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February 3, 2020

The State Seal of The Commonwealth of Virginia

Two months before the Declaration of Independence was passed by the Continental Congress in July of 1776, the colony of Virginia declared its independence from Great Britain. Just days before the Philadephia convention, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, George Wythe and Robert Carter Nicolas Sr. met to design a seal for the new Commonwealth of Virginia.  The committee did not want a royal coat-of-arms design that would harken back to the seal of Great Britain. Instead, as there was a strong admiration for the Roman Republic form of government, the design was modeled after Roman mythology.

Symbolism in The Seal

Bronze medal Thomas Jefferson gave to Joseph Martin to take to Cherokee allies of the Continental army. Maxim says, “Rebellion to Tyrants is obedience to God.”

The figure with her foot on her opponent is called “Virtus” is said to represent the genius of the Commonwealth, as well as “peace.”

Virtus carries a sword, or parazonium, which is the sword of authority, rather than of combat.

Tyranny, which represents the reign of George III, is underfoot, and its royal crown is lying on the ground nearby. This symbolizes the separation of the state from the rule of Great Britain.

The broken chain in Virtus’s left hand also symbolizes the break from Britain’s restraints on shipping and westward expansion, while the slack whip points to Virginia’s release from the punishments imposed on the colony, such as the Intolerable Acts.

Though widely thought to be primarily the design of George Wythe, George Mason presented the design concept to the Virginia government for approval on July 5th, and it passed that same day.

Many may not realize, that the State Seal has two sides. While the front changed several times from 1776 to 1912, the reverse has had fewer alterations. Pictured in the reverse are three Roman goddesses representing freedom and peace. On the left is Ceres, goddess of agriculture. In the middle is Libertas, the goddess of individual liberties. On the right is Aeternitas, the goddess of eternity.

In 1912, the Commonwealth’s powers-that-be decided that they must settle on one design, to limit confusion, and the version we use today was their final decision.

Here are examples of the front of the state seal since it’s inception, along with the reverse images.

Seal from 1714

“Seal of our Province Virginia in America
From the time of the reign of George III

Seal from 1894
“Perseverando” means Continue or Persevere

Today’s Seal