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The Vermont Coat of Arms was adopted in 1862. The coat of arms of Vermont is the official armorial bearings of the U.S. state of Vermont. Most of the elements found in the coat of arms originate in the Great Seal of Vermont designed by Ira Allen. Whereas the Great Seal of Vermont is reproduced in a single color and is reserved for embossing and authenticating state documents, the coat of arms is a more naturalistic and colorful representation of many of the same elements. The earliest representation of the coat of arms of Vermont is found on an engraved 1821 state military commission. The exact designer is not known, but it is likely that then Secretary of State Robert Temple worked with an engraver in developing the arms. Considerable liberties were taken in early depictions of the coat of arms. The location of the cow and the sheaves (bundles of cereal grains) moved about the foreground, and the height of the pine tree and size of the buck's head also varied. A state statute was approved in 1840, and modified in 1862, both attempts to codify and create more consistent representation of the arms. The coat of arms was cast in brass to ornament uniforms of Vermont's military regiments before, and through the U.S. Civil War, when individual states raised and trained their own regiments.
The first Vermont coat of arms was an engraving for use on military commissions, made in 1821 when the original state seal was revised by rearranging some of the features in pictorial form. It placed the picture in a shield surmounted by the stag's head crest, with the motto beneath, and the whole was put under the outspread wings of the American eagle with full panoply of war. The crest was a new feature, possibly invented by the Secretary of State, Robert Temple, or perhaps by the Boston engraver who designed the commission. Although no law provided for a coat of arms, it was in official use in this form, with slight modifications, until 1862.
When the Civil War broke out, there was need for a coat of arms and crest for military purposes. The crest had been used for some years on military buttons, but search for an authentic description of the Coat of Arms revealed that there was no law making this provision. Professor George W. Benedict of Burlington wrote a description in quasi-heraldic terms, and this was incorporated into the statutes by No. 11 of the Acts of 1862.
Any painting which follows the description faithfully will be a sound representation. The law does not specify any particular mountains or view. The shield may be of any shape, with any sort of border or none. There must be a landscape of natural color in the foreground or base, with high mountains of blue above and extending into a yellow sky. There must be a pine tree of natural color extending from near the base to the top; sheaves of grain three in number and yellow, placed diagonally on the right side; and a red cow standing on the left side of the field.* The motto, badge, crest, and scroll must conform to the description.
The REVISED STATUTES of 1840 has a title-page vignette of a Coat of Arms much like that of 1821, but with the addition of crossed pine branches beneath the shield. These are said to represent the pine sprigs worn by Vermonters at the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. A version which appeared on commissions issued about 1858 replaced the pine branches with plumes, and appears to have followed the carving over the desk of the Speaker of the House in its original form.
Probably the carving over the painting of the "Battle of Cedar Creek" by Julian Scott in the State House reception room most clearly represents what the 1862 Legislature had in mind, since it conforms very closely to the official versions in use shortly after the Act of 1862. At that time a painting made by Charles R. Heyde of Burlington, and intended to be the official version, was placed in the custody of the Secretary of State. It was replaced by the present painting in that office dated 1898, and Heyde's painting appears to be lost. Fortunately, Charles Reed furnished a description by Professor Benedict soon after the painting was made. This states that the high mountains are Camel's Hump and Mansfield, traced in outline from a point opposite Burlington. This viewpoint was selected because it was thought Samuel de Champlain first saw the Green Mountains from that vicinity, and also because it was thought that travelers on the Lake would remember that view. The description also states that all objects in the Coat of Arms were modeled after the best specimens that could be found.
Probably all the versions since 1862 conform more or less closely to the terms of the law, as did most of those from 1821 to 1862 even before the legal guide was furnished. The earlier versions, however, usually omitted the badge of crossed pine branches. There is no complete collection of all the versions.
Three items were added to the shield to complete Vermont's Coat of Arms.
In 1837, the Vermont Legislature approved a new design for the state flag. It repealed the Act of 803 and in its stead:
"It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont, that from and after the passage of this Act, the flag of this State be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be one large Star, white in a blue field, with the Coat of Arms of the State of Vermont therein."
There was no official Coat of Arms!
In an 1862 letter to the Vermont House of Representatives, a committee of the Vermont Historical Society called for action.
"The investigations of the society lead to the belief that the devices of our Coat of Arms and the State Seal rest wholly upon usage and tradition; and that there is no law, resolution or order extant, establishing the same.
"Some of the devices now in use appear in the first Seal of the State, impressions of which we have as early as May, 1778; since that time the devices have changed with the fancy of every officer that had occasion to procure a new die to impress an official character upon State documents.
"The object of your memorialists is, not to change, but to fix and establish by law. Their mission is to ask the General Assembly that the emblems now emblazoned on our State Flag, and under which our sons now go forth to battle, may be as constant and unchanging as the mountains they portray; and that the devices of the Seal, that attest the power and the faith of our State upon official papers, may remain forever, unaltered.
"We ask that precisely the same emblems, reminding of homes among Green Hills, and that are already of historic renown, may gladden the eyes and incite the hearts of Vermonters 'till the last syllable of recorded time.'"
The law designating the official Vermont state coat of arms is found in the Vermont Statutes Annotated, Title 1, Chapter 11, Sections 491-492.
TITLE ONE. GENERAL PROVISIONS
CHAPTER 11. FLAG, INSIGNIA, SEAL, ETC.
1 V.S.A. § 491 (2012)
§ 491. Coat of arms; crest; motto and badge TEXT
The coat of arms, crest, motto and badge of the state shall be and are described as follows:
(1) Coat of arms. - Green, a landscape occupying half of the shield; on the right and left, in the background, high mountains, blue; the sky, yellow. From near the base and reaching nearly to the top of the shield, arises a pine tree of the natural color and between three erect sheaves, yellow, placed diagonally on the right side and a red cow standing on the left side of the field.
(2) Motto and badge. - On a scroll beneath the shield, the motto: Vermont; Freedom and Unity. The Vermonter's badge: two pine branches of natural color, crossed between the shield and scroll.
(3) Crest. - A buck's head, of natural color, placed on a scroll, blue and yellow.
1 V.S.A. § 492 (2012)
§ 492. Design of coat of arms
The secretary of state shall keep in the archives of his office a representation of the coat of arms according to the foregoing description.