THE SEAL OF NEW YORK CITY
by Daniel Cogné
Associate Member of the Académie internationale d'héraldique
The Seal of New York City
Here is a fine example of American municipal sigillography preserved in the National Archives of Canada (MG24, D48, File 2. Diam. 40 mm, Photo C 129662). This rare imprint of the seal of the Mayoralty of New York City was affixed to a document issued in 1796 to certify that Gabriel Furmon is a Justice of the Peace. The arms displayed on the shield were assumed by the Common Council of New York City on 24 July 1686.
The blazon is "Argent the wings of a windmill placed saltireways in the first and fourth quarters a beaver (castor canadiensis) in the second and third quarters a flour-barrel (all proper?)." The windmill might have been taken from the Arms of Olaf Stevenson van Cortland, Burgmaster of New Amsterdam. We also know that windmills were built on Manhattan Island as early as 1626.
The flour-barrels were chosen by the Council because they symbolized the commercial wealth generated by the Bolton Act of 1678, which gave the city an exclusive right to bolt and export flour. The two beavers, symbols of the fur trade, were taken from the old Dutch seal.
Before the War of 1776-1783, the shield was ensigned by a ducal coronet, or an Imperial crown. On 16 March 1784, a "Law for altering and directing the uses of the public Seales" of New York City was passed by the Council. The crown was defaced and superseded by the crest of New York State: an American eagle proper rising, wings displayed and inverted, from a demi-globe.
Beside the shield are found two supporters: dexter, a sailor holding in his right hand a lead- line (for sounding the depth of water); sinister, a Manhattan Indian chief holding in his left hand a double-curve bow. It should be noted that the Eastern Indians used the single-curved form of the bow and not the double-curve form as it has been erroneously depicted by the engraver.
Many variations in the representation of these municipal arms have existed since the 18th Century. The last design for the corporate seal and the official flag of the City of New York was adopted by the Board of Aldermen in 1915.
(Reference: Heraldry in Canada/L'héraldique au Canada, Vol. XXIII, December 1989)