That’s no crescent moon on the S.C. flag; it’s a gorget
In our first article, the “gorget” was identified as a medieval piece of throat armor which went from a practical battlefield device to a symbolic one, and back again with modern combat vests. In the second part of this series, attention will focus on the origin and basic organization of South Carolina’s colonial era military forces and how the gorget ultimately became its unifying symbol.
The Carolina colony —later divided into North and South—was officially founded in 1670 by eight English “Lord Proprietors” via generous land grants by King Charles II. As the first settlers arrived, militia groups were immediately formed to protect the citizenry, defend the land, and even act as an expeditionary force against certain native tribes and especially the Spanish in what was then neighboring Florida.
These early militias were comprised, with few exceptions, of all ablebodied men from age 16 to 60. Each individual was required to equip himself with the necessary armaments while landowners— particularly large and wealthy landowners— were tasked in a feudalistic fashion to furnish so many “soldiers” per acreage owned. Furthermore and in addition to friendly native warriors who served in complimentary units, white indentured servants and black slaves were also often added to the rosters.
Initially, militia units and fortifications were concentrated on the coast to protect such crucial ports as Charles Town (Charleston) and Port Royal (Beaufort). But as South Carolina’s “backcountry” gradually became more populated, focus shifted to the colony’s frontiers where suspicious native tribes and encroaching settlers naturally began to clash. Groups of rangers were soon organized to keep watch and sound the alarm when necessary. Additional fortifications were also built and garrisoned.
Then in 1760, at the zenith of the French and Indian War, tensions between the Cherokee and backcountry colonists finally boiled over and turned violent. Shortly thereafter, interim Governor William Bull Jr. formed the South Carolina Provincial Regiment (“Middleton’s Regiment” for its commander Col. Thomas Middleton) to aid British regulars already sent by London. This regiment, however, was no ordinary militia unit. These men were not volunteers in the traditional sense nor were they conscripted, impressed, or otherwise required to bring their own armaments. Instead, the entire regiment was raised, paid, and equipped by the General Assembly, which made it more a mercenary force than a militia one.
Nonetheless, the formation of the South Carolina Provincial Regiment proved historic for another reason. The officers— including Capt. William Moultrie and Lt. Francis Marion—all wore a silver gorget around their collars. Their men also adopted the gorget but as a crescent-shaped metal badge upon their light infantry caps, tips blunted and facing upward like a “U.” This simple uniform choice is the first known example of the gorget identifying an entire South Carolina military unit, officers, and foot soldiers alike.
It would not, however, be the last. Less than two decades later, the Revolutionary War engulfed the state and the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Regiments were formed to protect Charleston from a certain British invasion. The 1st was commanded by Col. Christopher Gadsden, while the 2nd was commanded by Col. William Moultrie. For our purposes, what’s most important is the officers once again wore silver gorgets while their sol- diers sported light infantry caps with the same metal badge as before. The only difference is this time words like “Liberty” were engraved thereon and nothing less than freedom itself was at stake.
Next: The first South Carolina State flag and how one man’s artistic sensibilities led to unintended consequences for future generations.