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North Carolina is one of the original 13 colonies of the US, and the state seal of North Carolina has a long history. Before creating its own seal, North Carolina had some form of official seal since 1633. Prior to the American Revolution, most of its official seals were created at the direction of the King of England or his lords. The history of the seal tracks the history of America, from its days under the rule of the Crown to the Declaration of Independence and its role as a state in the new nation of the US.
King Charles II issued the charter for the colony of North Carolina in 1663, before any governing body has been established there. The Lords Proprietors, English lords who held title to the lands of North Carolina through a grant from the Crown, adopted a seal that showed the coat of arms of each of the eight lords that possessed the land. Two years later, the county government of Albemarle was formed and adopted a modified version of the Lords Proprietors’ seal, which added letters spelling the word Albemarle between the individual crests of the lords.
In 1729, the Crown purchased the Province of North Carolina, and King George II commanded that a new seal be prepared. The seal was to bear the legend “Georgius Secondus,” the Latin phrase for the King’s title. Like previous seals, it was small and used to seal documents such as legal patents and land grants made by the Crown. It was ordered to be placed on any public document bearing the King’s name and remained the provincial seal of North Carolina from 1730 to 1767.
In 1776, the colonies began to rebel against King George III and declare their independence. North Carolina’s new constitution mandated that a state seal of North Carolina be created. In 1778, a congressional bill commissioned William Tisdale, a newly appointed judge of the Admiralty Court of North Carolina, to design the state seal under the direction of the governor.
The central feature of the state seal of North Carolina, last changed in 1983, is Liberty and Plenty, symbolically represented by two women, enclosed in a circle. Liberty has a scroll in her right hand inscribed with the word “Constitution.” In her left hand she holds a pole topped with a liberty cap, historically worn by French revolutionaries as the symbol of their fight for liberty. Plenty sits near a large horn of plenty overflowing with fruits and vegetables and holds a sheaf of wheat in her hand, symbolic of North Carolina’s rich farm land. Mountains behind the women lead to the sea, on which a three-masted ship sails.
In 1983, the date April 12, 1776 was added to the state seal of North Carolina just below the figures of Liberty and Plenty. This is the date of the Halifax Resolves, which empowered the delegates to the North Carolina Continental Congress to vote for independence. Over the heads of the women is the date May 25, 1775. This is the date that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was published in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The motto of the State of North Carolina, “Esse Quam Videri,” meaning in Latin “To be rather than to seem,” appears at the bottom of the seal between two stars.