The Crescent on South Carolina's Flag: Is it a Moon or Not?

Sep 14, 2017

The exact nature of the crescent which adorns the corner of the South Carolina state flag has been the subject of debate for years. Is it a moon, as many people say? Two state historians say it sure looks like one, but according to the flag's creator, that may not have been what he had in mind.
Credit Wikimedia Commons [CC0 1.0]

South Carolina is widely acknowledged to have one of the most beautiful state flags in the country.   Created by Col. William Moultrie, the flag features a palmetto tree, which became a beloved icon of the state.  But what about that crescent shape in the corner?  Many people call it a moon but is it really?  

"There's just some myths in history that just have legs and keep going on and on...it does, it looks like a moon. And it's ancient origins are in a moon. But that's not the way that we know Moultrie viewed it." -- Dr. Eric Emerson, Director and State Historic Preservation Officer the S.C. Department of Archives and History

Historian Rodger Stroup says flag originated with Col. William Moultrie, who took the blue of his soldiers' coats and the crescent shape from their hats to fashion a signal to let the city of Charleston know if and when the British were coming during the Battle of Sullivan's Island prior to the Revolutionary War.  He quotes Moultrie's diary, which says the design is simply a crescent, which is fellow historian Eric Emerson's view.  But, as Stroup points out, a glance at the dictionary definition of "crescent" tells one that a crescent is a quarter, or three-quarter, moon.

People routinely call it a moon, which Emerson understands, but doesn’t technically agree with.  Then there's the gorget argument. Stroup tells us that some people believe the crescent to be an homage to the gorget, a piece left over from the era when armor was in use.  Both men say they don't mind if people call it a moon (as if they could stop it), but more important is the history the symbol represents.