The Palmetto Tree and Crescent: Symbols of Home
One of the many unique things about living in South Carolina is the sweeping use of the South Carolina State Flag symbols to represent our connection to home.
I’ve done a little research and I can’t find any other state where the symbols on the flag have become so commonly used. (Of course, poor Virginia never had a chance – their symbol illustrates someone in a toga stepping on some poor soul. Imagine that on your koozie or the back of your car.)
Nevertheless, the symbols on our flag connect all of us as South Carolinians. Once, when we lived in Idaho, someone passed me on the highway honking and waving like my car was on fire. “What in the world….?” I thought – until the car passed me and I saw that they, too, had a South Carolina decal on the back of their car. I’m surprised we didn’t pull over and start hugging each other.
Symbols are important in a culture. They’re intentionally crafted to spark a feeling within us when we see them. The symbols on our State Flag, now used so frequently on the back of our cars (and on shirts, plastic cups, Christmas ornaments, backpacks, etc., etc.), were chosen because they illustrated ideas that all South Carolinians at the time could connect with. Originating in 1775, the blue of the flag represented the color of the uniforms worn by soldiers at the time. The crescent (no, it isn’t a moon) represented the silver emblem worn on their caps. It wasn’t until 1861 that the palmetto tree was added to commemorate Colonel William Moultrie’s valiant defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the British Fleet in 1776.
But symbols are funny things. They originate, as did the symbols on our State Flag, to connect us to a shared experience. But as soon as we see the symbol our imaginations, fueled by our own feelings, experiences, and perceptions, start turning it into something uniquely personal. It becomes special to us because we connect to it in a very intimate way.
I love the history of our State Flag symbols and put the decal on my car as a reflection of my pride in being a native South Carolinian. But it means so much more to me than that. The palmetto tree and crescent say “home”. When I see it I am flooded with memories and feelings. I’m sitting in a swing on the waterfront in Beaufort on a summer evening; I’m wading in Wallace Creek on St. Helena Island with my grandmother. I can taste the shrimp burger at The Shrimp Shack and smell the decadent chocolatey scents of The Chocolate Tree. I’m at the beach, where I can hear the seagulls fighting over my cheese puffs. The mockingbirds are singing on a beautiful spring day, perched in a blooming dogwood tree or azalea bush.
The use of the South Carolina State Flag symbols in our everyday life on our everyday objects says “we love our home”.
And isn’t that the truth?
Story by Elizabeth Bishop Later
Editor’s note: Written as ‘Symbols of Home’, by Elizabeth Bishop Later for A Place Called Home: A memoir of Beaufort and St. Helena Island, South Carolina. You can read more from the book and writings of Sonny Bishop and Elizabeth Bishop Later at http://bishopsbest.com. We appreciate Elizabeth and Sonny’s sharing of their Beaufort memories, local lore and history, and some musings with us all. Be sure to follow them on facebook too for more great local inspiration!