Obscure holiday celebrating American Revolution could use a little zeal

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJune 27, 2013 

By state law, Friday is Carolina Day.

Somewhere along the line, this obscure holiday lost its original and more appropriate name, Palmetto Day.

And it also lost its sizzle, which is sad because that was the sole purpose when it was first celebrated on June 28, 1777.

It was a day to celebrate a great Lowcountry victory in the long and bloody battle for American independence.

On June 28, 1776, a small band of Patriots -- poorly trained, outgunned and outmanned -- defeated the British Army and Royal Navy in the Battle of Sullivan's Island. The victory prevented the capture of Charleston, boosted morale across the continent and gave courage to those who would sign the Declaration of Independence six days later.

It's a real David-and-Goliath story. The South Carolinians were hunkered down with few cannon and very little gunpowder in an incomplete fort made of palmetto logs and sand. A Patriot officer called it a "slaughter pen."

The British brought nine battle ships with 270 cannon blazing. But they weren't any good at judging depths or tides in the Lowcountry, and you don't even have to be a good old boy to know what that means. While the British floundered, Col. William Moultrie's troops used their powder judiciously. And the dear old, spongy palmetto logs absorbed the best blows the British could muster.

When the Brits tucked tail, somebody jumped on a horse and raced the news to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

South Carolina came out of it with a cussing, spitting attitude, and later a beautiful state flag featuring the palmetto. They named the fort for Moultrie. And our adjacent county is named for a young sergeant, an illiterate German immigrant named William Jasper, who risked his life to raise the deep blue flag when it fell during the 10-hour battle.

Palmetto Day was like the Fourth of July. Walter Edgar says in his state history that the annual celebration was part of the difficult task of "maintaining zeal for the Revolution."

Today, some people in Beaufort want to revive Carolina Day for the same reason.

"People need to know the important role South Carolina played in the founding of this country," said Jody Henson, president of the Beaufort's Gov. Paul Hamilton Chapter of the South Carolina Society of Sons of the American Revolution.

Charleston has never forgotten it. The South Carolina Historical Society and Palmetto Society will host festivities Friday to include a service at St. Michael's Church, a small parade, a speaker, and a wreath-laying at the Sgt. Jasper Monument in White Point Garden. Flags, straw hats, seersucker suits and a community band are the order of the day.

Henson has called a group together for this Carolina Day and hopes it will lead to a celebration in Beaufort similar to the one in Charleston. He is doing it in memory of Charles Aimar, who tried the same thing a few years back.

It's been 237 years since that most unlikely American victory on Lowcountry sand, and we still need to maintain our zeal for the Revolution.

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