NYC Seal, In The Year…?

The New York City Seal is (as with other city seals) a representation of its founding. Bearing the legend SIGILLUM CIVITATIS NOVI EBORACI, which translates into and proudly proclaims the “Seal of the City of New York,”  it portrays a union(?) between colonists and Indians in the figures of Dexter (a Dutch sailor) and Sinister (a Lenape). The pair stand above the legend and flank a shield whereon a set of windmill sails, two beavers and two flour barrels recall Manhattan’s (New AmsterdamDutch history and its particular commerce and wealth; a laurel branch encircles the display.

The official NYC seal originated in or around 1654; the modified, current version of the seal was more or less introduced in 1686 with the British in possession of the renamed New York. In 1784, after the American Revolution, a bald eagle replaced the royal crown atop the shield and the seal was left undisturbed. However, in 1915 the Board of Aldermen changed the date on the seal from 1686 to 1664, when the the land first became a British colony. This would lead to some minor confusion sixty years later (in fact, I’m confused merely writing about it now) among historians and open the door for some political tricks.

In the 1970s, while America was preparing to celebrate its Bicentennial, New York City Council president Paul O’Dwyer successfully managed to have the city seal’s date changed once more. The date was now changed to 1625 “when construction of a citadel comprising Fort Amsterdam was commenced on the southern tip of Manhattan and the first settlers were moved there from Governors Island.”

This date is disputed by many historians who argue that it has no historical importance; but O’Dwyer, a hopeless Anglophobe and a man of infinite faculty and jest, wanted to deprive the British of any association with New York City…he probably would’ve changed the city’s name back to New Amsterdam if allowed the chance. In any case, 1625 is the date on the current version of the Seal of the City of New York…whether or not anything happened that year is another story.

For more fascinating reading concerning this, er, highly charged topic, check-out Sam RobertsShould The City Seal Be Redesigned? He argues the point that New York City should be more specific and less political when it comes to its own history, if such a thing is possible.

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