Flags Over Charleston

From left to right – American flag, Union Jack, Moultrie flag & Gadsden flag.

Many flags have flown over Charleston during its 347 year history, and the tradition continues today.  As one travels the city’s streets, a variety of flags can be seen extending from the balconies, hanging from piazzas, or flying over buildings, adding a certain spice to the city’s skyline

The reasons for flying a flag vary and are as divergent as the people who fly them.  They range from showing patriotism, to supporting, or not supporting, a cause, or just expressing a belief.  Many fly flags to show connection to a college or university, or as a form of advertising, for a hotel, restaurant, or another type of business   For whatever reason they fly, flags connect us, they elicit emotion, a certain feeling, triggering memories both good and bad.   They say something.  They encapsulate in a symbol the feeling of many that words can never achieve.  They have done so in the past and they continue to do so today.

Without a doubt the most popular flag flying over the city is Old Glory.  Many fly it on a daily basis, others just on holidays like the 4th of July, Veterans Day, or Memorial Day.  First sanctioned by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes has gone through some 28 various designs, maybe more since the canton, or field of stars, had no official arrangement until the 48 star flag in July 1912.  At first both a star and a stripe were added for each new state, with the flag of 1795 having 15 stripes and 15 stars.  But that proved cumbersome, so with the 1818 flag 13 stripes became the standard with an additional star added for each new state.  The present 50 star flag was designed by Robert G. Heft when he was 17 years old as a high school project.  He made a B- on the project but the teacher changed his grade to an A when his design was selected for the national flag.

Next in popularity comes the South Carolina state flag, with its blue background, white crescent and Palmetto Tree in the center.  The basic design comes from then Colonel William Moultrie at the beginning of the Revolution.  He was asked by the Revolutionary Council of Safety in 1775 to design a flag for the troops.  The blue background comes from the uniforms of the state troops.  As to the crescent, there is controversy.  In his memoirs Moultrie said the crescent represented the symbol on the front of the soldiers caps.  Others believe it to be a gorget, defined by Webster to be “a piece of armor defending the throat.”  I’m inclined to believe the first explanation since most of the soldiers probably had no fancy throat guard.

The original Moultrie flag did not have the Palmetto Tree.  Some versions had the word LIBERTY along the bottom, or inserted in the crescent.  In 1860, the S.C. General Assembly, looking for a “national flag,”  added the Palmetto Tree, to honor its role in the victory at Ft. Moultrie during the Revolution, to the original design of Moultrie to create the state flag as it is today.  This flag was officially adopted as the state flag on January 28, 1861.


Another popular flag is the Gadsden flag, designed by Charlestonian Christopher Gadsden during the Revolution.  Gadsden was a member of the Continental Congress and a member of the Marine Committee that was involved in preparing the just created U.S. Navy and five companies of marines for their first mission.  Gadsden presented this flag to Commodore Esek Hopkins as his personal standard.  It is believed to have been carried by the first Marines.  The rattlesnake was chosen for its resolve, for “it never begins an attack, nor when once engaged, ever surrenders.”  Today the flag is popular for those protesting against various government polices.

Spirit flag of the Corps of the Citadel evolving from Civil War.

Another popular flag often seen throughout the city is a variation of the state flag known as Big Red.   Originally the flag was flown by Citadel Cadets stationed at Morris Island to defend the harbor entrance in January 1861.  In 1992 it was adopted as the spirit flag for the Corps of Cadets with the crescent facing outward, as the state flag.  But in 2009 an original flag was found to have the crescent facing inward, so the Citadel’s Board of Visitors adopted that version as the spirit flag.  As a result one will probably find both versions flying.

Many other flags can be seen flying over the city from the flags of colleges or universities, especially on game days, to a variety of early revolutionary flags and many in between.  Scroll through a sampling above and ENJOY!