Why we celebrate Carolina Day

June 28, 2023

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

No image from the War for Independence warms my South Carolina heart more than the one you see depicted here. There are probably more accurate renditions of the event, but this full-color version of the famous incident near Charleston Harbor on June 28, 1776 stirs my soul every time I see it.

It is for us today both a call to remembrance and a call to arms.

You know the story, but I love to tell it, so I beg your indulgence…

The Royal Navy, with nine warships, was besieging a fort commanded by Colonel William Moultrie near Breach Inlet on Sullivan’s Island. Low on resources, the patriots had hastily built a fort out of the only matériel widely available, Palmetto logs. Nine ships pounded the little fort over nine hours, but the rubbery Palmettos proved impervious to British shells, and the Royal Navy withdrew. About 200 British were lost but only 35 South Carolinians.

It was in this Battle of Sullivan’s Island that we find one of our earliest South Carolina heroes. After a British cannonball struck the newly minted LIBERTY flag designed and placed on the fort by Colonel Moultrie, Sergeant William Jasper risked his life to restore it. Using a cannon ramrod for a makeshift flagpole, Jasper exclaimed, “Colonel, don’t let us fight without our flag!”

So, on this Carolina Day, and into Independence Day, let’s remember with pride Sullivan’s Island, the makeshift Palmetto fort, Sergeant Jasper, the LIBERTY flag, and the flag that we salute today.

One more thing…

Not unlike that day in 1776, the forces of freedom are discouraged today. We feel besieged. The forces against freedom are powerful. Our resources seem unfit for the task. But, we can look to Sergeant Jasper, a simple soldier who refused to see LIBERTY consigned to the muck, but instead raised the standard of LIBERTY and called on his compatriots to look to LIBERTY and to stand tall.

It is as if Jasper were by his actions that day proclaiming the ancient words of the Christian Church…sursum corda…Lift Up Your Hearts!

A fitting message for this Carolina Day.