Seal of Massachusetts

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Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Seal of Massachusetts.svg
Seal of Massachusetts (variant).svg
ArmigerCommonwealth of Massachusetts
AdoptedDecember 13, 1780
MottoEnse petit placidam sub libertate quietem
Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Coat of arms of Massachusetts.svg
Coat of arms of Massachusetts simplified.svg
The simplified coat of arms used in the state flag and larger signage[1]
Massachusetts state coat of arms (illustrated, 1876).jpg
ArmigerCommonwealth of Massachusetts
BlazonAzure, a Native American passant. Holding in his dexter hand a bow, holding in his sinister hand an arrow. All Or. In dexter chief a mullet of 5 Argent.
MottoEnse petit placidam sub libertate quietem

The Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts contains the coat of arms of Massachusetts. The coat of arms is encircled by the Latin text "Sigillum Reipublicæ Massachusettensis" (literally, The Seal of the Republic of Massachusetts). The Massachusetts Constitution designates the form of government a "commonwealth", for which Respublica is the correct Latin term. The Seal uses as its central element the Coat of Arms of Massachusetts. An official emblem of the State, the Coat of Arms was adopted by the Legislature in 1775, and then reaffirmed by Governor John Hancock and his Council on December 13, 1780. The present rendition of the seal was drawn by resident-artist Edmund H. Garrett, and was adopted by the state in 1900.[2] While the inscription around the seal is officially in Latin, a variant with "Commonwealth of Massachusetts" in English is also sometimes used.[3]


Elements of the present seal, the first seal of the Bay Colony with a crude portrayal of a Native with his arrow pointed in a gesture of peace (left), the 1775 revolution seal featuring the motto, and armed sword today seen upon the seal crest (right), and Thomas Little Shell (center), the Ojibwe chief whose likeness was model for the present-day seal, in tandem with dress relics of those tribes who inhabited Massachusetts.[2]

The first seal of Massachusetts Bay Colony showed a nude American Indian with a bush covering his groin. Like the current seal, he held in his hand an arrow pointed down. A scroll came out over his mouth with the words "Come over and help us." This quotation is believed to originate from Acts 16:9: "And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." (Authorized Version). This initial seal thus emphasized the missionary and commercial intentions of the original colonists.[4] This seal was authorized as part of the charter granted by King Charles I in 1629; it was used until 1689.[5]

In June 1676, during King Philip's War, the Bay Colony ordered an updated version of this seal stamped onto medallions which were issued to Indian Christians fighting on behalf of Boston. This seal removed the peaceful slogan of the original seal, replacing it with the message, “In the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this Land / They giving us peace and mercy at their hands.”[6] In 1689-1692, after the end of the war, the original slogan was temporarily revived. However, the gradual loss of the missionary message was part of a pattern throughout the British colonies at this time, as the experience of war dampened enthusiasm for conversion and integration.[7]

In 1775 a Revolutionary seal appeared, depicting a minuteman with a sword in his right hand and Magna Carta in his left; following the Revolutionary War, the sword would later be incorporated into the crest of the traditional coat of arms. The Revolutionary seal would also mark the first time the Latin motto used by the state today appeared on a state seal, and meant that the colony no longer recognized the authority of the Royal Governor General Thomas Gage. The source is attributed to the letter written by a father of an English soldier and politician Algernon Sidney: "It is said that the University of Copenhagen brought their album unto you, desiring you to write something therein; and that you did scribere in albo these words: 'Manus haec inimica tyrannis ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem'". (Translated, this means "This hand of mine, which is hostile to tyrants, seeks by the sword quiet peace under liberty.") The last words were then written in Sidney's "Book of Mottoes", particularly favored by some in the American colonies. Metrically, the motto is dactylic hexameter.

The next seal was adopted by the Provincial Congress on December 13, 1780. The shield depicts an "Indian" with bow and arrow; the arrow is pointed downward, signifying peace. A silver star with five points appears next to the figure's head, although this is represented as white on the flag. A blue ribbon (blue, signifying the Blue Hills of Quincy, Canton and Milton) surrounds the shield, bearing the state motto "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem." This comes from the Book of Mottoes in the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, Denmark; written about 1659 by Algernon Sydney, English soldier and politician. It was adopted in 1775 by the Provincial Congress and the literal translation is, "With a sword, she seeks quiet peace under liberty." Although the looser English translation more commonly used is, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." Above the shield is the state military crest: a bent arm holding a broadsword aloft. The sword has its blade up, to remind that it was through the American Revolution that independence was won.

The current form of the 1780 seal was adopted in 1890, replacing the Massachusetts Indian with a composite. The composite's head was taken from a Chippewa chief in Montana.

A stained glass window at the top of the Grand Staircase at the State House shows all the seals used in Massachusetts, including the royal seals of the Governors during colonial days.

Controversy over Minuteman's sword and Native American imagery[edit]

Civil advocates demanded that the imagery in the State Seal (and on the Flag of Massachusetts that displays it) had to change, due to the Colonial broadsword's placement directly above the Native American depiction's head as a "form of white supremacist imagery".[8][9]

On January 11, 2021, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill establishing a commission to change the state flag and seal.[10]

Government Seals of Massachusetts[edit]

Historical seals[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "950 CMR 34.00: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Flags, Arms, and Seal Specifications". Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Garrett, E. H. (1901). "The Coat of Arms and Great Seal of Massachusetts". The New England Magazine. Boston: Warren F. Kellogg. XXIII (6): 623–635.
  3. ^ "House of Representatives Proclamation".
  4. ^ Stockbridge Mohican History, 'The Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: "Come Over and Help Us' "The Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: "Come Over and Help Us"". Archived from the original on 2015-01-07. Retrieved 2015-09-19. accessed 19 September 2015
  5. ^
  6. ^ Peterson, Mark (23 April 2019). The city-state of Boston : the rise and fall of an atlantic power, 1630-1865. Princeton University Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-0691185484.
  7. ^ Bond, Edward (2000). Damned souls in a tobacco colony: religion in seventeenth-century Virginia. Mercer University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-86554-708-7.
  8. ^ Markos, Mary (July 16, 2020). "Renewed Calls to Change the Massachusetts State Flag". NBC Boston. Retrieved July 18, 2020. Advocates claim that Massachusetts is "the last U.S. state whose flag includes representations of white supremacy" now that Mississippi has retired the confederate state flag.
  9. ^ "Critics Say Mass. Flag And Seal Are Symbols Of White Supremacy".
  10. ^ "Governor Baker Signs the Bill Establishing a Special Commission to Change the Mass Flag and Seal". January 12, 2021.

External links[edit]