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  SOUTH CAROLINA PALMETTO / STATE FLAG, A WONDERFUL, SMALL SCALE, EXAMPLE, PROBABLY MADE FOR EVENTS IN CHARLESTON BETWEEN 1890-1899

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 37" x 47.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 25.5" x 36"
Description....:
Early state flags fall between very scarce and extraordinarily rare in the antiques marketplace. One primary reason for this is that most states, even if they existed during the 18th or 19th century, didn’t actually adopt flags until the early 20th century. The Maryland State Legislature, for example, didn’t find need for a state banner until 1904, in spite of the fact that Maryland was one of the original 13 colonies. Other states adopted seals with imagery that eventually ended up being a primary focus within the device(s) of its state flag, but didn’t actually adopt a flag until a later time. South Carolina is one such example.

Although the palmetto took its place on the South Carolina State Seal in 1776, it didn’t actually appear on flags until 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. 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 of 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.

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. 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, while some bore more detailed devices. The latter might include all of the above.

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. The precise purpose of the crescent remains unknown, but what is known is that this device, sometimes oriented so that it appeared like an open basin or the letter “U,” appeared on the hats and flags of colonial South Carolina rebels in their protest of the Stamp Act of 1765. During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), crescents also appeared on South Carolina banners.

Although secession was avoided in 1832-33, tension between South Carolina and the federal government persisted throughout the Antebellum, until December 20th, 1860, it became the first state to leave the Union in the forthcoming Confederacy. On January 26, 1861, the seceded South Carolina legislature adopted a blue flag with a white crescent at the hoist and a white oval and golden palmetto in the cent

. Just two days later, on January 22nd, the oval window was eliminated, and the color of the palmetto was changed to white. Although the technical aspects of the flag changed slightly in 1910 and 1940, that basic design has continued to represent the state ever since.

Made sometime in the period between roughly 1890 and 1910, the blue field of the flag that is the subject of this narrative is made of a single, 25.5” length of wool bunting, with selvedge along the upper and lower edges. The palmetto and crescent are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a sailcloth canvas binding along the hoist, with two brass grommets. The number “36” was inscribed on the reverse of the hoist to indicate size in inches. At approximately 2 x 3 feet, the scale of the flag is extremely attractive to collectors and one-time buyers alike.

The flag was deaccessioned from the Confederate Museum of Charleston, South Carolina (now The Museum at Market Hall). The museum was opened and operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This specific chapter organized in 1894. A major reunion of the United Confederate Veterans was held in the city in 1899. Attendees from the organization were asked to bring relics for donation to a new museum, that opened in that same year. I suspect that this flag was either presented for donation at that time, or made for that specific event. The zigzag stitch used to apply the devices was patented for use on flags by an African American, Henry Bowman of Baltimore, in 1892. I have observed it on flags made as early as 1889, though it doesn’t appear regularly until 1890 and after. By 1896 it had become the most common way to apply stars on American national flags and remained so until WWII (U.S. involvement 1941-1945). This flag is definitely an early example within that time frame and probably dates to the last decade of the 19th century versus the opening of the 20th, though I have conservatively set the upper limit of the date window at 1910.

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 and hand-gilded, Italian molding with a substantial, early American style profile. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.

Condition: There is minor mothing throughout, accompanied by moderate mothing along and near the top and bottom of the hoist end. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the flag during the mounting process. There is modest to moderate foxing and soiling on the palmetto, crescent, and hoist binding. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1910
State/Affiliation: South Carolina
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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