South Carolina’s “palmetto flag” was officially made the state banner in 1861. The crescent and tree symbolize the defense of Charleston in 1776, shortly after the colony of South Carolina had declared its independence from England. Troops wearing the crescent symbol on their caps built a fort of palmetto logs overlooking the city’s harbor entrance on Sullivan’s Island, and their famous victory over the British on June 28, 1776 was largely attributed to the soft palmetto core that absorbed and smothered English cannonballs.
Although the crescent is recognized to be a symbol of the troops and not the moon, some disagreement persists as to its origin.
From what I have found, there seems to be little doubt that it is the “gorget.” The motif was derived from the throat plate of the medieval knight in armor, and during the 18th century became popular with King George II as a military symbol worn around the necks of English officers. One of South Carolina’s staunch loyalists was William Bull, who was named Lt. Governor by King George in 1755, and who personally designed the uniforms of a newly-reorganized South Carolina militia in 1760, adding the gorget symbol to their caps.
Bull’s own family crescent includes the gorget symbol and it was he who commissioned William Moultrie as an officer of the 2nd South Carolina regiment. Moultrie is credited with designing a crescent flag as a symbol of his troops in 1775, and he later wrote that it conformed to the crescent symbol worn on their caps.
This chain of evidence far outweighs anything that can be offered in opposition to this theory, and why I firmly stand by the research that proves the crescent comes from the gorget. Some confusion has been caused by the fact that the crescent on the state flag was tilted in the 1890’s to resemble the moon. Fortunately, one of the original flgas (and perhaps THE original state flag) still exists from the 1860’s. This large banner features a crescent straight up and down in the manner of the gorget. Ironically, this flag was stolen from the state capitol in Columbia in 1865 by Iowa troops under Sherman, who burned and ransacked that city. It is still kept at the Historical Society of Iowa, which should be willing to give back the property of a sister state (after all Iowa, wasn’t the Union “preserved” by those troops?) Thus far, no offering from Iowa, so the old flag remains in limbo.
The statuesque brick single-house at 14 Legare Street is famously known for the its unusual “Pineapple” gates. Unlike the Sword Gates up the street, the namesake motif is not in swinging parts of the structure, but atop the brick frame from which the gates are hung. The main gates and two side gates are made of oak, and date to the early 1800’s when the house was built by James Simmons. He sold the house in 1815 to George Edwards, a wealthy shipping merchant who imported, among others goods, a hugely-popular novelty of the post-Revolutionary period called pineapple cheese.
Pineapples had been become symbolic of gracious hospitality since the 1670’s, when King Charles II famously posed for a painting in which he was presented a luscious fruit borne from America. In the years that followed, pineapple motifs appeared in wood and stone on exterior walls as a show of such hospitality. Edwards commissioned an Italian sculptor from Philadelphia to carve four stone finials his gates, which were added along with Edwards initials. Presumably Edwards asked for pineapples, which would have been the most logical motif, and in keeping with other pineapple shapes on walls and gates around old Charleston.
Yet a close look at the so-called Pineapple Gates reveals no pineapples, but what look more like four peeled Brussels sprouts. Some writers have suggested over the years that what Edwards called for are Italian acorns, but pictures of Italian acorns look nothing like these. No, it’s safe to say that Edwards meant to get pineapples, but that his sculptor took artistic license in creating the look. It really doesn’t matter that they don’t resemble pineapples, because the “Pineapple Gates” is a misnomer anyway, as they should be more correctly called “The Pineapple Finials”.
We call the Romanesque Revival structure at the Northwest corner of Washington Park the Fireproof Building – even though it has actually caught fire.
The massive building with the Roman “tetra” style portico (that’s four columns) was designed by Charleston native Robert Mills as the winning entry for a city competition to create a non-combustible structure to house official documents. The area on which the Fireproof building was finished in 1827 had been home to a brick beef market, and had burned twice in 1796, and city officials simply left it open as a fire break. In 1801, an Adamesque style Federal bank was built on the site of the old beef market, but when it closed and was sold to Charleston, it became our City Hall in 1818, and the open area behind it was designated as City Hall Park.
An architectural competition ensued to build a structure on the park opposite the new City Hall that would be impervious to fire, and Mills’ design was the winner. He created a two-story building on a raised basement that would feature Neo-Classical features built of red sandstone, brick, iron and glass. As the Fireproof Building, the temple-like building famously survived through fire, bombardment, and earthquake as one of Charleston’s iconic structures, and became home to the South Carolina Historical Society after World War II.
Ironically, or woodenly, the building’s simple fire insurance policy was allowed to lapse, and sure enough, an office fire swept through its furnishings, paper and interior framing in 1955, scarring the old edifice.
The Fireproof Building survives today with name intact, but its legacy as a structure impervious to burning has certainly gone down in flames.