Friday, March 04, 2005

Lapping Sand

North Carolinians are called “tarheels.” Georgians are called “crackers.” We South Carolinians are called “sandlappers” and we aren’t sure why.

After serving more than 15 years on the editorial staff of Sandlapper: The Magazine of South Carolina, I’m still waiting to learn the definitive, firmly documented source of the word “sandlapper.” All we have to date are a couple of casual mentions in historical records (none of which holds much prospect of being a “first reference”) and numerous explanations handed down for generations among families and communities. Only this week we received a letter from a resident of another state who insisted the explanation she heard from her father in South Carolina many years ago is “absolutely accurate” -- although she produced no written documentation for it at all. Others contend their explanations (which are quite diverse) likewise are ironclad.

The most obvious theory is that the term refers to the sandy beaches where lie so much of our state’s history. It could refer to waves, to birds or to people. A recent proposal is that wounded Patriot soldiers fell face-down in a coastal Revolutionary War battle; the British derided them as “sandlappers” -- but the Americans rose up and won the day, after which they proudly bore the nickname.

We also have an extensive district of sandhills which have spawned a line of speculation about that word. A 19th-Century stagecoach traveler in the western part of the state described in his journal a “piney-woods sand lapper” spitting tobacco juice (this interesting user of the vile leaf, incidentally, was a woman). Other possibilities range from famines (nothing but sand to eat) to taunts arising from intrastate athletic competition.

Have you a theory to share? Please do! Contact: or


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