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What Is the History of the State Seal of New York?

The State Seal of New York is a symbol of rich history and identity, dating back to the colonial era. It has evolved through the centuries, reflecting New York's growth and values. Each element tells a story of struggle, unity, and liberty. Discover how this emblem encapsulates the Empire State's past and present—what secrets might its symbols reveal to you?
Marty Paule
Marty Paule

The state seal of New York has undergone five variations during its history, with the current version having been designed in 1882 and adopted by the state legislature in 1885. Officially known as "The Great Seal of New York," it incorporates the state's coat of arms that was designed in 1777 and formally adopted in 1778. In its latest form, the seal is somewhat more complex in design than the original, and more clearly underscores New York's growing global importance. As with most other state seals, it contains design elements that symbolically express the values, history, and industry of concern to the state. The state flag shares similar design elements with the state seal of New York by virtue of the inclusion of the official coat of arms.

There are several design elements that showcase the state seal of New York, beginning with the circular design ringed in gold braid that contains the text "THE GREAT SEAL OF NEW YORK" in its upper portion. The center design, which is, in effect, a reproduction of the New York state official coat of arms, appears against a blue background. Within the center of the coat of arms, a shield contains images of sloop-rigged ships together, with one having three masts, both sailing on the Hudson River. The two ships symbolically represent local and international trade. Behind the ships, a grassy shore and mountain range rise, and past them the sun radiates golden rays.

The most recent state seal of New York was adopted in 1885.
The most recent state seal of New York was adopted in 1885.

There are two female figure that flank the shield at the center of the state seal of New York, with Lady Liberty appearing on the left and Lady Justice on the right. Liberty holds a staff in her right hand, while her left foot is firmly planted on a crown — an obvious reference to America's independence from the British crown. Justice wears a blindfold and holds a set of scales in her left hand — symbolic of New York's commitment to an impartial and fair legal system. A westward-facing American eagle in flight atop a world globe refers to New York's surging importance to both the once rapidly-expanding United States, and on the world's economic stage in the mid-19th century. Beneath the shield, the motto "Excelsior," Latin for "ever higher," appears on a furled banner.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the State Seal of New York symbolize?

The State Seal of New York is rich in symbolism. The central figures, Liberty and Justice, represent freedom and fairness. Liberty's foot crushing a crown signifies the rejection of monarchy, while Justice's blindfold and scales underscore impartiality and fairness. The shield depicts a sun rising over the Hudson River, symbolizing the state's future promise. The eagle atop the globe represents New York's role in international affairs, and the two ships sailing the river signify commerce.

When was the State Seal of New York officially adopted?

The State Seal of New York was officially adopted on March 16, 1778, during the Revolutionary War. It has undergone modifications since its inception, with the current version being adopted in 1882. This seal reflects New York's identity and aspirations as a state, encapsulating its history and values in its design.

Who designed the original State Seal of New York?

The original State Seal of New York was designed by a committee appointed by the New York Provincial Congress. Notably, the committee included John Jay, who later became the first Chief Justice of the United States. The design they created has evolved over time, but the core elements they established have endured, reflecting New York's heritage and ideals.

Have there been any significant changes to the State Seal of New York since its adoption?

Yes, the State Seal of New York has seen several changes since its adoption. The most significant alterations occurred in 1798, when the seal was simplified, and in 1882, when the current version was adopted. These changes have refined the seal's imagery and composition, ensuring its symbols accurately reflect the state's identity and heritage.

Where can one typically see the State Seal of New York displayed?

The State Seal of New York is prominently displayed on official state documents, including legislation, proclamations, and certificates. It is also visible on the state flag, government buildings, and various state agency seals. The seal serves as a formal representation of the authority and sovereignty of the state of New York.

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    • The most recent state seal of New York was adopted in 1885.
      By: Mihai Simonia
      The most recent state seal of New York was adopted in 1885.