Carolina Day commemorates the American military victory at Sullivan’s Island on 28 June 1776, and has been celebrated in Charleston every year since 1777. At that time, the city’s colonial-era fortifications and its able militia were in readiness for the inevitable British attack. Initially the American leaders assumed the enemy would focus its attack on White Point, the southern tip of the peninsula, because we had little hope of preventing the British from sailing past Sullivan’s Island and entering our harbor. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the men of the Second South Carolina Regiment, however, the British navy was unable to pass the unfinished palmetto log fort on Sullivan’s Island that was soon named Fort Moultrie.

The two star performers of that battle on 28 June 1776 were the fort itself and an obscure sergeant named William Jasper. The partially-completed fort, built of spongy palmetto logs and sand, absorbed the British cannon shot and held firm during the long day of hot action. The sergeant won eternal fame by climbing atop the fort’s parapet wall to rescue its fallen flag and affixing it to a makeshift staff. William Jasper’s dramatic act of bravery rallied the spirits of his weary comrades and may have turned the tide of the battle. For this, his name is forever associated with South Carolina’s fight for independence.

This year Carolina Day falls on a Sunday, so the various commemorative events will take place on Saturday, June 27th. If you’re headed to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, please join me at noon for a biographical profile of Sergeant William Jasper at the island’s Edgar Allan Poe Library branch.

Charleston Time Machine

The name of Sergeant William Jasper is found in every history of South Carolina written since the American Revolution, but in reality we know little about the man behind the famous name.  He is remembered as the brave soldier who stood atop the American fortifications at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28 June 1776, and again at the Battle of Savannah in October 1779, to rally his comrades to persevere in the face of an overwhelming British artillery barrage.  Sergeant Jasper unfortunately received a mortal wound during the action at Savannah, but the legend of his heroic deeds took root and grew over successive generations.

Detail from J. B. White's 1826 painting of the Battle of Fort Moultrie (collections of the U.S. Senate) Sgt. Jasper appears in this detail from J. B. White’s 1826 painting of The Battle of Fort Moultrie (collections of the U.S. Senate)

In the course of time, some narratives of William Jasper’s military exploits have included questions about his origins and background.  A sampling of the published…

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