FOUNDERS AND PATRIOTS HERALDRY

Associate Duane L.C.M. Galles traces the fascinating history of heraldry from its beginnings in the 12th century and explains the meaning of symbols and colors found on coats of arms.


Many of the illustrious Founders and Patriots on the honor roll of the Order were, it is often overlooked, armigerous. That is to say they were gentlemen of coat armour and were entitled to the use of a coat of arms. Indeed, while the noble and gentle (and thus armigerous) families of England accounted for only about two percent of that country's population, slightly over three percent of the 3,500 Founders listed in Meredith Colket's Founders of Early American Families possessed a coat of arms. Clearly, not all the immigrants to America during the first half century after Jamestown were indentured servants or bondsmen.

The Genesis of Heraldry
Heraldry had its genesis during the 12th century and arose out of the needs of war. With the development of increasingly sophisticated armour, the identity of its wearer had become obscured. To indicate the identity of combatants some sort of system of clearly visible marks was needed. Military necessity thus summoned into existenee the art and science of heraldry. "Arma sunt distinguendi causa" — arms exist to distinguish between individuals — wrote the very celebrated civil lawyer, Bartolus of Sassferato, in his treatise on heraldry De Insignis et armis, written about 1354.

Simplicity was the keynote in the earliest heraldry. To begin with the various reinforcing parts of the shield were tinctured in widely contrasting colors. Clearly, light on dark or dark on light would be more visible at a great distance. From this common sense notion arose the first heraldic charges and the basic rules on the use of heraldic colors. The light colors in heraldry are called the metals', and these are silver and gold. The dark colors are the primary colors — red, blue, green, purple and black. Strictlyspeaking, only these latter are called 'colors' in heraldry. Together both groups are called 'tinctures'.

Likewise for visibility's sake the earliest heraldic designs were very simple. They are called the 'honorable ordinaries' and include the chief, the uppermost horizontal third of the shield; the pale, the center vertical third of the shield; the bend, the diagonal third of the shield; the fess, the center horizontal third of the shield; the bar, one-half of the fess; the cross, a combination of the pale and the fess; the chevron, a sort of inverted 'V'. But since the possibilities in the heraldic world would have been rather limited if heraldry had remained confined to these simplest of designs, soon a wealth of other charges were introduced into the heraldic universe.

Almost any member of the animal or vegetable kingdoms (real or imagined) has been placed into service in the armorial world. Lions, tigers, bears, unicorns, roses, lilies, sunflowers, as well as the sun, the moon and the stars are employed: And in the world before Raphael, these figures were drawn abstractly and without attention to perspective and foreshortening. Tinctures were expressionistic rather than natural. Indeed, the art of heraldry bears a spiritual kinship to that of Georgia O'Keefe or Franz Marc. It is a world of brave forms and brilliant colors. Thus, while one could never hope to meet a blue boar in the real world, the chances are considerably improved if one roams about the heraldic universe. Nor does a blue moon or Marc's blue horses seem improbable to the herald.

Nine Ordinaries
There are nine Honourable Ordinaries. They are the principal, among the oldest, and simplest form of charge appearing on a shield (from left to right, beginning at the top: Chief, Pale, Bend, Bend Sinister, Fess, Bar, Cross, Satire-and Chevron.

The Language of Heraldry
Language exists to communicate and one communicates by comparing and contrasting. Thus, words are referents to common experiences. The language of heraldry developed in the High Middle Ages when knighthood was in flower and when England's Norman elite spoke French. Not surprisingly, the language of administration was French as was the language of the royal court, until the reign of Edward III. The common law courts also used French. Only the Court of Chancery, which until the days of Sir Thomas More was presided over by clergymen, used another language. Chancery proceedings were in the language of the Church, Latin. English courts, in fact, continued to use French or Latin until the 18th century, when the vernacular at length was adopted.

Given this state of affairs, it should not be surprising that the language of heraldry bears the impress of the French tradition.

Thus, in heraldry silver is 'argent' and gold 'or'. A mountain is 'vert', not green. A lion's tongue is 'gules', not red. An eagle is 'sable', not black. A moon is 'azure', not blue. Similarly, postures are described en francais. A lion, thus, is not walking, but rather 'passant'. Nor is he lying, but rather 'couchant'. Nor is he rearing, but rather 'rampant'. There is a cullinary analogy. When it is 'on the hoof', it is 'a cow', 'a sheep', 'a calf', 'a pig', 'a deer'. When it is on the table, meat takes on French airs and becomes 'beef', 'mutton', 'veal', 'pork', 'venison'.

As time passed, coats of arms tended to become more complex and rules grew up governing the use of language in heraldry. Thus, if one of the older and simpler heraldic charges (the 'ordinaries' and 'subordinaries') is used in connection with smaller, subsidiary charges, the former is always described as "between" the latter if they surround it; 'on' it, if they rest upon the ordinary or subordinary. Thus, if one wished to describe, or, as it is said, 'blazon', the coat of arms of the Founder, John Washburn (1597-1670) of Duxbury, Massachusetts, one would say the following: "Argent, on a fess between six martlets gules, three guatrefoils of the first". Turned into the vernacular, this means that the shield is a silver one, charged with six small red birds, three above and three below a red horizontal center strip, which itself bears three four-petaled silver flowers. Captain John Smith (1580-1631) of Pocahontas fame bore: "Argent, a chevron gules between three saracen's heads erased proper, turbaned or." The shield of these arms, granted it is said by Stephen Bathory, Prince of Transylvania, with whom Smith fought against the Turks, is silver, and is charged with a red inverted 'V', surrounded by three heads of Saracens, tinctured their natural color and wearing golden turbans, with the heads cut cleanly from the bodies. Simpler were the arms of the family of Roger Conant (1592-1679), Governor of the Cape Ann Colony: "Gules, ten billets or". That this family of divines aspired to be men of letters is perhaps suggested by the ten letters borne on their red shield. A quick comparison of these blazons and their translations evidences that the language of heraldry is both precise and concise. This is why this jargon has endured. It communicates well.

The Spread of Heraldry
Heraldry began with the armed forces, but it soon proved itself too valuable to remain the peculiar possession of soldiers. In an age when literacy and alphabetism extended little beyond the clergy, the value of a seal to authenticate deeds, charter and other documents quickly became obvious. Heraldry quickly found a new raison d'etre, and the marriage of heraldry and sigiliography was consummated. Not only would heraldry be useful to identify combatants, it could also distinguish and mark a person's property or right to property. Hence, any non-combatant needing to identify property —noble ladies, gentlewomen, ecclesiastics, corporations—now found coat armour highly useful. In short, by the end of the Middle Ages heraldry had ceased to be the perquisite of the wariour class and had spread to most property owners. The guilds, forexample, which were both trade associations and labor unions, by Tudor times were receiving grants of arms. Citizens and burgesses were increasingly proud of their civic and borough arms.

Of the arms of ecclesiastics, perhaps the best known in America were the arms of the Bishop of London and the arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury. To the home jurisdiction of the former was annexed jurisdiction over all the British overseas dominions until the advent of American independence. The Bishop of London's commissaries had the oversight of the Anglican clergy in most of the British North American provinces and their letters of appointment bore his seal and impaled arms. Any Anglican clergyman seeking a parish in British North America needed the Lord Bishop's testimonial letters, which would also have borne his seal and arms.

But his metropolitan's arms were known in America for less religious reasons. In England since at least the time of the Plantagenets, probate was part of the business of the ecclesiastical courts. In the mists of history, testaments were oral and often involved a deathbed promise under oath, often to a priest-confessor. Oaths, being made in God's name, were sacred. Hence, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Arms of Rev. Richard Terrick
The arms of the Rt. Rev. Richard Terrick, Lord Bishop of London, as shown contained within the design of his ecclesiastical seal.

To avoid conflicts between the ecclesiastical courts of the various bishops it was early laid down that if the decedant died with bona notabilia, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction. Bona notabilia were defined as goods worth more than §5 in two or more dioceses. Thus, if a Virginian died with property of that value in Virginia and the East Anglian diocese of Norwich, the Archbishop's court would enjoy probate jurisdiction. American genealogists have long mined these ecclesiastical court records for clues as to the English origins of American Founders.

The Administration of Heraldry
The military origins of heraldry have certainly left their mark on it administratively. At a very early date administrative and judicial jurisdiction over heraldic matters were vested in the two great military officers of state, the Lord High Constable and the Earl Marshal. When the office of Lord High Constable fell into abeyance during the reign of Henry VIII, the Earl Marshal acquired the heraldic jurisdiction in England and Wales.

Being part of military law and, really, part of the international law of war, the law of heraldry was much influenced by the legal language, legal. categories, and legal procedure of civil (or Roman) law. This international quality accounts for the great similarities, even today, among the heraldic laws of the various nations of western Europe. The Roman law heritage can still be seen also. Not burdened by any `separation of powers' doctrine, the Earl Marshal exercises both executive and judicial power. In the language of the civil law, he enjoys both 'voluntary' and 'contentious' jurisdiction. That is to say, as an administrative officer he can grant coats of arms, while as a judicial officer he can hear and decide disputes between claimants to existing arms.

In the exercise of his heraldic jurisdiction the Earl Marshal has the help of a body of associates, who vary in rank. The most senior are the 'kings of arms'. There are three of these, Garter, Clarenceux, and Norroy, who upon the Earl Marshal's warrant make the grant of arms. The more junior armorial associates are the six heralds and four pursuivants. They were incorporated in 1485 by royal charter as the College of Arms.

It is worth noting that in 1705 the Lords Proprietors of Carolina appointed a 'Carolina Herald'. The office went to Lawrence Cromp, who as York Herald was already a member of the College of Arms. By his patent of appointment Carolina Herald was authorized "to devyse, give, grant and assign" coats of arms and certain other distinctions to inhabitants of the Carolinas. He was also authorized "to regulate all Publick and Solemn Processions and Meetings" (i.e., to marshall funerals of armigers and regulate precedence) and "to register the Pedigrees and Descents of the Several Familys" of the Carolinas. These would be exercises of his 'voluntary' jurisdiction: exercises of his will, rather than of judgment. But he was authorized to exercise his critical faculty as well. His patent empowered him "to hold a Court of Honour and to cite and cause to appear before [him] all such person or persons as shall presume to use any coat or arms that they cannot make out their due right to".

Seal of the Washington Family
Arms of the Washington Family, a member of which was the famed George Washington.


The office of Carolina Herald fell into abeyance in 1715 upon the death of Cromp. It might usefully be revived today. The writ of the first Carolina Herald ran through-out what is today North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. By means of a federal compact, i.e., an agreement signed by those states and ratified by Congress, the office could be re-established in its original territory.

Patriot's Heraldry
But heraldry was not just for Founders, it was also a concern of Patriots. Washington proudly used his family coat of arms, finding heraldry no more opposed to republican deals than did another famous English-speaking republican of the previous century, Oliver Cromwell. Dr. Franklin, too, used a seal. Indeed, it was this seal, which fixed on the Treaty of Paris of 1783, sealed the independence of the United States. He was also concerned that the new republic have a seal of its own, proper to its dignity. And prominent in the designing of that seal was William Barton, a Philadelphian who during the 1770's had studied heraldry in London under Sir Isaac Heard, Garter King of Arms. Barton's contribution to the final design was considerable. Barton also wrote a treatise on heraldry, probably the first by an American. Washington thought so highly of him that he offered him a federal judgship, which Barton declined.

In our own century federal interest in heraldry has revived. Predictably, it was military necessity that brought on the renewed interest. During the First World War the United States Army expanded enormously. and to provide readable emblems for the many new army units an insignia office was established in 1919 in the War Department. During World War II its volume of business increased and in 1957 it was given a fixed statutory basis. The 1957 statute expanded the scope of its duties as well, authorizing the Secretary of the Army to furnish heraldic services not only to armed forces units* but also to federal civilian agencies. In 1960 the office acquired its present a official name, the Institute of Heraldry, United States Army".

Besides designing arms and badges for armed forces units and federal agencies, the Institute has also been responsible for the designs which added the 49th and 50th stars to the American Flag. The Institute also designed the Medal of Freedom, the American counterpart to the Legion of Honour, and the Order of the British Empire. In this way the Institute resembles Carolina Herald who was authorized to devise honorary 'distinctions to inhabitants'.

While public arms are regulated by the Institute of Heraldry, private heraldry has -remained unregulated in American law. Any 'regulation' has come from private persons or voluntary associations. One of the early records of private heraldry is the "Gore Roll". This is a record of 99 coats of arms and derives its name from its first known owner, John Gore, a Boston carriage painter born in 1718. The roll apparently was compiled between 1701 and 1724 and it would seem to have been the work of a herald painter who engraved coffin plates and produced hatchments and banners used at funerals in that day for noted citizens. A hatchment is a painting of a deceased armiger's coat of arms. It was generally placed over the door of his house to indicate mourning and, after the funeral, it was often removed to the church and placed above the deceased's tomb. The entire Gore Roll was printed in the August, 1865, number of The Heraldic Journal, an early American periodical concerned with coats of arms.

Operating in our own day is the New England Historic Genealogy Society's Committee on Heraldry. The Committee consists of persons knowledgeable in heraldry and it accepts registrations of American arms. Periodically, since 1928, it has published a roll of arms in the Society's Register.

Perhaps the best contemporary American work on heraldry is J. A. Reynolds' Heraldry and You: Modern Heraldic Usage in America (New York, 1961). Dr. Reynolds is Herald Emeritus of the American Grand Priory of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem and his book, profused illustrated in his phrase with 'brave forms and brilliant colors', provides prudent advice for Americans on a subject which at times is ill-adapted to American mores.


* The arms and badges of army units have been collected and published. James A. Sawicki, Infantry Regiments of the U S Army (Dumfries, Va., 1981) and Cavalry Regiments of the U S Army (Dumfries, Va., 1985).