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What Is the History of the State Seal of Maryland?

The State Seal of Maryland is a symbol steeped in history, dating back to the 17th century. It reflects Maryland's colonial past and the Calvert family's vision. Featuring a farmer and a fisherman, it embodies the state's values and heritage. Discover how this emblem has evolved over time and what its intricate details signify. Ready to uncover the stories behind the seal?
N. Swensson
N. Swensson

The history of the official state seal of Maryland began in colonial times, and the current seal closely resembles the original. The first official seal was brought from England in the 1600s for use by the state’s chancellor. It was stolen by Richard Ingle during the rebellion of 1645, and a similar replacement was sent in 1648 from England by Cecilius Calvert, second Lord Baltimore. The state seal of Maryland is one of the few in the United States to have both an obverse and reverse side, with the reverse being the most commonly used on documentation. The reverse side of the seal contains the Calvert family’s coat of arms, while the obverse depicts Lord Baltimore on a charging horse with a drawn sword.

The state seal of Maryland has been replaced and altered several times throughout its history. The Calvert coat of arms remained in use until 1794, when the government replaced it with artwork designed by Charles Wilson Peale that reflected the Republican government. On the obverse was a woman holding the scales of justice with the words “Great Seal of the State of Maryland” inscribed around the outside. The reverse contained a ship in the background and a barrel with tobacco leaves on the top, a cornucopia, and sheaves of wheat in the foreground. The motto “Industry the Means, Plenty the Result” surrounds the artwork. Unlike some seals that are intended to appear as embossments on paper, this one was designed to be stamped in wax.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Peale’s design for the state seal of Maryland was used until another replacement was made in 1817, when the General Assembly replaced it with a one-sided seal. It had an eagle bearing a shield on it. Then, in 1854, the eagle was combined with the original design containing Calvert’s coat of arms to create another two-sided emblem. Twenty years later, in 1874, the complete Calvert seal was brought back into use, with a correction made to the coat of arms. This version has remained in use, but was not written into official state law until 1959, with a revision to the statute in 1969. As with the original seal, the reverse side is used exclusively to designate official documents of the state. The obverse side is also officially recognized by Maryland law as part of the seal and often is displayed on state buildings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of the Maryland State Seal?

The Maryland State Seal has its origins in the early 17th century. According to the Maryland State Archives, the seal was brought from England by the colony's first governor, Leonard Calvert, in 1634. It has undergone several redesigns and restorations since then, with the current design being officially adopted in 1876. The seal reflects Maryland's status as a colony founded by English nobility and its historical ties to the Calvert family.

What do the symbols on the Maryland State Seal represent?

The Maryland State Seal is rich in symbolism. The family crest of the Calvert and Crossland families, belonging to the founders of Maryland, are prominently featured. The Calvert family's black and gold pales and the Crossland family's red and white cross bottony signify the heraldic heritage of the state. According to the Maryland Secretary of State, the helmet and crown above the shield represent the fact that Maryland was founded by a ruling family in England.

Has the Maryland State Seal changed over time?

Yes, the Maryland State Seal has undergone several changes throughout its history. The most significant redesign occurred in 1854 when the seal was mistakenly reversed, leading to the Calvert and Crossland arms being swapped. This error was corrected in 1876 when the current seal was adopted, restoring the original positions of the family arms. The Maryland State Archives details these changes and the efforts to preserve the seal's authenticity.

What is the motto of the Maryland State Seal and what does it mean?

The motto of the Maryland State Seal is "Fatti maschii, parole femine," which is Italian for "Manly deeds, womanly words." This phrase encapsulates the ideal of combining strong action with gentle words, a principle valued by the Calvert family. The Maryland Manual On-Line, a service of the Maryland State Archives, explains that this motto reflects the chivalric values of the state's founders and their vision for governance.

How is the Maryland State Seal used today?

Today, the Maryland State Seal is used for official state documents, proclamations, and government correspondence. It serves as a symbol of authenticity and authority for the state government. The seal is also present on various state properties, flags, and emblems, representing Maryland's heritage and identity. The Maryland Secretary of State's office oversees the use of the state seal to ensure it is employed appropriately and with respect to its historical significance.

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      Woman holding a book