The Jacob Milligan Story

and the SC State Flag


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The current SC State Flag was designed by Col. Moultrie following the battle for Sullivan's Island. The Crescent represented a form of armor worn by some men (and was part of the Middleton Family Crest), but the Palmetto Tree was added  after Moultrie saw the explosions from the Acteon as Captain Milligan and company disembarked.  He noted how the bursting of the bombs reminded him of the Palmetto tree.  Also, the Fort was not completely finished, and was partly defended by cut Palmetto trees laid around its perimeter.  These soft, spongy trees absorbed the British cannon shells preventing severe damage to the American forces.

 During the Battle of Sullivan's Island, when Lt. Jacob Milligan's sloop boarded the British ship, The Acteon, it was already ablaze, having been set on fire by the British who abandoned it.  After turning the guns of the Acteon back against the British, Milligan and his crew left the Acteon, and it blew up, Here is an account of this action from a lesson plan by Ms. Jennifer Coe, Lang Middle School, Mt. Pleasant SC (a former teacher of Sean Milligan):

As darkness came, Admiral Parker began to take stock of the damage to his fleet. Most of his ships were damaged, some severely. Of the three ships run aground, the Syren and Sphynx had managed to free themselves, but the Acteon was still firmly planted on the sandbar. The British retreated under the cover of darkness and when the Patriots awoke on the morning of the 29th, they found the fleet withdrawn. The crew of the Acteon, after being unable to free her, evacuated the ship and set her afire. Troops from the fort went out and boarded the ship, firing her guns at the departing crew. The Patriots took what they could from the ship until they realized that the fire was quickly heading towards the magazine. They rapidly left the ship and headed back to the fort. Legend has it that all of those who witnessed the Acteon’s magazine catch fire said the smoke from the explosion rose up and formed the shape of a Palmetto tree. The palmetto tree became part of the seal of South Carolina - the image of a palmetto rising high from a fallen English oak – and was later added to the crescent to become the South Carolina state flag.

From "Gilmer, Georgia Muldrow. Battle of Fort Sullivan: Events leading to the First Decisive Victory". Fort Sullivan Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. 1976. Lipscomb, Terry W. The Carolina Lowcountry April 1775 – June 1776 and the Battle of Fort Moultrie. Columbia, SC: South Carolina Department of Archives and History. 1994.









The Crescent Moon

The crescent moon actually originated from the remains of a knight’s armor. British officers wore a ceremonial metal crescent, often silver or gold plated placed over the heart area. The crescent was also the silver emblem worn on the front of the hats of South Carolina troops in the American Revolutionary War of Independence. The metal crescent is called a gorget. The gorget eventually became discontinued, but the design of the crescent was retained as a unit symbol and inspired the first unit flags used by the troops – blue with a white crescent.

The Palmetto

The palmetto tree comes from the war itself.  The Palmetto tree is a tribute to the palmetto logs that were used to build Ft. Moultrie in the Revolutionary War, which withstood attack by the British fleet at Charleston. Asked by the Revolutionary Council of Safety in the fall of 1775 to design a flag for the use of South Carolina troops, Col. Moultrie chose the color blue which matched their uniforms. The palmetto tree was added later to represent Moultrie’s heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the attack of the British fleet on June 28, 1776.


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