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The Seal

The Arms



Armed Forces


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The East coast of North America between 41° and 45° North latitude was visited in  1498 by J. Cabot. In 1602 Batholomew Gosnold dicovered Cape Cod and gave it its name. Two years later Samuel de Champlain explored the coast and as a result of his report  a company was founded by privilege of King James I in 1606 to colonize the territory. Because the shareholders lived for the most part in Plymouth, this company is known as the Plymouth Company.

The territory granted to the Plymouth Company received the name of New England in 1614 from captain John Smith who sailed along the East coast and gave many places their names.

The first permanent English settlement in New England was established in 1620 (after Jamestown, Virginia in 1607) with the founding of Plymouth Colony by the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower. It was never large. A large-scale Puritan migration began in 1630 after the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628), so called after an Indian tribe living around present Massachusetts Bay, and spawned the settlement of other New England colonies. To untangle confused land titles under the council and to resolve conflicting lines of political authority, the Massachusetts Bay Company took possession of its charter directly from the king, thus eliminating the Council for New England as an intermediary. Friction between the new settlers and the local population grew, erupting in King Philip's War in the 1670s. The Puritan Colony clashed also with Anglican opponents in England over its religious intolerance and the status of its charter. Businessmen from the colony sometimes shipped goods in violation of the Navigation Acts. These political and trade issues led to the revocation of the Massachusetts charter in 1684.

King James II in 1686 established the Dominion of New England to govern all of New England to centralize royal control and weaken local government. The intensely unpopular rule by Sir Edmund Andros came to a sudden end in 1689 with an uprising sparked by the Glorious Revolution in England. The new king William III established the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1691, to govern a territory roughly equivalent to that of the modern state of Massachusetts and Maine. Its governors were appointed by the crown, in contrast to the predecessor colonies, which had elected their own governors. This created friction between the colonists and the crown, which reached its height in the early days of the American Revolution in the 1760s and 1770s over issues of who could levy taxes. Massachusetts was where the American Revolutionary War began in 1775 when London tried to shut down local self-government.

The commonwealth formally adopted the state constitution in 1780, electing John Hancock its first governor.




The Council of New England, existing between 1619 and 1635,  used an achievement as follows:


Arms: Per fess, the chief quarterly: 1&4: ¼ of France and England; 2. Scotland; 3. Ireland. The base Argent, three barrulets wavy Azure.

Crest: Neptune with a trident riding on a Sea Horse all proper.

Supporters: Two virgins, the dexter with a book and with a dove on her shoulder; the sinister with a square.

Motto: gens incognita mihi serviet  (Unknown People Will Serve Me). [1]


Plymouth Company


Attempts to colonize the territory were not succesful at first. Not until 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers founded Plymouth Colony at Cape Cod Bay which only encompassed a small part of New England. The company of financiers and colonists of the enterprise used a seal dated 1620


Seal: Arms: [Argent], a cross [Gules] between four men kneeling in a landscape with a tree, presenting a Holy Heart [all proper]. L.:  R X sigillvm : societatis  plimouth nov º anglia X. In the field: 1620. On the border: four garlands of live oak.


The seal of the Plymouth Colony (....) was sent over to the colony by the London Adventurers as early as 1624; but it may not have been used before the issuance of the Warwick Patent of 1630. It remained in use as long as the colony maintained its independence and was used on official documents and in outline, on the second edition of the Colony Laws published in 1685. Attempts by several antiquarians to read significance into the meaning of the four naked kneeling figures and the doubtful object (bouquet, bunch of tobacco leaves, plumed heart) that they are holding have been unconvincing.


From: Bradford, William: Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647. Repr. New York 1952 with an introduction  by Samuel Eliot Morrison. p. xxlii. [2]


Massachusetts Bay Company


The settlement at Cape Cod Bay was soon outstripped by the colonies of the Massachusetts Bay Company. This Company received its charter on 4 March 1628 from King Charles I of England and Scotland. With the same charter it was granted a seal.  The grant  reads: ‘And further that the said “Governor and Companye and their successors maie have forever one common seale, to be used in all causes and occasions of the said Company, and the same seale maie alter, chaunge, breake and newe make, from tyme to tyme, at their pleasures.”’ [3]


Two versions of the seal of Massachusetts Bay, the right one dated 1675


In April 1629 the Governor in England wrote to the colonists in Massachusetts that he had sent over ‘the Companyes seale in silver, by Mr. Samuel Sharpe, a passenger.’[4] It bears the device of an Indian dressed in a loin cloth holding in his right hand an arrow, point downwards and in his left hand a bow. From his mouth comes the text  come over and help us. The Indian is standing in a landscape between two pine trees.

The legend reads: sigillvm : gvb : et : societ : de : mattachvsetts : bay : in : nova : anglia.

This seal was the only one used for over fifty years until the abrogation of the first charter in 1684.


Dominion of New England


In 1684 the first charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company was abrogated by King Charles II. Two years later King James II, the former Duke of York and the owner of the province of New York,  the provinces of New England, were united. Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island became one royal province with the name of New England. The king was represented by a governor.  For the dominion no coat of armsod achievement was adopted. On the seal of the dominion was the royal achievement of the Union of England and Scotland (English version). Around it was the legend sigillvm novæ angliæ in america.


Province of Massachusetts Bay


After 1689 and the failure of the dominion the colonies assembled into the dominion then reverted to their previous forms of governance.  A new charter was issued to Massachusetts in 1692 by King William III and Queen Mary II.  

This act provides that all laws &c. ‘as shall be soe made and published under our Seale of our said Province, ‘shall be duly observed. And also that all laws ‘be, by the first opportunity after the making thereof, sent or Transmitted unto us, Our Heirs and Successors, under the publique Seal to be appointed by us, for Our or their approbabtion or Disallowance.’

On the seals were the royal arms at first but from the reign of  King George II (1727-’60) tthis was replaced by he royal achievement, surrounded by the legend: sig. reg. provinciæ de massachusetts bay in nova anglia in america  and the name and titles of the reigning prince.

Of these seals, if there have ever been five (the number of the successive princes), only two have been preserved: the one of the Kings George I and II.


Seal of George I, 1714


Seal of George II, 1728

Massachusettes Colony


Pursuit of autonomy and dissatisfaction withthe English rule were the reason for continuous military action in the colony. After the Boston Tea Party in 1773 a provisional independent government was founded in 1775. The provisional government immediately adopted a new seal  and this continued in use for five years. It represents an armed citizen with a paper in his left hand on which are written the words magna charta. This refers to the Magna Charta, a document signed by John Lackland on 15 June 1215, laying down the rights and duties of the people and the king. The citizens of  Boston were of the opinion that the English king violated this agreement. The man on the seal is surrounded by the motto ense placidam sub libertate quietem (With the sword she seeks peace under liberty). The legend reads  sigillum coloniæ massachutensis 1775.





Republic of Massachusetts


When Massachusetts became a State action was taken by the Legislature on the subject of a State seal, and under date of 13th December, 1780, there is the following record.

‘Ordered That Nathan Cushing Esqr. be a Committee to prepare a Seal for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who reported a Device for a Seal for Said Commonwealth as follows viz. SAPPHIRE, an Indian dressed in his Shirt; Moggosins, belted proper, in his right Hand a Bow TOPAZ, in his left an Arrow, its point towards the Base; of the second, on the Dexter side of the Indian’s head, a Star; PEARL, for one of the United States.

“’CREST. On a Wreath a dexter Arms cloathed and ruffled proper, grasping a Broad Sword, the Pummel and hilt TOPAZ with this Motto. ENSE PETIT PLACIDAM SUB LIBERTATE QUITEM - and around the Seal - SIGILLUM  REIPUBLICÆ  MASSACHUTTENSIS.

“’Advised that the said Report be Accepted as the Arms of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.’

“This report was sent up for approval by the Governor and Council, and it seems that no further action was taken on it. The seal was, however, made and used for many years, inaccuracies were introduced by different designs, until in 1885 it was thought necessary to pass the folowing Statute:

“’SECTION I. The great seal of the Commonwealth shall be circular in form, and shall bear upon its face a representation of the arms of the Commonwealth, with an inscription round about such representation, consisting of the words “Sigillum Reipublicæ Massachuttensis;” but the colors of such arms shall not be an essential part of said seal, and an impression from an engraved seal according to said design, on any commission, paper or document of any kind shall be valid to allintents and purposes whether such colors, or the representation of such colors by the customary heraldic lines or marks, be employed or not.

“’SECT. 2. The arms of the Commonwealth shall consist of a shield, whereof the field or surface is blue, and thereon an Indian dressed in his shirt and moccasins, holding in his right hand a bow, in his left hand an arrow, point downward, all of gold; and in the upper corner above his right arm  a silver star with five points. The crest shall be a wreath of blue and gold, whereon is a right arm bend at the elbow, and clothed and ruffled, the hand grasping a broadsword, all of gold. The motto shall be “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quitem.”’” [5]


Seal 1780

Seal 1885


The Arms


The heraldic emblems valid in Massachusetts were the royal arms and the royal achievement. Of the time of the Protectorate and Commonwealth (1649-’60) no examples of heraldic emblems are available. After the Revolution a coat of arms of Massachusetts was valid in the Republic.

Some examples of the royal achievement as used in Massachusetts on proclamations of the Royal Governor are:


The royal achievement of Queen Anne (1702-’14)

On a Proclamation of Governor Francis Bernard , 06.12.1766 (!)


Proclamation of Governor Spencer Phips, 03.11.1755

With the royal achievement of King George II


Proclamation of Governor Francis Bernard , 1762

With the royal achievement of King George III


The arms of the Republic of Massachusetts were adopted on 13 December 1780.


The arms of Massachusetts

On the frontispiece of Thomas Doolittle’s Display of the United States of America, 1791.


The arms are:

Arms: Azure, an Indian dressed in his shirt, moggosins and belt proper, in his right hand a bow, in his left an arrow its point downwards, both Or; on the Dexter side of the Indian’s head, a five-pointed star Argent for one of the United States.



The motto means: With the sword she seeks peace under liberty.

This is attributed to Algernon Sydney (Sidney), an English political writer (1622-1683). His father writes to him: “It is said that the University of Copenhagen brought ther album unto you, desiring you to write something therein; and that you did  scribere in albo ‘these words:

..... Manus haec inimica tyrannios

Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietam. [6]


(This hand hostile to tyrants

With the sword, she seeks peace under liberty.)


Arms of Massachusetts

On the Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts, 1824


From:  State Arms of the Union, Boston 1876


On a publication, 1889


The present coat of arms, crest and motto were adopted and styled by an act of the General Court of the State approved June 4, 1885. They are:


Arms: Azure, an Indian dressed in his shirt and moccasins, holding in his right hand a bow, in his left hand an arrow, point downward, all Or; and in dexter chief a five-pointed star Argent.

Crest:  On a wreath of the colors a right arm bend at the elbow, clothed and ruffled, the hand grasping a broadsword, all Or.



Æ See illustration in the head of this essay




Present Governor’s Seal


Staned Glass Window in the New State House, Boston

Representing the seals and arms of the Province of Massachusetts and the arms of its Governors


Be it that all acts of the Massachusetts Governors in the time of the Province of Massachusetts had to be sealed with the Royal Seal, the Governors themselves, belonging to the English nobility had their coats of arms of their own which they displayed on the proper places and times. Most of them are described by Burke’s Peerage


Sir William Phips


Az.  a leaf of shamrock and eight five-pointed stars per bordurer ar. Crest-  a hand ppr. holding a leaf of shamrock  ar.


William Stoughton




Ar. on a saltire gu. between four doorstaples an escallop or  (another of the first). Crest a lion issunat holding an escallop or.

Personal seal


Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont


Ar. a chev sa. betw. three coots ppr Crest a coot ppr. Supporters - Two wolves ermines ducally gorged ar. Motto- Vincit Veritas


William Stoughton

2nd time 1700-1701

Governor’s Council


Joseph Dudley




Or, a lion rampant az double queued vert. Crest -  a lion’s head az.


Governor’s Council


Joseph Dudley

2nd time 1715

 William Tailer


 Samuel Shute



Per chevron sa and or, in chief two eagles displayed of the last. Crest - a griffin sejant or., pierced in the breast with a broken sword blade ar. vulned gu.


William Dummer



Az. three fleurs de lis or on a chief of the second a demi lion ramp. issuant sa. Crest -  a demi lion  ramp az. holding a fleur de lis or.


William Burnett



Arms: Three holly leaves in chief vert and a hunting horn in base sa..

Crest - a dexter hand with a pruning knife pruning a vine tree ppr.

Motto - Virescit Vulnere Virtus.

Supporters - on either side a Highlander in a hunting garb holding in his exterior hand a bow and a greyhound all ppr.


William Dummer

 2nd time 1729-1730

William Tailer


Jonathan Belcher



Arms: Paly of six or and gu. a chief vair. Crest - a greyhound’s head erm. gorged with a collar gu. rimmed and ringed or.



William Shirley



Arms: Paly Or and  Azure, a canton ermine and in chief an escutcheon Argent, a dexter hand Gules

Crest: A man’s head  with a crown of laurel ppr.


 Spencer Phips


Arms: Phips


William Shirley

2nd time 1753-1756

Spencer Phips

2nd time 1756-1757

 Governor’s Council


Thomas Pownell



Arms: Per pale the dexter quarterly: 1&4: Argent a lion rampant Sable; 2&3: Sable a crevron Argent between three leaves Or and a bordure and chief Argent, an eagle Sable; the sinister Sable, a lion rampant Argent a canton Argent a cross Sable.

Crest: A dexter hand proper holding a key per fess Or.


Thomas Hutchinson


Per pale gu and az a lion rampant ar and 12 crosses crosslet per bordure or. Crest- out of a baronets crown a basilisk sejant az combed gu.


Sir Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet


Arms: Quarterly: 1&4. Argent a bear sejant Sable; 3&4: Argent three lion’s heads Gules and a bordure engrailed Vert. Innombril point Argent,  a cross flory Azure between four merlets Sable



Thomas Hutchinson

 2nd time 1769-1774

Thomas Gage



Arms: Quarterly 1&4. Per saltire Azure and Argent, a saltire Gules; 2&3: Or, a sun in splendour Argent.

Crest:  a sheep proper

Supporters: Two greyhounds Argent collared with a crown Or






Car Emblem


Sleeve patch


Massachusetts Army National Guard






That for regiments and separate battalions of the Massachusetts Army National Guard:  From a wreath of colors, a dexter arm embowed, clothed Blue and ruffed White Proper the hand grasping a broad sword Argent the pommel and hilt Or.  (The wreath colors will be the first named metal and non-metal colors in the shield of the organization’s coat of arms).


The design is taken from the crest of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which was adopted 13 December 1780.  The right arm, bent at the elbow, is an ancient European heraldic symbol, which is thought to symbolize the arm of God.


The crest was approved for color bearing organizations of the State of Massachusetts on 20 March 1922.  It was amended to correct the description on 16 July 1923.  It was authorized for Separate Regiments and Battalions of the Massachusetts Army National Guard and amended to correct the blazon and symbolism on 3 July 2007


Distinctive Unit Insignia



A gold metal and enamel device 1 1/8 inches (2.86 cm) in height overall consisting of a white pentagon, one point down, bearing a gold and blue wreath supporting a right arm bent at the elbow clothed and ruffled blue, the hand grasping a broadsword and in base a five-pointed star all gold, all above a semicircular bi-folded blue scroll folded back at each end and inscribed "ENSE PETIT PLACIDAM" in gold letters.


The colors white, gold and blue are taken from the State flag of Massachusetts as is the star which signifies one of the original thirteen States.  The right arm, bent at elbow is taken from the design of the crest of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which was adopted 13 December 1780 and is an ancient European heraldic symbol which is thought to symbolize the arm of God.  The motto is a contraction of the motto on the Massachusetts State flag, which is translated as "this hand opposed to tyrants searches, with a sword, for peaceful conditions under liberty."


The distinctive unit insignia was originally approved for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment and noncolor bearing units, Massachusetts Army National Guard on 7 January 1974.  It was redesignated with description and symbolism amended effective 30 December 1983, for Headquarters, State Area Command, Massachusetts Army National Guard.  It was redesignated retroactive to 1 October 2003 for the Massachusetts Army National Guard Element, Joint Force Headquarters and amended to update the description and change the symbolism.


Shoulder Sleeve Insignia



On a red pentagonal background 2 1/2 inches (6.35 cm) in diameter with one side up a yellow and blue wreath supporting a right arm bent at the elbow, clothed and ruffled, the hand grasping a broad sword, all yellow.


The design is that of the crest of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which was adopted 13 December 1780.  The right arm, bent at the elbow, is an ancient European heraldic symbol which is thought to symbolize the arm of God.


The shoulder sleeve insignia was originally approved for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Massachusetts National Guard on 5 June 1950.  It was redesignated for Headquarters, State Area Command, Massachusetts Army National Guard on 30 December 1983.  It was redesignated retroactive to 1 October 2003 for the Massachusetts Army National Guard Element, Joint Force Headquarters and amended to update the description and add a symbolism. (TIOH Dwg. No. A-1-163)



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© Hubert de Vries 2015-04-15



[1] Smith, Iohn: The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles: with the names of the Adventurers, Planters, and Governors from their first beginning An: 1584. to this present 1624. (&c). London, 1624.

[2] Hall Lombard, Percival.: The seal of the Plymouth Colony. In: Mayflower Descendant, XXIX, Jan. 1931, pp. 1-9. Ook: Allcock, H.: Heraldic Design. 1962. Chapin, H.M.: A Roll of Arms of Cities and Towns in the U.S.. Providence, 1935.

[3] Massachusetts Records., vol i. p. 10. The section about the seal from: Zieber, Eugene: Heraldry in America. Published by the Department of Heraldry of the Bailey, Banks and Biddle Company. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1895.

[4] [4] Massachusetts Records., vol i, p. 397.

[5] Massachusetts Acts and Resolves, 1885: Acts and Resolves Passed by the General Court of Massachusetts, in the Year 1885, .....published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth (Wright and Pottter Pringting Company, State Printers, Boston, Massachusetts, 1885) p. 730.

[6] Life and memoirs of Algernon Sydney, prefixed to his Discourses on Government (Printed for Richard Lee by Deare and Andrews. Nw York, 1805) vol. I, p. 28.  (Shankle, Georg Earlie: State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and other Symbols. The H.W. Wilson Comp.. New York, 1951)

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