Discover the South Carolina State Seal: History, Symbolism, and Meaning

Written by Katie Melynn Wood
Updated: May 9, 2023
© Bennian/
Share this post on:


The South Carolina state seal dates back almost as far as the United States. It was first designed and used in 1777. It took around a year to design and incorporates many images and symbols related to South Carolina. South Carolina was one of the original 13 colonies and has played a major role in many points in U.S. history.

The seal has gone through redesigns through the years but aspects of South Carolina have remained. The same iconic imagery can be seen in the South Carolina flag as well as the separate seals of the Senate of South Carolina and the House of Representatives of South Carolina.

The South Carolina State Seal History

Because South Carolina is so intertwined with early-U.S. history, it should come as no surprise that the state seal was also designed many years ago. When the state government was established and set up as an independent body in March 1776, one of the first things that they did after electing a President was to decide to design a state seal. According to the South Carolina State House, in April 1776 they passed a resolution “to design and cause to be made a Great Seal of South Carolina.”

The first seal was designed by William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton, both influential political figures at the time. Although not revolutionaries from the beginning, they both served in the state government in various capacities. They later put great efforts into building up the new state of South Carolina after America gains its independence.

The same seal is in use today and its imagery was adopted in the state flag, the state coat of arms, and numerous other places. You can even see the iconic Palmetto tree on bumper stickers as you drive through the state, which is known as the Palmetto State.

South Carolina welcome sign
South Carolina is known as the Palmetto State, named after the palmetto tree which is found across the state and holds historical significance.


The State Seal of South Carolina Design

The South Carolina state seal shows two ellipses within a larger circle. They are framed by branches of a palmetto tree. These trees are plentiful in South Carolina and are associated with the state. It is clear that South Carolinians were very proud of their home even from the beginning.

Inside the left ellipse is an upright palmetto tree over a fallen oak tree. This is in reference to a specific battle fought in South Carolina during the revolutionary war at Sullivan’s Island. The right ellipse shows Spes, the Roman goddess of hope. She holds a laurel branch and there are discarded weapons under her feet.

South Carolina also included multiple mottos and written symbols on the seal. One is the state motto, “Animis Opibusque Parati.” This translates to “Prepared in Mind and Resources.” The other, “Dum Spiro Spero,” is written above the goddess Spes. It means “While I Breathe I Hope.”

State seal of South Carolina
The state seal of South Carolina pays tribute to its vegetation and landscape, as well as the role it played in American history.


The State Seal of South Carolina Symbolism

There is a lot of symbolism in the state seal of South Carolina. Much of the symbols celebrate the state itself, including its vegetation and landscape as well as the role it played in American history. The palmetto tree is featured in multiple places. One stands upright in the left ellipse of the seal. This represents the fighting spirit of those South Carolinians who held off the British naval forces at Sullivan’s Island in 1776. The fort was constructed of palmetto tree logs. The same symbol can be found on the state flag. The fallen oak below represents the British fleet.

There is a ribbon with the words “Quis separabit?” written on it. This means “Who will separate?” and refers to the 13 colonies. The other 12 colonies are represented on the seal by spear points.

Under the symbol of the victorious battle are the words “Meliorem Lapsa Locavit” and the year 1776. These translate to “Having Fallen, She Has Set Up a Better One.” 1776 is the year that the seal was designed.

The goddess Spes in the right ellipses symbolizes hope. She is the goddess of hope and the state motto written means While I Breathe I Hope. Spes also carries a laurel branch. The laurel tree is seen in many places, often symbolizing victory or achievement. Ancient cultures wove crowns of laurel branches and placed them atop the victor’s heads after a major achievement, such as at the Olympics. In this case, the symbolic victory could be the triumph of hope. Spes has weapons under her feet, symbolizing that she is walking over them or that they have been discarded. There is also a sun rising in the background, another symbol of hope or of a new day dawning.

South Carolina Palmetto trees
The palmetto tree is featured in multiple places throughout South Carolina’s state seal representing both the past and the present.


The Featured Image

State seal of South Carolina on concrete
The palmetto tree is featured in multiple places on the state seal of South Carolina.
© Bennian/

Share this post on:
About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.