The Sword of State is a special symbol of the South Carolina Senate. At the start of each legislative day, the sergeant at arms places the sword in a cradle at the front of the president’s podium, where it rests whenever the Senate is in session. The ceremonial weapon is made of steel and gold and is thirty-nine inches long. The blade is etched with sprigs of yellow jessamine and has a picture of the state coat of arms on one side. The hilt has a pommel decorated with rosettes, and the grip is wrapped with gold braid. The scabbard is covered in burgundy leather, with brass fittings. Manufactured by Wilkinson Sword, Ltd., of London, England, the sword was presented to the state in 1951, the gift of the first earl of Halifax, the British ambassador to the United States during World War II, as a replacement for the original Sword of State stolen from the State House.
South Carolina’s first Sword of State was introduced in about 1704 at the behest of Governor Sir Nathaniel Johnson. In the eighteenth century it was carried in processions on special occasions such as solemn declarations of war and the installations of royal governors. After the Revolutionary War, the sword continued to be displayed at gubernatorial inaugurations and was eventually put to daily use by the Senate. The first sword was fifty inches in length and had a wavy blade, thought to have been made of imported steel. Tradition holds that the silver hilt was made in Charleston. This weapon disappeared from the State House in 1941. Lord Halifax learned of the theft during a 1944 visit to Columbia and promised to secure a British blade as a replacement after the war. For some years a cavalry sword belonging to the Charleston Museum was used by the Senate before the arrival of Halifax’s gift sword.