If Southerners want a Symbol, Why not the Moultrie Liberty Flag?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | —

There was a rash of Confederate flag removals on Wednesday. The governor of Alabama had it removed from the statehouse. The governor of Virginia recalled vanity plates with the flag on them. Some Mississippi legislators proposed removing it from the state flag. Amazon, E-Bay and other retailers announced they would not carry the flag or memorabilia with the flag on it. Dismayed supporters of the flag said it represented Southern “valor” in the Civil War.

Here’s an idea. If Southerners want a regional symbol of pride and valor, why not go back to the Moultrie or Liberty flag?


It was flown by South Carolinians in the fight against the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War and was the first American flag to fly over the South.

Best of all, the flag has the word “Liberty” written into the crescent moon, underscoring this key American value, so important for all peoples living in the South. It is better than the Gadsden flag (with the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake) because it expresses a positive value and emotion rather than a negative, reactive one.

The Revolutionary War is one that African Americans can take pride in, even if it did not free the slaves in the South. One fifth of the northern Revolutionary War army was made up of African-Americans. Even in the South, Wikipedia notes, citing historian Eric Foner:

“Because of manpower shortages at sea, both the Continental Navy and Royal Navy signed African Americans into the navy. Even southern colonies, which worried about putting guns into the hands of slaves for the army, had no qualms about using blacks to pilot vessels and to handle the ammunition on ships. In state navies, some blacks served as pilots; South Carolina had significant numbers of black pilots.”

Thus, African-Americans served in one branch of the Continental military under this flag and can take pride in it, and in their role in beginning the process of establishing liberty in the South, a role that continued in the 1860s and the 1960s, through to today.

From Wikipedia:

“The Moultrie Flag

In 1775, Colonel William Moultrie was asked by the Revolutionary Council of Safety to design a flag for the South Carolina troops to use during the American Revolutionary War. Moultrie’s design had the blue of the militia’s uniforms and the crescent. It was first flown at Fort Johnson.

This flag was flown in the defense of a new fortress on Sullivan’s Island, when Moultrie faced off against a British fleet that hadn’t lost a battle in a century.

In the 16-hour battle on June 28, 1776, the flag was shot down, but Sergeant William Jasper ran out into the open, raising it and rallying the troops until it could be mounted again. This gesture was so heroic, saving Charleston, South Carolina, from conquest for four years, that the flag came to be the symbol of the Revolution, and liberty, in the state and the new nation.

Soon popularly known as either the Liberty Flag or Moultrie Flag, it became the standard of the South Carolinian militia, and was presented in Charleston, by Major General Nathanael Greene, when that city was liberated at the end of the war. Greene described it as having been the first American flag to fly over the South.”

N.B. Branches of the author’s family have been in the Shenandoah Valley in Northern Virginia since the 18th century and both his parents were born there.

11 Responses

  1. I’m a South Carolinian who lives about 45 minutes from Charleston. I remember very early on in my education reading about Ft. Moultrie and Sgt. Jasper’s heroic effort

    However, what really got the attention of white male segregated middle school students centered around the stories of Jeb, Stonewall and Robert E Lee. These generals and their soldiers were our super heroes who defended the homeland against northern aggression. To our young minds it was all about bravery and heroics, slavery was something associated with plantation owners.

    My fourth grade teacher, a woman who never married and an adamant states rights supporter, taught us the real reason the south seceded was because we were being financially maligned by the north and it’s manufacturing based economy. She taught the issue of slavery, an issue she admitted was inhumane, was one Lincoln raised only to rally his unenthusiastic federal troops.

    I say this only to make the point to non southerners that a segment of the south’s white population actually can view the portrait of Robert E Lee or Longstreet and feel a sense of history without any racism involved. Call it a sense of denial.

    Now that the battle flags and statues are rightfully being removed from public property blacks throughout the south can claim a major victory over a brutal practice that to this day has left scars on this nation. Unfortunately we owe this awakening to a coward and disgrace to his southern roots. We are better than that.

    • dsmith. you perfectly explained how many southerners view the civil war. Intellectually understanding secession , slavery and the civil war is difficult to compute when Lee and Jackson were seen as “super heroes defending the homeland against northern aggression.”

    • “Unfortunately we owe this awakening to a coward and disgrace to his southern roots.” Opinions differ, but in my view the contemporary “Southern roots” are deeply planted in the soil of Jim Crow. Liberal and progressives are often considered a disgrace to their southern roots.

      Jim Crow lost it’s legality in the 60’s, but it’s roots are atrophying at a rather slow rate. The killer had no problem finding contemporary kindred spirits.

      • People are looking at the arc of American racism in the wrong way. White supremacy was manufactured by the joint-stock corporations who financed Southern colonies and plantations to create cultural support for the legal imposition of slavery. The economy was being built by keeping the workers in absolute destitution, and giving the whites absurd privileges over the blacks made them unpaid volunteers in enforcing economic injustice.

        But if that’s true of an economy on the way up, why not an economy on the way down? The rich have been strip-mining the society they once built up, destroying its jobs, infrastructure and public institutions, and making obscene profits. At some point, they will drive wages down so low that once again one group of workers must be pitted against others to stave off rebellion. How do we know that some of the rich didn’t recognize that decades ago and begin preparations?

        The libertarians refuse to acknowledge that there is a market for sadism, which makes it a commodity that can be exchanged for the right to decent wages and living conditions. This is the secret history of American capitalism.

    • Abdallah: Have you seen the State flag of South Carolina? White Palmetto and Crescent Moon on a Blue field?

  2. Best of all, the flag has the word “Liberty” written into the crescent moon, underscoring this key American value, so important for all peoples living in the South.

    Unfortunately, in our Orwellian world “liberty” on this flag would most likely prove to be as meaningless as “liberty” in the pledge of allegiance.

    We have tens of millions of people living in poverty and they have little to no liberty at all.

    • There’s always been something dark hidden in the word “liberty”. The Romans did not view liberty as something everyone had or should have. It was a status one group possessed at the expense of another. That was exactly how America’s early slavery apologists described liberty.

  3. Dssmith, thanks for your excellent comment. Your last sentence made me think twice though. I really do not believe that “We are better than that”, neither in your state of South Carolina, my original home state of Mississippii, nor my present home state of Texas, nor in any of the states in the nation that continue to discriminate against minority voters and others such as the elderly or ill by enacting cynical and unethical (if not amoral) restrictive voting laws. The same goes for state and federal laws that intentionally target minority citizens more than majority citizens, as well as the egregious unequal enforcement of even those awful laws, all tilted to commit as many minority citizens as possible to the prison systems for many years of their lives, both inside and outside of the walls. It’s a reverse underground railroad, and it needs to be completely dismantled along with the symbols of racial oppression.

    Maybe someday we will “be better than that”, but certainly we have not proven such a thing to any significant degree and are far from being “better than that” today.

    • The “We” I made reference to was the progressives who live amongst those who are racially intolerant.

  4. The Gadsden flag has been so thoroughly co-opted by the Tea Partiers in the last eight years that it has lost all its original meaning, and now I have got to get rid of mine that I’ve had for over two decades because if I fly it, people will assume I’m a right-wing anti-gummint radical. Sort of like what happened to the CSA battle flag, I suppose.

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