The Great Seals Deputed of Massachusetts Bay

    By Peter Walne*

    WHEN direct rule under the Crown replaced the chartered proprietorial government of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, one of the essential cogs in the new machinery of government, which had in the fullness of time to be supplied from London, was a Great Seal Deputed for the new royal colony.1 The authority of the Crown was exercised through the Governor; writs ran in the King’s name; proclamations and grants of land, laws passed by the colony’s legislature and grants of office all required some recognizable and legal sign of authentication, and such a sign was provided by the Great Seal Deputed of the colony.

    With the details of the use and the diplomatic of the Great Seal Deputed of Massachusetts Bay, this article has no concern. The writer’s interest is limited to the history of the seals as physical objects, and this limited interest in the case of Massachusetts Bay must be excused on the ground that he has for several years now, been preparing a detailed study of the whole field of Great Seals Deputed of the British colonies, past and present.

    It is as a result of this research that the story of the Massachusetts Bay seals can now be written.2

    The preparation of a new seal for an individual colony or series of seals for the colonies in general, in the eighteenth century, followed a set pattern of procedure, which is still followed in essence in the twentieth century. New seals were commissioned at the beginning of the reign of each sovereign and usually remained current until replaced by the seal of the next sovereign, or until some major change occurred in any of the elements depicted on the seals, e.g., changes in the royal arms or titles. In individual cases a new seal might be necessary for a colony out of turn; for example, in 1750 the Virginia seal was broken and had to be replaced, and the New Jersey seal of George II never reached the colony, being lost at sea in a shipwreck. Also “out of turn” were those Great Seals Deputed which became necessary when a former proprietory or chartered colony came under Crown rule during the course of a reign, as happened in the case of the first Great Seal Deputed of Massachusetts Bay.

    In the late seventeenth century, the smoother procedures which came to operate just after the turn of the century were still evolving in the administrative machinery of Whitehall and so, although one might have expected Massachusetts Bay’s first such seal to have reached the colony with the speed of Maryland’s, which was in use in that former proprietary colony in the fall of 1692 little more than a year after the change of government, things took somewhat longer to arrange themselves further north. Indeed, it was not until late in 1700 that the seal was ready to be dispatched to the colony.

    On 13 December 1700, William Popple certified to the Board of Trade and Plantations that he had received from Henry Harris, Chief Graver of H.M. Seals (an office Harris had enjoyed since 1660) “various seals made and delivered for their Majesties service,” including the seal for Massachusetts Bay, and had dispatched these seals to the colonies concerned. In his certificate, Popple describes the Massachusetts Bay seal as bearing “the Kings Arms, Garter, Crown and these inscriptions round the same SIG REG PROVINCIAE DE MASSACHUSETTS BAY IN NOVA ANGLIA IN AMERICA and GUGLIELMUS 3 ET MARIA 2 D G M BR FR ET HI REX ET REG ETC”.3 Although impressions of this seal have been seen, none regrettably is of sufficiently good quality to reproduce well photographically.4 This seal, like its successors, was single sided and cannot have been very large since Harris only charged £4 for it as against £80 for the double sided Maryland seal made contemporaneously5 The seal would have reached Boston directly or through the agency of the governor of another colony, to whom a dispatch might be going at the right moment, early in 1701 and as soon as possible thereafter brought into use.

    On William Ill’s death in 1702, the machinery for the issue of new seals went into operation. On 13 April 1702, a royal warrant was sent to each colonial governor authorizing continued use of the old seals of William and Mary.6 No new series in William’s name alone had been issued after Mary’s death in 1694, almost certainly because they ruled as joint sovereigns, not as sovereign and consort, and, therefore, in law, there had been no demise of the Crown, which would certainly have necessitated new seals. On 31 May 1702, an Order in Council under the Royal sign manual, directed to the Board of Trade and Plantations, ordered the preparation of new seals, the Lord High Treasurer was instructed to meet the necessary charges, and the seals, when completed, were to be laid before the Queen in Council. This order was received by the Board on 8 June, when instructions were given to Henry Harris, to do the work7

    In October 1703, Harris reported to the Board that, of the series of colonial seals, all were ready but those for Jamaica, Barbados, Leeward Islands, Massachusetts Bay and Maryland.8 His illness and subsequent death in the summer of 1704, with only the seal for the Leeward Islands completed out of those outstanding, further delayed matters. On 17 October 1704, Harris’s daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Furnesse, appearing before the Board with the Leewards seal and the half-finished New York seal, asked for payment for these and for permission to finish the rest.9 On 24 October, she addressed a further petition to the Board, saying that it would be a great loss to her son Henry, who was heir and legatee to Harris, if he were not allowed to finish this series of seals.1 On 26 October, the Board requested the Treasury’s instructions,2 and on 31 October the Secretary of the Treasury wrote to the Master and principal officers of the Royal Mint telling them to authorize Mrs. Furnesse to finish the seals with all expedition.3 The unusual step of placing Mrs. Furnesse (and her son) under the direct control of the Mint for the completion of these seals was no doubt taken because neither of them held the office of Chief Graver of Seals in succession to Harris. Not until March 1704/5 was John Roos appointed to the office. Until 1902, when the Deputy Master of the Royal Mint was made ex-officio Chief Engraver of H.M. Seals, the Mint’s sole concern with the production of all royal seals was the certification of the reasonableness of the charges made by the engravers for the making of the matrices.

    On 12 December 1704, the Board of Trade and Plantations asked the Furnesses how nearly ready the outstanding seals were and asked for their dispatch with all speed.4 On 14 December, Mrs. Furnesse replied that the seals for Maryland and New Hampshire were ready, and she was ordered to deliver them to the Secretary of the Board.5 By 22 December these two seals were in the Board’s hands and the rest promised.6 By 19 April 1705, with the exception of the Jamaican seal, the promise was honored,7 and on 20 April the seals with draft warrants to the various governors to use the new seals and break the old were sent on to the Privy Council.8 On 3 May, the Queen signed the warrants (later discovered to have one important defect in them),9 and the seals, together with the warrants, were returned to the Board for transmission to the colonies. On 8 May William Popple, Jr., Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations, sent all the North American seals and warrants to Lieutenant-Governor Nott of Virginia at Portsmouth, where he was about to take passage in the man-of-war Kingston for Virginia. One packet contained the seal and warrant for Virginia; the other, seals and warrants for New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts Bay and Maryland, all consigned to Governor Seymour of Maryland, who was instructed to arrange their distribution.1 Nott acknowledged safe receipt of the packets on 19 May,2 and the first Great Seal Deputed of Queen Anne for Massachusetts Bay was finally in the colony and in use by November 1705.

    On 1 November, Joseph Dudley, Governor of the colonies of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire wrote to Popple that he had received the seals and warrants together with the instructions for defacing and breaking the seals of William Ill’s reign for the two colonies. This he did a few days after their receipt when the new seals were brought into use.3 The seal for Massachusetts Bay was a single-sided silver matrix, slightly larger than its predecessor and costing £9 to engrave, “engraven on the one side with our Arms, Garter [with the motto Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense upon it], Crown and Motto [Dieu et Mon Droit] with the inscription around it ANNA·DEI·GRA·MAG·BRIT·FRAN·ET·HIB·REGINA·FID·DEF and around the outer circumference the inscription SIG·REG·PROVINCIAE·DE·MASSACHUSETTS·BAY·IN·NOVA·ANGLIA·IN·AMERICA.”4

    The defect in the warrants of 3 May 1705, referred to earlier, was the omission of the instruction that the old seal was to be defaced in the presence of the Council of each colony and returned to the Privy Council for formal defacement in London.5

    The Act of Union of 1707, by which England and Scotland were united as one kingdom, had by-results which affected the colonial Great Seals Deputed. The royal arms were changed and, as a consequence, new series of colonial and domestic seals were required. On 6 July 1708, the Earl of Sunderland, as Secretary of State for the Southern Department and as such responsible for colonial administration, wrote to the Board of Trade and Plantations, asking for details of the design of current colonial seals so that a warrant could be prepared for the issue of a new series bearing the changed royal arms.6 On 17 July, a general warrant was issued to John Roos, Chief Graver of H.M. Seals, to make new seals for the colonies.7

    On 11 August 1709, Roos laid before the Board four completed seals for Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Bermuda, for which he received a receipt.8 It was not until 1713, however, that the new seal was sent to Massachusetts Bay. The dispatch of the North American seals was delayed until such time as the whole series was completed in March or April 1713.

    This second seal was similar to the first in design and legends, except that the new royal arms replaced the old. The silver matrix, weighing 7 ozs. 2 pennyweights and 2 grains cost £9 for the engraving and £1.16.9½ for the silver, and it was dispatched in a shagreen case coasting 7s. 6d.9

    With the death of Anne and the accession of George I in 1714, the need for new seals for the colonies again arose, and on 17 June 1715, an Order in Council directed the Board of Trade and Plantations to cause new seals to be made.1 Roos, still Chief Graver of Seals, was commissioned to produce them. On 4 October 1717, the Massachusetts Bay seal was laid before the Board and a receipt given for it.2 On 11 October 1717, the warrant to the governor for the use of the new seal and defacement and return of the old one was signed, and shortly thereafter seal and warrant were dispatched.3

    The Great Seal Deputed of Massachusetts Bay for the reign of George I was of similar design to its predecessors, again with new royal arms. The silver matrix, weighing 8 oz. 5 pennyweights and 6 grains, cost £9 for the engraving and £2.2.7½ for the silver, and the shagreen case again cost 7/6d.4

    The inscription identifying the seal as that of Massachusetts Bay was the same as on preceding seals and around the outer circumference but George I’s full royal title, including as it did his dignities of Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg and Arch-Treasurer and Electoral Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, were grander and more sonorous than those of his predecessors and posed no small problem to the Chief Graver of Seals. To reduce Georgius Dei Gratia Magnae Britanniae Franciae et Hiberniae Rex Fidei Defensor Brunswicensis et Luneburgensis Dux Sacri Romani Imperii Archithesaurarius et Elector to manageable proportions, Roos reduced them to GEORGIUS·DG·M·BRIT·FR·ET·HIB·REX·F·D·BRUM·ET·L·DUX·S·R·I·ATH·ET·EL·—no mean feat and for only £9 for the engraving, no more than previously. Hardly surprising was it that this seal should require over an ounce more silver in its making.5

    George I died on 11 June 1727, and on 26 June a circular letter was sent to all governors proclaiming the accession of George II.6 In this letter the attention of governors was drawn to the terms of section ix of the Statute 6 Anne, c.7 (the Act of Succession), which enacted that all public seals in being at the time of the demise of a sovereign shall continue in use as the seals of the succeeding sovereign until orders to contrary shall be given. On 20 September the new seals necessary for the colonies were ordered,7 and on 17 November John Rollos, who had been appointed Chief Graver of Seals earlier in the year, was ordered to proceed with the making of them.8 The Massachusetts Bay seal was handed over to the Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations on 16 July 1728,9 and was ready for transmission by the end of the year.1

    In the instructions to Rollos for the engraving of the George II seals, some appreciation of the problems he must clearly have accounted in dealing with the unwieldy string of royal titles was shown by the Board of Trade and Plantations’ general direction “that his Majesty’s particular Arms and Foreign Titles be inserted as in the Great Seal of this Kingdom. In order to which you are to use your discretion in contracting the words.”2 Rollos succeeded, as Roos had done before him without authorization of discretion by rendering the titles on the Massachusetts Bay seal as GEORGIUS·II·D·G·M·B·FR·ET·HIB·REX·F·D·BRUN·ET·LUN·DUX·SA·RO·IM·AR·THES·ET·ELECT This time, having learnt his lesson previously, Rollos engraved the royal title somewhat more fully around the larger outer circumference with the identifying legend around the arms, a somewhat easier job giving a more pleasing result. Even so, this seal was heavier though not bigger than its predecessor in that it consisted of 10 ounces 10 pennyweights of silver costing, with duty, £3.3.0 and the engraving was commensurately more at £

    The old seal of George I was duly returned to England and on 20 July 1732, the Board of Trade and Plantations laid it before Queen Caroline, as Guardian of the Kingdom in her husband’s absence, in Council.4 The order to deface the seal was issued by the Queen in Council on 10 August 17325 and on 4 May 1733, the Board of Trade and Plantations formally defaced the Great Seal Deputed of George I for the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England in America along with those of the other North American and West Indian colonies.6

    On 27 October 1760, a bare two days after George II’s death, a circular letter proclaiming the new sovereign and drawing attention to the statutory sanction for the continued use of the old seals and other matters of immediate concern was agreed on by the Board of Trade and Plantations and dispatched on 31 October.7 On 2 December the instructions to Thomas Major, the seal engraver, were signed by the Board.8 Major, however, was removed from office early in 1761 and was replaced by Christopher Seaton, to whom no new directions for the engraving of colonial and domestic seals were given until 13 January 1762.9 It was not until 13 April 1767, that the new seals, including that for Massachusetts Bay, were finally approved by the Board of Trade and Plantations and were ready for dispatch.1 The George II seal was duly returned to the Board and defaced on 20 April 1768.2

    The design of the George III seal was similar to that of George II in all respects, with the substitution of the Roman number III for II in the King’s title and very slight variation in the rendering of titles. This seal it was, which continued in use for the authentication and validation of many of the formal documents issuing from the legislature and administration of the colony until relations with the British Crown were summarily severed. What happened to the silver matrix of the Great Seal Deputed of George III for the colony and province of Massachusetts Bay, that solemn symbol of royal authority and government, is not known. It would be interesting to learn if it survived the birth throes of the new nation—or did it too disappear beneath the water of Boston harbor?3