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The state motto of Massachusetts is a mouthful in Latin, but it speaks to Colonial Massachusetts’ desire for freedom and liberty from English rule: Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem. In translates loosely to English as, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." This motto relates to when the colony of Massachusetts officially broke off relations with England in 1775. The quote was taken from the works of Algernon Sydney, or Sidney, an English politician who was later accused of helping to plot against England’s King Charles II, and was beheaded.
The state motto of Massachusetts in use today was first put into use by Massachusetts in the mid-1770s when it was engraved on the first official seal of the colony by American patriot Paul Revere. The design shows a man in Colonial garb holding a sword in one hand and the Magna Carta in the other, encircled by the year 1775 and a Latin phrase, Sigillum Reipublicae Massachusettensis, which means “Seal of the Republic of Massachusetts.”
The state motto remains the same today, but the original seal has undergone several changes. The official state seal today shows an Algonquin Indian holding a downward-pointing sword. The sword is pointing to the banner that displays the official state motto of Massachusetts written in Latin, and the downward arc of the weapon stands for peace. Behind him is a single five-pointed silver star that represents Massachusetts’ standing as one of the original 13 colonies of the United States.
The official flag also bears the state motto of Massachusetts. The motto is written on the official coat of arms, which is depicted on the flag. The coat of arms has been emblazoned on the state’s flags since 1787. The Indian who is shown on the flag, coat of arms and state seal is a nod to Massachusetts’ early history, and some people believe he is Squanto, the Patuxet Indian who befriended early Pilgrims in 1621.
In the mid-1890s, the state sought to create a more accurate likeness of the Indian portrayed on its flag, coat of arms and seal. A number of ethnologists weighed in on the matter, leading to the adoption of a redesign of his likeness in 1898. In the updated design of the Indian, the colors of the flag were not changed from the original white background and blue shield within which the Indian stands with his sword. The sword, however, over time replaced the original design that showed a downward arrow that was used during more peaceful Colonial times.