A Charleston woman sketched, using a pencil, her version of a palmetto tree in 1910. Ellen Heyward Jervey was an amateur artist and librarian, and also a friend of the state’s first secretary of the Historical Commission, A.S. Salley.
Salley was working on an official version of the state flag: a crescent in the upper left-hand corner and a centered sabal palmetto tree on indigo blue. But when the sketch was converted to the flag, it didn’t go over well. The bushy fronds were messy, and the trunk blocky. Ultimately the flag was repealed in 1940.
For 80 years, the state’s flag has been up to interpretation by flag manufacturers. Although, in the age of listicles and social media shares, the flag routinely shows up in the top 10 for best flags despite its many variations.
“South Carolina’s state flag has been voted one of the most beautiful. It’s beautiful for its simplicity. It’s always been high in the ranking for vexillologists,” S.C. Department of Archives and History Director Dr. Eric Emerson says.
But in 2018, lawmakers decided there needed to be an official version, and they formed at study committee. The committee reported its findings March 4 — and members revisited Jervey’s design. Clemson University worked with the committee to convert the sketch once again to a flag.
Now it’s up to the General Assembly to adopt it or modify it.
“This one thing that represents us more than anything else should be codified,” committee chair Emerson says.
He added he expects the tree — which is, again, based on Jervey’s sketch — to be controversial.
“The palmetto is the thing that I’m sure will draw opinions,” he says. “It will come down to what the General Assembly wants to see in a palmetto tree.”
The crescent and the color were easy, he said. The crescent was a cap badge that embossed South Carolina’s regimental uniforms. The blue and the crescent were found on the state’s Revolutionary war flag. But the palmetto didn’t show up on the state’s flag until later and Jervey’s is one based in history, Emerson said.
The dark blue of the proposed S.C. flag was sampled from the 2nd South Carolina Regiment Flag flag (below) planted on British fortifications before being captured during the Siege of Savannah: