Georgia Coat of Arms
The Georgia coat of arms was designed in conjunction with the Great Seal, which was adopted by the General Assembly in July, 1799. The Coat of Arms is the central decorative device in the Great Seal. The obvious architectural elements in the Coat of Arms consists of the stylized image of a Greek temple as an arch supported by three visible columns. An 1840 newspaper account of one Georgia Militia flag repeatedly refers to the architectural elements in the Coat of Arms as a “Temple.” [See Note 3] According to one author, the designers of the Coat of Arms derived their inspiration for this graphical design from Masonic symbolism (Cadle, 1991). Practically speaking though buildings such as these, based on the classical Greek temple theme, built as a dome and supported on a circular pattern of columns, were popular in 18th century English and American colonial gardens (Loundsbury, 1994). Perhaps the best-known example in the United States is that at James Madison’s Montpelier. Madison, also a Mason, earned the title of “Father of the Constitution” at the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia. It is believed that he constructed his garden temple in 1801 when he inherited the estate, so it is nearly contemporaneous with but may not predate the Georgia Coat of Arms design (James Madison’s Montpelier, 2003). If Sturges, artist of the final design of the Great Seal, was not inspired directly by Madison or his Temple then he probably saw other examples during his early life in Virginia that could have inspired him. Perhaps both men were at least in part inspired in their designs by a common knowledge of Masonic symbols. Freemasonry was well established in Georgia and at Louisville by the time the Coat of Arms was designed. In fact, Solomon’s Lodge in Savannah, established about 1735, is the second oldest Masonic lodge in America and the St. Patrick’s Lodge in Louisville was chartered in 1790 (Rosier, 1983). The Masons maintained their prominence at Louisville even after the capitol was moved in 1807 to Milledgeville for in 1813 they purchased the old statehouse to use as their lodge hall (Holmes, 1996).
The Temple at Madison’s Montpelier, Orange County, Virginia
Coat of Arms, Titanides variation (Derry, 1878).
Other Military Uses of the Coat of Arms
Besides it usage on flags for the military the Georgia Coat of Arms in various forms was used extensively on Georgia Militia uniforms and equipment, including buttons, waist-belt plates, cross-belt plates, cartridge box plates, hat badges, etc. Many of these were manufactured under contract out of state (Kerksis, 1974). The pin from the first of the three plates shown below was later used as a hatpin, and the other two belt plates shown were all still in common use by state militia forces as well as by Georgia troops serving in regular units of the Confederate national armies during the Civil War 1861- 1865.
Georgia Militia cross-belt plate ca. 1830
Georgia Militia waist-belt plate ca. 1840
Georgia Militia plate ca. 1850, used on waist-belts and cartridge boxes
Civil Uses of the Coat of Arms
Besides its usage by the military the Georgia Coat of Arms has been used extensively for a variety of other official purposes, perhaps most commonly as an imprimatur on state currency, bonds, etc. Many of these were manufactured under contract out of state such as the 1850s un-issued banknote shown below which was engraved and printed by Bald, Cousland & Co. of Philadelphia or their affiliate Baldwin, Bald & Cousland, of New York.
This information was originally prepared for presentation to the Governor’s Commission on Georgia History and Historical Tourism.
Last Updated 2/24/2003