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What Is the History of the State Seal of Massachusetts?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state seal of Massachusetts has a long history spanning from the formation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a British royal colony in 1629 to the modern state seal approved by the Massachusetts legislature in 1898. The evolution of the Massachusetts state seal tells the story of the origin of the colony and its development as one of the first U.S. states. As with other state emblems such as state songs, the state motto and state nickname, the state seal uniquely reflects the history and matters of importance of the region and its people. Besides stirring patriotic pride and preserving a significant moment in history, the seal is considered an official signature, lending governmental approval and constitutional authority for legal documents.

The first state seal of Massachusetts was created shortly after the formation of the region as a royal colony, in 1629, and was in use until 1692. The seal depicted an Algonquian Native American, the native Indian of the area, clothed in a leafed loin cloth and speaking the words, "Come over and help us." The Indian holds an arrow pointing downward, indicative of his peaceful intentions and need for spiritual aid from the English Puritans who colonized the region and befriended the natives. Two pine trees stand behind the Indian, symbolizing the abundance of the tree in the region. Circling the seal is a Latin phrase that translates, "Seal of the Society of the Massachusetts Bay in New England."

From 1692 to 1775, the official seal for the colony displayed the British royal coat of arms, depicting Massachusetts as a province of England under the control of the British monarch. In 1775, when Massachusetts shrugged off British control and claimed independence from the throne, a new seal was created. The seal, engraved by Boston metalworker Paul Revere of midnight-ride fame, depicted a typical American patriot with a tricorn hat and knickers, holding a sword in one hand and the Magna Carta in the other. Encircling the patriot was a Latin phrase, which translates into "By the sword we seek peace but peace only under liberty." This seal was in use until a new seal was needed for the newly formed state of Massachusetts.

The first official state seal of Massachusetts was designed by Nathan Cushing, who referred back to the original Massachusetts Bay seal with the depiction of an Algonquian Native American. Governor John Hancock and the Massachusetts council approved the design on 23 December 1780. The seal's exact appearance, however, was not delineated in official documents, so the design varied somewhat depending on the engravers' interpretations.

In 1885 and 1898, the state legislature sought to officially and more accurately define the state seal of Massachusetts into the modern state seal as depicted today. The state seal of Massachusetts depicts an Algonquian Indian in buckskin, holding a bow in peace, inside a blue shield. A single white star symbolizes the statehood of Massachusetts. A blue banner in Latin repeats the independent clarion from the 1775 seal; an arm grasping a sword illustrates the seal's motto.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1003543 — On Jul 17, 2020

The colonists were greeted by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe who to this day are not recognized by the federal government.

By anon1001543 — On May 07, 2019

“Come over and help us,” alludes to Acts 16:9, which records the Apostle Paul having a vision in which he saw a man begging him: “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”

By Animandel — On Mar 18, 2014

What I wouldn't give to have been a fly on the wall when the representatives were deciding what the Massachusetts state seal would look like. No matter what you decide on, people are going to be upset and criticize your decisions. Not only will you be criticized for what you chose, but also for all the items you didn't choose to include. The job is a no-win position.

By Sporkasia — On Mar 18, 2014

Massachusetts is layered with such a great amount of remarkable history and historical events that choosing which aspects of the state's history to depict on a state seal is a daunting task. Then you add to that the characteristics we associated with modern day Massachusetts and the task of choosing the appropriate pictures is even more difficult

By Laotionne — On Mar 17, 2014

How arrogant is it that the people of Massachusetts would include the native people on their first state seal with the motto, "Come over and help us"? I think the Algonquians would have preferred something to the effect of, "Leave us alone, please!"

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