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The Story of the Carolina Tartan

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is the Carolina tartan an "official" or "authentic" tartan?

A.  People often assume that for a tartan to be "official" or "authentic" a tartan must be recorded with some body in Scotland such as the Scottish Tartans Authority or the Court of the Lord Lyon.  The reality is that the Lord Lyon has no jurisdiction over tartan -- the Lyon Court is a heraldic Court.  And bodies like the Scottish Tartans Authority, the Scottish Tartans World Register, and the former Scottish Tartans Society simply maintain records of tartans but have no authority to proclaim a tartan "official" or not.  That is up to the governing body of whatever the tartan is meant to represent.  For a clan tartan, this would be the chief of the clan.  For a state tartan, it would be the government of the state.  Both North Carolina (1991) and South Carolina (2002) have passed official legislation adopting the Carolina tartan.  So yes, the Carolina tartan is the official tartan of the Carolinas!

Q. Who can wear the Carolina tartan?

A. Anyone who wants to!  There are no rules or regulations regarding who can wear what tartan.  But since tartan is symbolic, people usually choose to wear a tartan that has special meaning to them.  In the case of a state tartan, it could be that you are a resident of the state.  But it could also be that you were born in the Carolinas, even though you may now live elsewhere.  Or perhaps you have ancestors from the Carolinas.  Or maybe you took your honeymoon on the Outer Banks, or your annual summer vacation to the Smoky Mountains, and simply fell in love the region.  No matter your reason, when you choose to wear the Carolina tartan, you are identifying yourself in some way with the region.  Wear it with pride and honor!  The Carolina tartan is currently worn by at least two pipe bands in the Carolinas (the Cross Creek Pipes and Drums and the NC State Pipes and Drums), as well as many individuals in both states.

Q. Is it unusual for two states to share the same tartan?

A. No other two American states share in the same official tartan.  While this is unusual, it is not unprecedented.  Many states share other symbols.  For example, both North Carolina and Virginia have the cardinal as their state bird and the dogwood as their state flower.  It is also not unusual for the same tartan to be used by more than one entity.  The same tartan is used by the Russell, Hunter, Mitchell, and Galbraith families (all unrelated).  The Black Watch regimental tartan is also used by the Clans Campbell, Grant, and Munro.  North and South Carolina share a common history and culture, and the residents of these states feel a bond of kinship with one another.  Therefore it is more than fitting that these two kindred states should share the same tartan.

Q. Who designed the Carolina tartan?  I've seen both Micheil MacDonald and Peter MacDonald's name listed in different places.

A. Peter MacDonald is the son of Dr. Micheil MacDonald, and both were involved in the creation of the Carolina tartan.  Micheil MacDonald had the original idea for a Carolina tartan, but the actual design was done by Peter.  See the Story of the Carolina Tartan.  In the original record of the tartan recorded by the Scottish Tartans Society, Micheil MacDonald was listed incorrectly as the designer.  This was repeated in other sources, such as the 1992 book District Tartans, by Dr. Gordon Teal of Teallach (then president of the Scottish Tartans Society) and Dr. Philip D. Smith, Jr. 

Q. I've read that the Carolina tartan was taken from a coat worn by the Royal Company of Archers in the 1730s.  Does this coat still exist and can it be seen today?

A. No, this is incorrect.  The basis for the Carolina tartan design was taken from a pre-1800 sample of hard tartan in the Prince Charles Edward Stuart tartan, a forerunner of the Royal Stewart tartan.  The shape of the sample indicated that it was probably from a piece of clothing, likely a coat.  It is known that the Royal Company of Archers wore tartan coats in the eighteenth century, like this one in the National Museum of Scotland collection (external link).  However, no one knows what garment the actual sample used was from, and it really doesn't matter.  The intent was to use a tartan that may have been connected to King Charles II.  See the Story of the Carolina Tartan for more details.  Mention of the Royal Company of Archers coat was made by Dr. Micheil MacDonald to James Kerr of the St. Andrews Society of NC while the two were discussing the design of the Carolina tartan.  It was then somehow recorded in the Scottish Tartans Society records that the sample used was actually taken from a RCA Coat c. 1730 and this mistake was then repeated in other sources, such as the 1992 book District Tartans, and the 2004 reference The Compendium of District Tartans by Matthew A. C. Newsome and James A. Bullman.

Q. Does the NC State Pipes and Drums wear a different tartan than the Carolina tartan?

A. No, they wear the Carolina tartan, but woven in very muted colors.  See the article on Tartan Colors for pictures and more information.  In their 1999 three-volume Tartans reference, Philip D. Smith, Jr. and William H. Johnston listed the muted version of the Carolina tartan as the "Raleigh Pipe Band" tartan, which has led some to mistakenly assume the NC State Pipes and Drums wear their own distinct tartan.

"I just want to thank whoever researched the Carolina Tartan and developed this web site for doing an outstanding job! I learned so much. I am with the NCSU Pipes and Drums and was impressed that you had information about our version of the Carolina tartan." -- Emily Sprague, NC State Pipes and Drums

Q. Where can I purchase the Carolina tartan?

A. Unfortunately, demand for the Carolina tartan is not as high as it is for the common clan tartans such as MacDonald, MacKenzie, or MacGregor.  Therefore the tartan mills do not support this tartan from stock.  This means you are not likely to walk into a tartan shop, or approach a vendor at a Highland Games, and see products in the Carolina tartan on the shelf.  However, it is possible to have small lengths of the Carolina tartan woven to order, even just enough for a single kilt, and most reputable Highland Dress retailers will be glad to offer this service to you.  Some Scottish goods suppliers in the Carolinas have also at different times had various gift items produced in the Carolina tartan.  You may want to ask some of the Scottish merchants listed in our links page what they have available in the Carolina tartan.

Q. Are there different, individual tartans for the states of North and South Carolina?

A. Yes and no.  A small company in Scotland has designed and is currently marketing tartans named "North Carolina" and "South Carolina" but neither have any official standing with the states.  They are simply fashion tartans, though many have been misled by the promotional claims being made by the company.  For further information see the article on Tartan Fraud.

 

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