiant efforts expended by him and by his men saved Charleston from invasion and Moultrie was raised to the rank of Brigadier General.

This blue banner is the one that Moultrie ordered to be flown over the fortification during the Battle of Sullivan’s Island and its design is based upon the fact that his soldiers wore a silver pin on their caps that read “Liberty or Death.”  Moultrie himself claimed that it was the “first American flag to be flown in the South.”  It seems to have been his own design.  Though it was destroyed by the massive amount of ordinance dropped on the fortifications over which it flew, it inspired the colonial defenders and the fort was later named for Moultrie.  It finally fell to the British in 1780 but this did not prevent the colonials from ultimate victory.

Alternative Design Which Has Come to be Known as The Fort Moultrie Flag

According to the enthusiasts at CRW Flags, the banner that has come to be known as “the Fort Moultrie Flag” is not the original designed by Moultrie himself.  Rather than featuring the word “Liberty” inside the crescent moon itself (in imitation of the pin worn by Moultrie’s soldiers), this alternative design features the the word in all capital letters on the bottom of the flag (see second design).  Its derivation is uncertain, but it appears to have become the more popular and better known of the two flags.  This happens to be the particular design that I sometimes fly on my own flag pole at home.  The depth of color and the striking white letters never fail to get attention.

Flag of the Great State of South Carolina

Interestingly enough, the same palmettos that repelled the original invasion of the British at Sullivan’s Island have lent their name to South Carolina, which styles itself as “the Palmetto State.”  Like Moultrie’s design, the state flag of South Carolina features a white crescent in the upper corner (the area of the flag known as the “canton”), though it does not include the word “Liberty.”  To this a large palmetto tree is added to the center.  There have been many other designs since the days of the Revolutionary War that have included palmetto trees and crescents.  They are fitting reminders of the sacrifices of those who established a nation for the principles of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”


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