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Early Heraldry

State of California

California S.A.C.


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The first European to explore the California coast was the Portuguese explorer and adventurer João Rodrigues Cabrilho. Cabrillo was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain and in 1542 he sailed into what is now San Diego, California. He continued north as far as Pt. Reyes, California.

In 1602, the Spaniard Sebastián Vizcaíno explored California's coastline from San Diego as far north as Monterey Bay. He named San Diego Bay and also put ashore in Monterey,

The Spanish divided California into two parts, Baja California and Alta California, as provinces of New Spain (Mexico). The eastern and northern boundaries of Alta California were very indefinite, as the Spanish did not occupy most of it for over 200 years after first claiming it.

The first permanent mission in Baja California, Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, was founded on October 15, 1697, by Jesuit Friar Juan Maria Salvatierra (1648–1717). After the establishment of missions in Alta California after 1769, the Spanish treated Baja California and Alta California as a single administrative unit, part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, with Monterey, California, as its capital.

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and Alta California became one of the three interior provinces in the First Mexican Empire north of the Rio Grande, along with Texas and New Mexico.

Hostilities between the U.S. and Mexico were inspired by the Battle of the Alamo in February-March 1846. Several actual battles between U.S. and Mexican troops over the next few months led the United States Congress to issue a declaration of war against Mexico on May 13, 1846; the Mexican-American War had begun.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the war in February 1848. The new state of Texas's boundary claims were settled, and New Mexico, California, and the unsettled territory of several future states of the American Southwest were added to U.S. control.

The California Constitution was ratified by popular vote at an election held on 13 November 1849 (as specified in Article 12 Sec. 8). The Pueblo de San Jose was chosen as the first state capitol (Article XI Sec. 1). Soon after the election they set up a provisional state government that set up the counties, elected a governor, senators, and representatives, and operated for ten months setting up a state government before California was given official statehood by Congress on 9 September 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850




Early Heraldry

As a part of the Spanish Empire and the vice-kingdom of New Spain the emblems of the king of Spain, being the king of Castile and Leon and the Spanish Indies were also valid in (spanish) California. 

It is said that the first viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza (1535-’50) granted a coat of arms to Cabrilho or to the Californias but no references about these arms are currently available. A reconstruction shows:


Arms: Per pale Gules and Or, a scallop (of S. James) Argent, within a bordure Azure, four fishes Argent.


These arms are the arms of present Baja California Sur now.


Because of the missions of the Jesuits in the Californias the arms of the order  may have been seen there:

Arms of the Societas Jesu, 17th century [1]


The arms are:

Arms: Azure, a sun rayonnant Or the cypher IHS and the nails of the crucifixion in base Sable.

Crest: An Agnus Dei couchant proper.


In the time of Mexican rule the national emblem of the Mexican Empire and of the Republic were valid in California and the Cabrilho arms were abandoned because the national emblem had to be used by all national authorities.



State of California

The Great Seal of California was adopted at the California state Constitutional Convention of 1849 and has undergone minor design changes since then, the last being the standardization of the seal in 1937. The seal features the Roman goddess Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and war; a California grizzly bear (Ursus arctos ssp - Ursidæ) feeding on grape vines, representing California's wine production; a sheaf of grain, representing agriculture; a miner, representing the California Gold Rush and the mining industry; and sailing ships, representing the state's economic power. Above is the phrase "Eureka," meaning "I have found it!" (εύρηκα in Greek).


When the Constitutional Convention met in Monterey in 1849, the question of designing the Great Seal was agitated, and some time later a drawing was submitted. The original design of the seal was by U.S. Army Major Robert S. Garnett and engraved by Albert Kuner. However, because of the friction then in existence between the military and civil authorities, Garnett was unwilling to introduce the design to the constitutional convention, so convention clerk Caleb Lyon introduced it as his own design, with Garnett's approval.

The seal represented the figure of Minerva, with the Golden Gate, and a ship in full sail in the foreground and the Sierra Nevada range in the background, with the word “Eureka” above. The design was referred to a committee, and on September 29, 1849, the report of the comminttee was considered by the Convention. After various amendments had been suggested, the matter was laid on the table. On October 2 the report of the committee was again considered, and adopted. This design was also adopted as the arms of the State of California.


Seal of 1849

The designer’s description of the seal reads:


“Around the bevel of the ring are represented thirty-one stars, being the number of the States of which the Union will consist, upon the admission of California. The foreground figure represents the goddess Minerva having sprung full-grown from the brain of Jupiter She is introduced as a type of the political birth of the State of California, without having gone through the probation of a Territory. At her feet crouches a grisly bear, feeding upon clusters from a grape vine, which, with the sheaf of wheat, are emblematic of the peculiar characteristics of the country. A miner is engaged at work, with a rocker and bowl at his side, illustrating the golden wealth of the Sacramento, upon whose waters are seen shipping, typical of commercial greatness; and the snow-clad peaks of the Sierra Nevada make up the back-ground. Above, is the Greek motto "Eureka," (I have found it,) applying either to the principle involved in the admission of the State, or the success of the miners at work. [2]

Seal of 1858


In 1858 the State seal was damaged so that it failed to give a true impresson, and an bill was introduced in the Senate to authorize the Secretary of State to procure a new seal, to be engraved on steel, and to be substituted for and used instead of the seal then in existence; and requiring him to destroy the then State seal in the presence of the Governor and Controller. The bill was accompanied with a design which reduced the size of the seal a twelfth part of an inch, and to admit of this contraction some of the details of the original design were omitted.The bear was made to crouch sumissively at the feet of Minerva, the miner’s cradle was left out, and the miner was brought nearer the water. On March 10, 1858, the Senate amended the bill providing that the design and size should be the same as in the then  seal; and on April 16 another amendment was adopted, that “the design of the present seal shall be presented intact in the new one, but the size thereof shall be reduced six-tenth of an inch, so that the new seal, when completed, shall be three and three-tenth of an inch in diameter.” The bill with this amendment passed the Senate on the 31st, but it was not consIdered in the House. [3]

After 1858 a large number of incorrect details occured in the reproductions in print, painting and sculpture of the seal. In particular the number of stars varied considerably from seven to 32 over the years. Therefore in 1928 state printer Carroll H. Smith was authorized to prepare a new and correct seal. This seal was drawn by Los Angeles heraldic artist Marc J. Rowe who, among other corrections, narrowed the growing break in the mountains so that it appeared to be the Sacramento River, "fringed by snow-capped Sierra, and not an arm of San Francisco Bay, as the old seal made it appear". His design was not adopted as the official seal, although it was used by the State Printing Office. In 1937 standardization came about when state employees, wishing to print the seal on blotters for the State Fair, could not find any official design of the seal. This prompted a new law, which "established for the first time a definite pictured design with which the master die was 'substantially' to conform, and at the same time established the legality of all previous seals which were essentially the same as this one." The law, illustrated with a drawing of the seal, reads:



This version is the version of the seal in use until present. Nowadays it is often depicted in full color.


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay


Seal of the Senate adopted 19??




The California State Police has its origins in the Legislative action of 1853. At the state capitol in Stockton, California the state legislature voted to raise a Ranger Unit to chase down and capture Joaquin Murietta. Capt. Harry Love was commissioned to raise a company of Rangers. Thus begun the legend of the California Rangers and the foundation was laid for the formation of the California State Police. On March 15, 1887 the CSP was officially formed. The State Police was reorganised several times during it's history and it has had several different badge and patch styles up to its demise. July 12, 1995 the CSP was merged with the CHP (California Highway Patrol). [4]



Badge Ranger Unit

Badge, ancient



Sleeve patch ancient

Sleeve patch new


California State Area Command





That for regiments and separate battalions of the California Army National Guard: From a wreath of colors, the setting sun behind a grizzly bear passant on a grassy field all Proper.


California is the Sunset State, the Golden Gate Commonwealth. The grizzly bear was on the flag of the California Republic. As the original settlement within the State was of Spanish origin, the twists of the wreath are yellow and red.


The crest was approved for the color bearing organizations of the National Guard for the State of California on 5 January 1924. It was amended to change the blazon on 19 January 1926.


Distinctive Unit Insignia


Heraldry Image - Distinctive Unit Insignia


On a hexagon Azure one side up, the crest of the California Army National Guard Proper.  The overall width is 1 1/8 inches (2.86 cm).


California is the Sunset State, the Golden Gate Commonwealth.  The grizzly bear was on the flag of the California Republic.  As the original settlement within the State was of Spanish origin, the twists of the wreath are yellow and red.


The distinctive unit insignia was originally approved for the State Staff and State Detachment, California National Guard on 25 January 1936.  It was redesignated for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment and noncolor bearing units of the California Army National Guard on 22 January 1969.  The insignia was redesignated for the Headquarters, State Area Command, California Army National Guard, effective 30 December 1983.


Shoulder Sleeve Insignia


Heraldry Image - Shoulder Sleeve Insignia



On a blue hexagon one side up, 133/4 inches (4.45 cm) on a side, a setting sun behind a grizzly bear passant on a grassy field all proper on a twist of yellow and red.


California is the Sunset State, the Golden Gate Commonwealth. The grizzly bear was on the flag of the California Republic. As the original settlement within the State was of Spanish origin, the twists of the wreath are yellow and red.


The shoulder sleeve insignia was originally approved for Headquarters and Headquarters Detach- ment, California National Guard on 21 May 1952. It was redesignated for Headquarters, State Area Command, California Army National Guard on 30 December 1983. (TIOH Dwg. No. A-1-158). [5]



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© Hubert de Vries 2013-12-04


[1] From: Francisco Coelho: Thesouro de Nobreza (1675), fol. 9

[2] Bayard Taylor, "Bayard Taylor’s Letters, No. XXVII – The Great Seal of the State of California," New York Weekly Tribune, 22 December 1849,1

[3] Zieber, Eugene: Heraldry in America. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1895. Pp.114-115

[4] http://www.tworobins.com/historybadge-patch.php

[5] Retrieved from the site of the American Institute of Heraldry


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