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1st Arms

2nd Arms

3rd Arms

4th & 5th Arms






Between 1461 and late seventeenth century, Portuguese, Dutch and British traders had contacts and trading posts in Liberia. The Portuguese had named the area Costa da Pimenta, later translated as Grain Coast, because of the abundance of grains of melegueta pepper.


In 1822, the American Colonization Society established in Cape Mesurado as a place to send black people who were formerly enslaved. Other African Americans, who were never enslaved, chose to emigrate to Cape Mesurado as well.  African-Americans gradually migrated to the colony and became known as Americo-Liberians, from whom many present day Liberians trace their ancestry. On July 26, 1847, the Americo-Liberian settlers declared the independence of the Republic of Liberia.




From the outset the symbols associated with Liberia are an oil palm (Elaeis guineensis - Palmae), a ship, and a rising sun. 

The oldest ship we meet is the USS Aligator which brought the first Afro American settlers to Liberia


The USS AIligator's keel was laid 26 June 1820 and was launched 2 November 1820 by the Boston Navy Yard and commissioned in March 1821. Master Commandant R.F. Stockton was placed in command and she set sail on a mission for the west coast of Africa with Dr. Eli Ayres on board on 3 April. Previously, the American Colonization Society (ACS) had been established in December 1816 in Washington, D.C. It sought the return of African Negroes to Africa. Dr. Eli Ayres was to select and acquire territory to colonize free men of color in their native continent.

At Cape Mesurado Stockton and Ayres met the local chiefton, King Peter, and a suitable tract of land was purchased by bartering. This land became the Republic of Liberia.


Drawing of the USS Alligator.


The USS Alligator is seen on a coin minted by the American Colonization Society in 1833, together with the oil palm, planted by one of the first colonists.

Liberian coin issued by the American Colonization Society, 1833.


Two cents of the 1847 series of coinage

 showing a  palmtree on the shore and a ship in the distance


In 1862 the palmtree was heraldised by placing it on a shield. At the same time a smaller arms and an achievement was adopted. This consisted of the American eagle supporting the palm-tree shield.


The First Arms



Arms of Liberia, 1864

surrouned by a branch of oak and a palm-leave

Achievement of Liberia, 1865

The America eagle supporting the arms with the palmtree


The Second Arms


Smaller arms 1889


In a 1889 version of the arms the similarity with the arms and achievement of the United States is even greater. For the occasion the palmtree was abandoned and the arms became the star-and-stripes from the flag.

The flag was adopted 16 July 1847 and displayed officially on 27 August of the same year. It consists of elven stripes red and white and a blue canton with a white five-pointed star. The flag is clearly inspired by the flag of the United States. The eleven stripes symbolize the eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence.


Flag, 1847


Smaller arms and garland, 1889


Achievement, 1889


The Third Arms


Some years later the achievement (officially called a seal) was thoroughly restyled. This can be seen on stamps issued in 1892. The coat of arms on these stamps is:



Arms: The ocean with a sailing vessel on the breakers of the sea, at the horizon a rising sun, in the sky a dove of peace, on the shore an oil palm and a plough, all proper.

Crest: An elephant statant.

Supporters: Two Liberian Flags on their staffs in saltire.



The elephant statant was common for all badges of the British West African colonies. An elephant with a castle on his back occurred also in the coat of arms of the Danish West Indian Company and as a crest in the achievement of the African Company. (ð Ghana) 


In the arms the USS Alligator is replaced by the Star of the Union:


In June of 1860, the United States Government contracted with Dr. John M. McCalla, Jr., a resident of Washington, D.C., to serve as their agent aboard the ship Star of the Union. His mission was to accompany 383 Africans rescued from the slaver Bogota on their voyage to Liberia, and make sure that the provisions of the contract between the US and the American Colonization Society were satisfactorily executed.


Oil of the Star of the Union


This ship can be seen on stamps issued in 1860, that is the same year of the expedition of Mc.Calla. This time the ship is accompanied by a sitting Liberty with the word LIBERIA on her seat. This may well have been the first seal of the Republic.



The arms are clearly insipred by almost identical arms in the head of a diplom of the Order of African Redemption,  founded  13 January 1879, now in a Dutch collection.[1]


Scan: Courtesy Mus. Pal. Het Loo, Apeldoorn.

The coat of arms on the diplom is:


Arms:  A sailing vessel on the sea, on the shore an oil palm and a plough, in the sky a sun radiant and in chief a dove with a document, alle proper.

Crest: A rising sun Gules, radiant Or, over the globe a listel with the word LIBERTY.

Order: The star and ribbon of the Liberian Order of African Redemption.

Garland: a branch of Olive and a branch of Oak.


Star and Ribbon of the Order of African Redemption.


In European books of reference the crest and flags were usually omitted:


Arms of Liberia, 1905 [2]


The Fourth & Fifth Arms


About 1921 the achievement was changed again by leaving out the elephant crest and replacing it by a listel with the name of the republic: REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA.

The dove of peace is bearing now a scroll containing the message of renunciation from the American Colonization Society.

After WWII the arms were changed. The name of the republic and the motto on their listels changed places: the motto is now above and the name below the arms. Also, the double wheeled plough was replaced by a single wheeled one. [3]



The last change dates from 1963. The arms remained the same but the flags were left out. (See illustration in the head of this article).


The Deshield Commission Report of  24 January 1978 recommended that the motto be changed from “The Love of Liberty Brought us Here” to “Love, Liberty, Justice, Equality”, but due to opposition of certain members of the commision the change was never implemented.




The Liberian people which is the sovereign of Liberia, is represented by an allegory. It has the shape of a Virgin, in the French tradition called Liberty. For that reason she has a Cap of Liberty or Phrygian Cap on her head, at first charged wit a single star (making her the Liberian People). More recently the star was omitted and instead, the head was made of a negroid complexion.






In other instances, she was sitting and with a Cap of Liberty in her left hand and the arms of Liberia ensigned with the word LIBERTY in her right. Above her head is the Liberian single star radiant.



Presidents’ Flag


The presidents’ flags at frist showed the smaller arms as adopted about 1889.




after 1955








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© Hubert de Vries 2009.01.19. Updated 2012-11-09; 2013-02-23



[1]  Museum van de Kanselarij der Nederlandse Orden, Nationaal Museum Paleis het Loo, Apeldoorn. 

[2] From Meyers Konversationslexicon, 1905 edition.

[3] Picture from Admiralty: Flags of all Nations, amendments, 1948.

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