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State Symbols and Icons: Emblems and Monuments

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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South Carolina’s officially designated symbols and icons connect our storied past with the present. Inherent in the selection of these particular representatives is the distinct pride shared by those who call the Palmetto State home.

Establishing state symbols first enjoyed widespread popularity in the late 1900s with the adoption of state agricultural and wildlife symbols. Before that, it was customary to choose a symbol and flag upon achieving statehood. In 1911, South Carolina was one of the first states to establish the tradition of legislative designations, and other states soon followed.

Today, South Carolina has 44 official state symbols and icons established via legislative acts. Here, we take a look at those that specifically define the spirit and history of South Carolina.


State Name and Nicknames

South Carolina's nickname, the Palmetto State, references the state tree, the sabal palm.

Established in 1729, South Carolina was created when the colony known as “Carolina” split into two separate entities, with the southern-most portion eventually becoming “South Carolina.” The land was territory given to Sir Robert Heath by King Charles I, who designated it be named “Carolina.”

South Carolina official nicknames are colorful and reflective of the state’s geographic and natural characteristics: Palmetto State, which references the state tree, the sabal palmetto; Rice State, in tribute to the state’s former status as a major producer of rice; Swamp State, a reference to the state’s many swamps and marshes; Keystone of the Atlantic Seaboard, indicating the state’s wedge-shape; and the Iodine State, a nod to the prevalence of the mineral in South Carolina vegetation.


South Carolina State Capital

The South Carolina State House is one of Columbia’s most recognizable landmarks.

In 1786, the site where the Broad and Saluda rivers merge to create the Congaree was chosen by the South Carolina General Assembly to be the state’s capital. It was a good choice, given its central location. It became known as Columbia by a majority vote in the senate. The SC legislature began meeting there in 1790. In 1805, Columbia was chartered as a town, and four years before that was designated as the home of South Carolina College—the forerunner of the state’s flagship institution, the University of South Carolina.

The second-largest city in the state, Columbia was largely destroyed by fire toward the end of the Civil War. After Reconstruction, the city rebuilt and went on to become a major textile center in the early 1900s. After several stops, re-dos and starts, the South Carolina State House was completed in 1907 and still stands today as the center of state governance. Today, Columbia (also known as “Cola,” an abbreviation of its name, as well as “Soda City,” a play on that abbreviation), has a diverse population of nearly 900,000 people, a thriving arts community and is a statewide hub of trade and commerce.


South Carolina State Flag

The sabal palmetto and crescent moon define the South Carolina state flag.

Our state flag is one of the most recognizable emblems in South Carolina. Featuring the crescent moon hanging over a palmetto tree against a blue background, it was adopted in 1861 and incorporates a trinity of symbolism: the crescent adorned the caps of South Carolina Revolutionary War troops, the color blue of their uniforms, and the sabal palmetto, the state tree.

In 1966, the state pledge to the flag was adopted and goes as such:
I salute the flag of South Carolina and pledge to the Palmetto State love, loyalty and faith.


South Carolina State Seal and Mottos

The South Carolina state seal is an emblem of history and hope.

In 1776, South Carolina established an independent government with John Rutledge as president. He and his council were charged with creating a state seal. Designed by William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton, it was unveiled for use in 1777. It features the palmetto tree, a fallen oak and Spes, the goddess of hope, walking on a beach where weapons have been discarded. South Carolina’s two mottos are also a component: "Animis Opibusque Parati" (Prepared in Mind and Resources) on the left, and "Dum Spiro Spero" (While I Breathe I Hope) on the right.


South Carolina Tapestry and Tartan

The Carolina Tartan was created to honor the Scottish heritage of South Carolina.

In 2000, the woven creation “From the Mountains to the Sea” was adopted as the official state tapestry. Made from cotton and representative of all the state’s regions, you can see it exhibited at the South Carolina Cotton Museum in Bishopville. 

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.