State Symbols

As sovereign political entities, all fifty states have adopted special symbols. In every state the first emblem was a seal, to be affixed to official documents. In Europe, since ancient times, the seal was deemed an essential instrument of government and a special mark of sovereignty. American state seals were devised and put to use at the time of independence or when the state was admitted to the Union. The design for South Carolina’s state seal was inspired by a Revolutionary victory, and the seal was put into service in the spring of 1777.

The practice of flying a state flag was not widely followed in the early years of the Republic. State flags came into use mainly as a result of the Civil War, when Southern states needed banners to replace the United States flag and Northern states required new regimental colors to identify state troops. South Carolina’s state flag was adopted on January 26, 1861, shortly after secession. Official state flags came into common use in the decades following the Civil War. All the states use seals and flags. Sometimes the seal depicts a state coat of arms, a design centered on a shield and more or less in accord with the traditions of European heraldry. In a few cases, such as Alabama, North Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia, the state uses a coat of arms in addition to, and different from, the seal design. The tradition of designating flowers, trees, and birds as state symbols came into vogue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. South Carolina adopted the yellow jessamine as its state flower in 1924. American states’ floral emblems have their counterparts in the British Isles, Canada, Australia, and other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as in Latin America. England’s rose, Ireland’s shamrock, and the thistle of Scotland are well known. American state flowers have sometimes been designated by legislatures in recognition of agricultural and economic importance–for example, Florida’s orange blossom (1909), Michigan’s apple blossom (1897), and the pinecone and tassel of Maine (1895). Usually, however, blossoms have been chosen for their beauty and as particularly characteristic of the state–for example, Mississippi’s Magnolia grandiflora (unofficially the state flower since 1900), North Carolina’s dogwood (1941), Hawaii’s hibiscus (1923), and the mayflower of Massachusetts (1918), which also recalls the ship that carried its first English settlers. In 1926 Kentucky became the first to designate a state bird (the cardinal), and the avian emblems were chosen mainly in the 1920s–1940s. The Carolina wren became South Carolina’s official bird in 1948. Texas was the first state to adopt a state tree (the pecan tree) in 1919. In some instances trees have figured early as state emblems–for example, South Carolina’s Sabal palmetto (adopted in 1939) and Maine’s white pine (1959), which appear on the respective state seals. Connecticut chose the white oak in commemoration of its Charter Oak, venerated as the hiding place, in 1687, of its colonial charter, which was rescinded by King James II. In general, legislatures have designated trees specially characteristic and beloved, such as Georgia’s live oak (1937) and the southern pine shared by Alabama (1949), Arkansas (1939), and North Carolina (1963).

State songs may be popular or little known. Legislatures of many states have designated two or more musical expressions. As of 2002 Tennessee had five. Some state songs originated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and only later were officially adopted, such as “Yankee Doodle” (Connecticut), two Stephen Foster favorites chosen by Florida (“The Swanee River [Old Folks at Home]”) and Kentucky (“My Old Kentucky Home”), and “Maryland, My Maryland,” popular during the Civil War. Official legislative designations began in 1911, when South Carolina and Iowa chose state songs.

After World War II, states began to name a great variety of special symbols, starting with California’s official fish (the golden trout, 1947) and South Dakota’s state animal (the coyote, 1949). Special symbols proliferated beginning in the 1970s. Legislatures named numerous official state fossils, insects, reptiles, shells, rocks and stones, fruits, beverages, grasses, dogs, and cats. Over a dozen states have designated the honeybee as their official state insect. Somewhat unusual are the state muffins of Massachusetts (corn muffin, 1986) and New York (apple muffin, 1987), Vermont’s state pie (apple pie, 1999), and New Mexico’s official state cookie (bizochito, 1989).

South Carolina’s official state emblems (as of December 2004) are:

American folk dance: Square dance. Adopted in Act No. 329, signed on April 20, 1994, by Governor Carroll Campbell. The General Assembly wanted to recognize a popular, traditional form of family recreation enjoyed by South Carolinians of all ages.

Amphibian: Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). Adopted in Act No. 79, approved by Governor Jim Hodges on June 11, 1999. The salamander was promoted by schoolchildren who found it to be important in the ecological system and an interesting example of wildlife to study.

Animal: White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Designated by Act No. 1334, signed by Governor John C. West on June 2, 1972. The deer is one of the state’s most popular game animals.

Beverage: Milk. Adopted in Act No. 360, signed by Governor Richard Riley on May 8, 1984. The legislation promoted public health and the state’s dairy industry.

Bird: Carolina wren (Thyrothorus ludovicianus [Latham]). Adopted in Act No. 693, signed by Governor Strom Thur- mond on April 3, 1948. The wren is a songbird found in all parts of the state throughout the year.

Butterfly: Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). Designated by Act No. 319, signed by Governor Carroll Campbell on March 29, 1994. One of America’s largest and most popular butterflies, it adds beauty to South Carolina gardens from early spring and through much of the year.

Dance: The shag. Declared by Act No. 329, approved by Governor Richard Riley on April 10, 1984. The dance, performed to rhythm and blues, originated in South Carolina and is one of the most popular cultural expressions of the state.

Dog: Boykin spaniel. Recognized by Act No. 31, signed by Governor Richard Riley on March 26, 1985. The spaniel is the only dog originally bred in South Carolina for the state’s hunters. The General Assembly recognized the popular breed’s superb hunting instincts and friendly personality.

Fish: Striped bass (Morone saxatilis). Adopted by the General Assembly in Act No. 1333, approved by Governor John C. West on June 2, 1972. The General Assembly recognized the state’s most famous game fish, popular with anglers and caught in both freshwater and saltwater.

Flower: Yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Adopted by the General Assembly on February 1, 1924, approved by Governor Thomas Gordon McLeod. The assembly recognized the beautiful harbinger of spring found in all parts of the state.

Fruit: Peach. Recognized by Act No. 360, signed into law by Governor Richard Riley on May 8, 1984. Legislators acted to recognize the economic importance of the peach, as South Carolina is the leading producer of peaches in the eastern United States.

Gemstone: Amethyst. Adopted in Act No. 345, signed by Gov- ernor Robert McNair on June 24, 1969. The legislature recognized that South Carolina is one of the few states of the Union where high-quality amethyst is found, noting that a fine specimen was exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History.

Grass: Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). Named in Act No. 94, approved by Governor Jim Hodges in 2001. The General Assembly recognized Indian grass as a native plant beneficial to the environment.

Hospitality beverage: South Carolina–grown tea. Designated by Act No. 31, approved by Governor David Beasley on April 10, 1995. Tea was grown at Middleton Place near Charleston. Plants descended from Middleton tea are grown in the lowcountry.

Insect: Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina), also called the praying mantis. Adopted by Act No. 591, signed by Governor Carroll Campbell on June 1, 1988. The mantis is a predator that consumes great quantities of insects and is therefore an important biological control agent. It is popular with schoolchildren as a living subject of study.

Music: Spiritual. Recognized by Act No. 64, approved by Governor Jim Hodges on June 11, 1999. The General Assembly acted to celebrate the song that originated in South Carolina in the era of slavery as an expression of religious faith and hope.

Opera: Porgy and Bess. Proclaimed by Act No. 94, signed into law by Governor Jim Hodges in 2001. The opera Porgy and Bess, with music by George Gershwin (1898–1937) and words by DuBose Heyward (1885–1940), is set in Charleston and is based on Heyward’s novel Porgy (1925), about a crippled African American beggar. The opera premiered in 1935 and became the most popular American opera.

Popular music: Beach music. Acknowledged by Act No. 15, signed by Governor Jim Hodges on March 27, 2001. This favorite music among South Carolinians has become almost synonymous with the state dance, the shag.

Reptile: Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Declared by Act No. 588, signed by Governor Carroll Campbell on June 1, 1988. The General Assembly’s action was an effort to protect the loggerhead turtle, a threatened species, from extinction. The South Carolina coastal beaches are among the turtles’ favorite nesting places.

Songs (2): “Carolina.” Adopted by the General Assembly on February 11, 1911, and approved by Governor Coleman L. Blease. The words of the Civil War patriotic poem “Carolina” by Henry Timrod were set to music by Anne Custis Burgess.

“South Carolina on My Mind.” Declared by Act No. 302, signed into law by Governor Richard Riley on March 8, 1984. The ballad, composed by Hank Martin and performed and recorded by Martin and his partner Buzz Arledge, evokes the natural beauty of the state.

Shell: Lettered olive (Oliva sayana). Adopted by Act No. 360, signed by Governor Richard Riley on May 8, 1984. The General Assembly praised the beautiful lettered olive, a collector’s favorite, and honored Charleston’s pioneer conchologist Dr. Edmund Ravenel.

Spider: Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis). Approved by Act No. 389, Pt. II, signed by Governor Jim Hodges on July 21, 2000. South Carolina became the first state to adopt an official state spider. The Carolina wolf spider is important in the state’s ecology as it preys on many insects. Skyler B. Hutto, a third-grade student at Sheridan Elementary School, Orangeburg, originally suggested the designation.

Stone: Blue granite. Declared by Act No. 345, signed by Governor Robert McNair on June 24, 1969. Winnsboro blue granite has been used in South Carolina and elsewhere in construction and for ornamental purposes for two centuries.

Tapestry: From the Mountains to the Sea. Designated by Act No. 354, approved by Governor Jim Hodges on June 14, 2000. The great tapestry From the Mountains to the Sea, measuring fifty-four by seventy-two inches, was designed by and woven in cotton for the South Carolina Cotton Museum in Bishopville. It includes pictures representing different regions of the state and various state emblems.

Tree: Palmetto (Sabal palmetto). Formally adopted in Act No. 63, signed by Governor Burnet R. Maybank on March 17, 1939. The palmetto has graced the state seal since 1777 and the state flag since 1861. It commemorates the Battle of Sulli- van’s Island, when South Carolina troops manning a palmetto-log fort defeated a British navy squadron on June 28, 1776.

Waltz: “Richardson Waltz.” Declared in Act No. 389, Pt. I, approved by Governor Jim Hodges on July 21, 2000. The beautiful dance melody was composed by a member of the Richardson family, played at balls in Clarendon and Sumter Counties, and handed down for over two centuries. It was written down and copyrighted by Mary Richardson Briggs of Summerton.

Wild game bird: Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). Recognized by Act No. 508, approved by Governor James Edwards on March 30, 1976. The General Assembly acted to honor the state’s most popular game bird, prized as a table delicacy by generations of South Carolinians.

Shearer, Benjamin F., and Barbara S. Shearer. State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide. 3d ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2002. Smith, Whitney. The Flag Book of the United States. Rev. ed. New York: Morrow, 1975.

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The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title State Symbols
  • Author
  • Keywords In every state the first emblem was a seal, to be affixed to official documents, design for South Carolina’s state seal was inspired by a Revolutionary victory, Official state flags came into common use in the decades following the Civil War, After World War II, states began to name a great variety of special symbols,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 6, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 25, 2022
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