This week, we’ll be exploring all things seals – and we aren’t talking the sea creature! A seal is not just a mark of identity, but a point of pride. All throughout our city, you’ll typically see three seals proudly represented on many of our government-affiliated structures: the seals of Trenton, Mercer County, and New Jersey. Although many of us recognize what entities these symbols represent, because they’re such a familiar sight, we might be missing an abundance of history and symbolism right beneath our noses. Today, let’s take a peak behind these famous pressings for a look behind our community’s most famous seals.
Per the City of Trenton, our city’s seal features “a blue shield with three wheat sheaves, 2 over 1, in buff. From the upper corners of the shield hang tassels or chains. Above the shield on a heraldic wreath is a nag’s head, in profile facing the hoist, and encircling the coat of arms is Seal of the City of Trenton, with 1792 below.” The nag, or horse’s head, featured on Trenton’s seal is the same one represented on the seal of the State of New Jersey. Trenton’s seal also features wheat, which is representative of New Jersey’s booming agricultural sector. Prior to its current selection, the city’s former seal featured the phrase “E Parvis Grandes”, meaning “From the Smalls comes the Great”. This motto certainly still holds true today, and is the perfect representation of our small but mighty community.
Next up is the iconic seal of Mercer County, NJ. The bright yellow and green seal features the dome of Trenton’s own Capital building, an iconic site to anyone in the community. Also featured is the great Mercer Oak Tree, which is prominently positioned in the center of the seal. The Mercer Oak was named after one of the community’s great heroes, Hugh Mercer, who served as a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. During the Battle of Princeton, Mercer was struck by British forces, but unwilling to abandon his troops, he rested at the foot of an oak tree. He was then taken to the Clarke House, where he would tragically pass away just 9 days later. The oak tree where Mercer rested stood for over 300 years, until it was torn down by strong winds in the March of 2000. However, to this day, General Mercer and the oak he rested on still remains the iconic emblem and namesake of Mercer County.
Finally, the State of New Jersey’s iconic seal is a symbol any resident of the Garden State is well-acquainted with. New Jersey’s seal features five distinct elements: Helmet and Horse Head, Liberty, Ceres, Shield, and Scroll. The intricate design was created by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, who came up with the seal in 1777. Each aspect of the design represents something about our great state, and is broken into the following symbols:
- Helmet and Horse Head: The helmet and horse head are meant to represent the independence of New Jersey. This is also a nod to New Jersey’s status as one of the first states, as the Garden State was one of the first to ratify the constitution in 1787.
- Liberty: The symbol of Liberty represents freedom. The symbol originally comes Rome, where former slaves saw a liberty cap as a sign of freedom. The symbol returned to prominence during the Revolutionary War, making it an apt symbol for such a revolutionary state.
- Ceres: Ceres is known as the Roman god of grain. Ceres is pictured on our seal holding a cornucopia, which is abundant with the many fruits and vegetables grown in the aptly named Garden State.
- Shield: The three plows featured represent New Jersey’s thriving agricultural industry.
- Scroll: Finally, the scroll features the motto of New Jersey, “Liberty and Prosperity”, which was chosen when New Jersey was originally founded in 1776.
The symbols we so frequently see in our day to day lives have a fascinating history lying just beneath the surface, and taking the time to explore it can help grow a richer appreciation for the signs and symbols unique to our communities. The next time you’re out and about and see a familiar sight, don’t be afraid to look deeper, because you never know what you’ll learn next.