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  THE EARLIEST SOUTH CAROLINA PALMETTO FLAG IN PRIVATE HANDS, MADE CA 1830-60, WITH BEAUTIFUL COLOR AND A LONE STAR IN PLACE OF A CRESCENT, HANDED DOWN THROUGH THE FAMILY OF GENERAL PHILIP D. COOK (b. 1804, d. 1872) OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA MILITIA, WHO MUSTERED INTO THE HOLCOMB LEGION OF CHARLESTON AND SERVED IN CONFEDERATE CAVALRY COMPANY B (CONGAREE CAVALIERS); FOUND IN A SLIDE-LID WALNUT BOX ACCOMPANIED BY COOK’S MILITIA EPAULETS, RIDING BOOTS, AND COCKADE WITH A CADET BUTTON FROM THE CITADEL

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 47" x 72.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 34" x 59.5"
Description....:
This extraordinary, pre-Civil War, South Carolina flag features a white palmetto in the center, flanked by a lone white star in the upper, hoist end corner. Probably dyed with indigo, the field is a beautiful soldier blue. The flag was handed down through the family of Philip D. Cook. Born in 1802 or 1804, (probably the latter,) Cook was the son of South Carolina Plantation owner Nathaniel Person Cook (b. 1776, d. 1854) and Grandson of Captain John Cook of Virginia, who served in South Carolina in the Continental Dragoons of Colonel William Washington’s command, during the Revolutionary War.

Cook was a member of the South Carolina State Militia. Because militia records were lost when Union Army General Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman burned the state capitol during his famous 1864 “March to the Sea,” we cannot know precisely when Philip Cook began his military career. It is likely that he did so around the time of something called the Nullification Crisis, a major event in South Carolina politics that caused the state to raise thousands of volunteer troops in what would be the first of several attempts to secede from the United States. What is known is that by 1850, Cook is listed with the title of “General” in the federal census.

By the 1820’s, South Carolina had become the largest and wealthiest cotton-producing and exporting state. The Nullification Crisis occurred in 1832-33 when its residents balked at overbearing federal tariffs. Enacted by the United States Congress in 1828 and 1832, these significantly inhibited cotton-associated profits and trade.

Tariffs provided operating revenue for the federal government and after 1816, they likewise protected American manufacturing enterprises from low-priced imports, most notedly those coming from Britain. Such levies raised the cost of goods in the agrarian South and left England, the primary consumer of American cotton, with reduced income, limiting the amount of cotton it was likely to purchase.

Southern lawmakers sought to oppose ever-increasing tariffs, which were supported by their northern counterparts representing industrial manufacturers. The 1828 and 1832 levies raised the cost of importing manufactured goods by as much as 50%. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as part of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798–99, had advocated that the federal government was to act as an agent of the sovereign states, with certain specified, delegated powers. Jefferson and Madison argued that states’ rights included the authority to determine when the federal government exceeded these powers, at which time they could declare acts of Congress to be “void and of no force” within their jurisdictions, nullifying the effects.

In 1832, South Carolinians decided to test the waters of the Jefferson-Madison theory by calling its congress into special session and voting to nullify the two tariffs. In the meantime, newly elected President Andrew Jackson declared that states did not have the right of nullification, asking Congress for authority to collect the money by force if necessary.

South Carolina responded to this threat by mobilizing state militia. Then-Governor Robert Hayne called for 10,000 volunteers. A remarkable 25,000 responded, forming ad hoc military companies in addition to the existing militia units.

Heightened patriotism and the sudden expansion raised demand for flag production. To the residents of South Carolina, the present conflict hearkened to the tyrannical rule of the British monarchy. This led to a revival of colonial symbols that recalled South Carolina’s participation in the struggle for freedom during the Revolution.

Flags of early American military units were typically made and presented by ladies of the local community. Sometimes these were the wives, mothers, and daughters of respective soldiers. All manner of military colors were produced, in a myriad of variations, many of which included a palmetto and/or a lone star. Some included rattlesnakes and others crescents, or more detailed devices, sometimes with all of the above. The presence of crescents (origin unknown) referenced their use on the hats and flags of colonial South Carolina rebels protesting the Stamp Act of 1765, as well as Rev. War banners. Palmettos referenced the use of logs of this plant, under the direction of Colonel William Moultrie, to build a defensive fort on Sullivan’s Island in 1776. Lone stars became a icon of revolutionary efforts, first in that of the West Florida Republic of 1810 (not actually part of current Florida, but rather what was to become Eastern Louisiana), and later in support of the Texas Revolution of 1836.

Although the palmetto took its place on the South Carolina State Seal in 1776, it didn’t actually appear on flags until the Nullification Crisis. Governor Hayne presented a flag to the state militia in April of 1833, the imagery of which included a palmetto and large gold letters that read “Liberty it must be preserved.” Many other palmetto flags followed.

Response to the Nullification Crisis represented the most significant threat thus far towards South Carolina secession from the Union. The state had failed to persuade other Slave States of the graveness of the situation, however, and its leaders were divided over how to defend its own interests without support from the rest of the South. Congress supported Jackson, passing something called the Force Bill of 1833. This allowed the president to relocate customs houses, dictated that fees be paid in cash, and authorized the use of military force to collect revenues. Because import duties were at the same time substantially reduced, South Carolina rescinded its nullification of the tariff laws and instead nullified the Force Bill, doing so more to make a statement, as it was no longer needed.

Tension between South Carolina and the federal government persisted throughout the Antebellum. As sectional tensions grew in the 1850’s, South Carolina once again began to improve its militia for possible action in military conflict. As a consequence of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, the state authorized $100,000 for military contingencies. A large portion of militia was called for duty at Charleston during the secession crisis. Older militia members, and those not required to serve, continued to protect the city both before and after the mustering of Confederate Army volunteers.

Made sometime in the period between roughly 1830 and 1860, the flag that is the subject of this narrative is entirely hand-sewn. All four sides of the lightweight, blue cotton are neatly bound with black thread, in spite of the selvage edge along both top and bottom. The star and palmetto are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The latter is made of cotton that is similar to what was employed in the blue field, while the former is slightly heavier, possibly a blended fabric with wool content. The binding along the hoist creates a narrow, open sleeve, through which a length of finely braided hemp rope was passed and stitched into position.

The flag was found in a walnut, slide-lid, 19th century box, with a small porcelain knob. Accompanying it was a pair of pre-Civil War officer’s epaulettes, hand-made, Civil War riding boots with wooden-pinned soles, and a hand-sewn, satin silk and glazed cotton cockade, featuring a Horstmann & Allien-made brass button in the center. The button is of a type used by cadets at the Citadel, as evidenced by their presence on an identified cadet uniform on display at the Citadel Museum. Built in 1829, the school was established in 1842. The image features crossed, downward-pointing arrows in the form of a saltire, flanked to the left and right by the letters “SC.” These are superimposed over a Palmetto with a design like the original state seal, adopted in 1776. Around the perimeter is a Latin motto that still accompanies the arms of the state today: “Animis Opibusque Parati,” which translates to “Prepared in Minds and Resources.” Although the button design was used by South Carolina militia, the scale is cadet size, not militia size, and examples have been dug on the original Citadel site. Cook’s initials, “P.D.C.” were inscribed on the reverse of the epaulets in black ink, and his name is written on the wooden box.

In spite of the fact that the elongated shape of the flag is not what one would traditionally expect for use on land, and that the rope hoist was seldom employed for ground forces, I expect that Cook was presented with the flag when he received his militia rank of General, most likely having been elected to the position. While expertly sewn, the maker was probably either a relative or a woman of the greater community, as opposed to a professional flag-maker. The design is most closely associated with another militia flag attributed to the Palmetto Guard (among the holdings of the Charleston Museum). Allegedly dating to 1861, flag experts feel that it is almost certainly pre-war. Though the palmetto is green, the star is blue, and the field is white, it is also made of cotton, is rectangular, and is nearly identical in scale to the Cook flag. The fact is that palmetto flags were rectangular as a rule, militia flags tend to contain features not commonly encountered on professionally made examples, and Southern flags exhibit more oddities than their northern counterparts.

As part of the research I commissioned on the Philip D. Cook flag, the four leading experts in the field of South Carolina military history assembled a list of all of the known examples of pre-Civil War palmetto flags. 15 others were identified, all of which are in museum collections. In a 22-page report, the panel, assembled by military historian Greg Biggs, agreed that “the Philip D. Cook palmetto flag, probably of the militia era, is in limited company and the only one in private hands. All of the remainder are held by museums.”

While the solid fields of South Carolina flags vary widely in color, the first cited (1765) example was blue. The official state flag, adopted on January 28th, 1861, which remains basically unchanged today, is also blue. Despite the fact that other colors might gain the attention of flag enthusiasts, due to their oddity in a modern context, being blue and in an especially attractive shade is a very positive trait for an antique South Carolina flag.

Also of great interest to collectors is its size. Flags of the 19th century tend to be far larger than modern flags. Among pieced-and-sewn examples made before 1890, lengths of 8 feet and greater are common. Southern military colors used by ground forces tend to be small compared to Union flags, but all military-use flags of the Civil War era and prior are rare. At just shy of 5 feet on the fly, the Cook flag is a wonderful size to frame and display, small enough to easily manage and yet large enough to make a bold statement.

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Philip D. Cook’s Military Service in the Mexican & Civil Wars:

During the Mexican War (1846-1848), it seems likely that Cook may have served with the volunteers of the Palmetto Regiment, the only unit supplied by South Carolina in support federal forces. Although not listed on surviving rosters, one of Cook’s children is accounted for among its ranks and noted as having died in New Orleans after succumbing to disease. The following appeared in the Columbia, SC newspaper, the South-Carolinian, Issue of September 14, 1847: “SON: Died at New Orleans, La., on the 4th of June last, after a protracted illness, contracted at Vera Cruz, Mexico, Mr. J. Waring Cook, son of Gen. P. D. Cook, of Fairfield District, aged 21 years. The deceased belong to the Palmetto Regiment.”

Following South Carolina’s secession in December of 1860, Philip Cook most likely commanded his militia company in local defense as needed. Then, on November 21st, 1861, at the age of 57, he enlisted as a non-commissioned officer at the rank of 1st Sergeant, in a volunteer unit raised by Peter Fayssoux Stevens. A former superintendent of the South Carolina Military Academy (The Citadel), Stevens’ recruitment efforts were authorized by South Carolina Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens. Stevens named it the Holcomb Legion after the governor’s wife, Lucy Holcomb Pickens, who became a significant female figure in secessionist history. A legion was traditionally comprised of infantry, cavalry, and artillery companies, though in this case the artillery arm never formed. The Holcomb Legion, nevertheless, was hard-fighting and gained much fame. Cook would serve for approximately six months in Company B, known as the “Congaree Cavaliers.” *

Also known as the “Congaree Mounted Guard,” and the “Congaree Mounted Riflemen,” this unit was one of four, later increased to five cavalry companies that served the Legion for a time, before being assigned to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, where it eventually became part of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry (1864). Attached to Evans', Elliot's, and then Wallace's Brigade, the Congaree Cavaliers fought at Second Bull Run (Second Manassas), South Mountain, Antietam (Sharpsburg), and Vicksburg. Under Wallace it became known as the “Tramp Brigade,” due to its vast movements across three theaters of the war. Returning to South Carolina for a time, it participated at the siege of Petersburg, where part of the battalion was blown up in the infamous crater. A portion of Holcombe Legion was present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865.
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In summary, this is not only the earliest palmetto flag known outside museum collections, but a beautiful one, with specific history to an identified South Carolina militia officer who enlisted in one if the most famous Civil War regiments. The flag’s small scale is augmented by very desirable color and an important grouping of the officer’s belongings, among which is a rosette with a button that ties he or his family to one the most revered military institutions in the nation and a historic fixture in Charleston. A fantastic find for any collector of South Carolina history.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted molding with a wood grained surface, to which a rippled profile molding, black with gold highlights, was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.

Condition: Exceptional for the period, with but minor to modest age toning and a couple of tiny stains. There are a few tiny holes, almost not worthy of mention, the largest of which is a weak area along the fly end side of the palmetto, in the blue field, adjacent to the applique stitching.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Parade flag
Star Count: Other
Earliest Date of Origin: 1830
Latest Date of Origin: 1860
State/Affiliation: South Carolina
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD
 

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