Jun 18 2019

Party Like It’s 1776

By Mike Walsh for The Island Eye News

Many residents of Sullivan’s Island are at least aware of something called “Carolina Day.” They may even know that it is celebrated each June 28. But often there’s little appreciation for the significance of this date.

It all goes back to 1776. The British, including South Carolina’s last royal governor, Lord William Campbell, had been run out of Charles Town. The spirit of rebellion and independence was running high. A  Safety Committee was formed by the local authorities. Learning by various means (another story in itself) that the British were coming back, aiming to re-take the city and bolster the many remaining Tory loyalists, the Committee directed in January of 1776 that a fortification be built on Sullivan’s Island.

In March the man who was put in charge of preparing the defenses against the coming attack, Colonel William Moultrie, arrived on the island.

He found already at work about a thousand laborers building a fort out of palmetto logs and sand, both of which were in plentiful supply.

The British devised a two-prong approach to their attack. One prong was a major infantry force landed on Long Island, now the Isle of Palms, under the command of General Henry Clinton, one of the British army’s most successful generals. The other prong was a major naval force under the command of Admiral Sir Peter Parker that included nine very powerful warships. The plan was for Clinton to attack the north end of our island across Breach Inlet. Guarding against this was another South Carolinian colonel, William “Danger” Thomson, along with about 780 rangers. Admiral Parker’s job was to attack the partially finished palmetto log fort manned by 435 officers and men, under the command of Col. Moultrie.

All pieces fell into place and on June 28th, 1776, the Battle of Sullivan’s Island took place… and the British were vanquished. Amazingly this early, complete defeat of the British took place six days before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and yet remains little known outside Charleston and South Carolina. For the incredible details of how this victory took place, you need only visit the current Fort Moultrie, named shortly after the battle in honor of Col. Moultrie. There, National Park Service rangers and volunteer interpreters tell the story of the unbelievably lucky set of circumstances that led to the American success.

As early as 1777 the anniversary of the great battle was celebrated on June 28. For the complete story of how the day developed from simply being called “the 28th of June” to “Palmetto Day” and finally to Carolina Day, check out Dr. Nic Butler’s podcast, Charleston Time Machine, and the installment that details how Carolina Day came to be.

In recent years the celebration of Carolina Day, organized by the Palmetto Society, has all taken place in downtown Charleston starting with a church service at St. Michael’s, followed by a parade from Washington Square to White Point Garden where bands play and speakers speak. A wreath is laid and a cannon is fired. The event is well supported by groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the 2nd South Carolina Regiment re-enactors.

Nevertheless, one has to imagine that at some point a speaker would have to point across the harbor and say something like, “And it all took place over there.” Over there? Over there is here! It’s our island. But, sadly, very little has been made out of Carolina Day here on the island. The mayor generally issues a proclamation that is read at Town Council and that’s about it. Nothing more.

Battery Gadsden Cultural Center, our local non-profit service organization dedicated to the preservation of Sullivan’s Island’s history and culture, would like to begin changing this situation. There are no illusions. The major event will undoubtedly remain downtown. The parade will not march from White Point Garden to Stith Park. But more can, and should, be done.

Starting small, this year on Friday, June 28, a short ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. on the plaza in front of Town Hall and the fire station. Speakers will include Mayor Pat O’Neil, Father Lawrence McInerny, and former mayor, Carl Smith. The Battery Gadsden group will present a large, historically accurate “Moultrie Flag” that will fly over our town the entire day. Additionally, the group will unveil a new wayside sign being donated to the town that tells the heroic story of Sgt. William Jasper who, during the Battle, jumped over the fort wall and despite heavy British fire, retrieved the fort’s flag and planted it in the rampart. The hope is that the new signage will draw visitors and passers-by into the area by Town Hall where the monument to Sgt. Jasper stands after being moved from the old Town Hall a couple of years ago.

Hopefully, all islanders will make an effort to attend. Anyone interested in history of our island should find this event of interest. Who knows what this could grow into in the future…a community picnic? Our own parade? Joint events with Fort Moultrie? But let’s start with giving due recognition to the events of June 28, 1776, that took place right here where we live.

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