Heraldry in the New Capitol at Albany, N.Y.

By George Rogers Howell.

Albany, N.Y.: The Press Company Printers, 1881.

Description of the Various Arms—Perpetuating the History of Early Friends of the State and Nation—Elegant Carvings.

In the center of the New Capitol now in process of erection is a large open court placed there to give light to the surrounding rooms and corridors. Above the six dormer windows that open on the court and that are in the story above he chambers of the Senate and Assembly are sculptured the arms of six families that have become more or less distinguished in the history of the State. The vertical length of these arms as sculptured is about four feet, and as they are placed so high from any possible point of observation this is none too large to enable one to distinguish their several devised. It may be difficult to make on stone such a carving as will indicate the color or tincture of the various objects employed in coat armor, and to preserve their proper and relative proportions. This may account for some of the variations between the arms as they are sculptured and as they are engraved on book plates, or blazoned in works of heraldry. The carving, so far as a good field glass enables one to inspect it, appears to be admirably well done. The results of these observations were subsequently verified and corrected by an inspection of the model or working drawings of the arms through the courtesy of Supt. James W. Eaton.

The names of the families that have been thus commemorated in the lofty court of the Capitol are Stuyvesant, Schuyler, Livingston, Jay, Clinton and Tompkins. Members of three of these families, the Clintons, Jays and Tompkins have filled honorably the highest State office in the gift of the people. The Livingstons gave the State its first chancellor, the Schuylers one of the most effective generals of the revolutionary war, and the Stuyvesant arms fitly represent the leading character of the early Dutch period in the history of the State. Had there been one more window we doubtless would have seen over it the arms of Hamilton, to whom, perhaps, more than to any one man we are indebted for the strength of the form of our national government. Of the first five of these there is no doubt but the arms here sculptured more or less correctly, were actually used by the several families in this country. There is some doubt, however, whether Gov. Tompkins ever used, or ever claimed the right to use, the arms credited to the family of that name in England by Burke in his General Armory, and which have been (with a difference) sculptured above one of the dormer windows. It is impossible for a stranger to say what may be the form of the arms used by the present representatives of these families, but the following illustrations show some remarkable differences between the Capitol sculptures and what one would suppose to be the correct arms, since they were in use in former generations. In the case of the Livingston arms as sculptured the charge of the first and fourth quarters are blazoned as three heraldic lamps without flame. If they were not intended for lamps I cannot surmise what was in the mind of the designer.


These are on the north side, number one, west. The carving is as follows; party per fess argent and gules: in upper a hunting hound in pursuit of a hare. In lower a stag current. Crest, a demi stag issuing from a royal crown. Motto: Jovi praestet fidere quam homini.

The arms of Peter Stuyvesant as given in the manual of the Common Council of New York for 1852 are, Azure party per fess, in upper a hunting hound in pursuit of an antelope; in lower an antelope current. Crest, a demi antelope springing from a royal crown. The tincture of the animals of the charge in both cases it is impossible to determine.


North side number two, middle. The carving is as follows: Vert a cubit arm habited issuing from the sinister base point holding a falcon proper. Crest, a falcon proper gorged with a fillet, strings reflexed. The arms as used by the family on a bookplate have the arm issuing from the dexter base point.


North side, number three, east. The carving is: Quarterly, first and fourth quarter argent three lamps proper; second quarter quarterly, first and last gules a chevron argent; second and third azure, three martlets, third quarter or, a bend argent between six billets. Crest, a demi Hercules with club in dexter hand and the sinister strangling a serpent. Motto, Si je puis.

The description of the arms of the Livingston family of this country is given by one of the connection in England in Sedgwick’s life of William Livingston as follows: Quarterly first and fourth argent three grill-flowers gules, slipped proper within a double tressure umber florevest for Livingston: second quartered first and last gules a chevron argent, a role between two lions counter rampant of the field: second and third, three martlets gules for Hepburn of Waughten; third quarter sable a bend between six billets or for Callender.


South side, number four, west. The carving is: Argent a chevron gules, in chief a demi sun in splendor, between two mullets argent below, in base a rock proper surmounted with a large bird close. Crest, a cross calvary.

The arms as engraved on a bookplate are: Azure a chevron or, in chief a demi sun in splendor between two mullets argent below, in base a rock proper surmounted with a large bird close. Crest a cross calvary.


South side, number five, middle. The carving is: Argent six cross crosslets fitchee, three, two one, on a chief azure two mullets, pierced. Crest, a plume of six ostrich feathers on a ducal crown.

The arms as on a bookplate are: Argent six cross crosslets fitchee three, two, one, sable on a chief azure two mullets or pierced of the second. Crest, a plume of five ostrich feathers on a ducal crown.


South Side, number six, last. The carving is: Argent on a chevron gules between three birds close as many cross crosslets. Crest, a unicorn’s head armed and maned and gorged with a chaplet laurel.

The Arms of Tompkins of Mornington in Co. Herford, Eng., are given by Burke in his General Armory as follows: Azure on a chevron gules between three moorcocks close or as many cross crosslets sable. Crest, a unicorn’s head erased per fess argent and or armed and maned of the last, gorged with a chaplet laurel vert.


When we consider that there are thousands of ways in which the arrangement of the several objects that make up a coat of arms may be varied, it is not astonishing that a given form will not be exactly duplicated by any two engravers or sculptors, so long as they conceive they have any liberty of personal choice. An engraver once said of a seal he was to copy “I have improved upon the old one,” when the fact was he had simply changed it, to the horror of its owner. The more complications that enter into any matter the more the chances will be multiplied for variety and divergence in the result. This is further illustrated in the coat of arms of the state cut in stone over the two fireplaces in the Assembly chamber. Here the sun rising behind three mountains is placed in the fess point or center of the shield and the base of the shield is a sea in calm without any vessels upon it. The supporters are seated to be sure, but for this the designer is justified by the use for years of such an arrangement in the impression of the arms on the official documents of the state. Indeed the variety of forms used during the last one hundred years when each engraver varied the arms to suit his own taste or fancy is almost incredible. In one case the anachronism of introducing a canal boat and a train of cars is employed on a coast of arms which had its origin in 1778! Sometimes both supporters are standing, on some designs erect and self-sustained; on others, one or both leaning against the shield. Sometimes one figure is sitting or recumbent, and sometimes both are sitting. Of course this


The supporters must always stand—they are guarding the shield, not taking a siesta. In the case of this design over the fire place another variation has been indulged in, this also copied from some of the designs in use: Justice is on the dexter side and Liberty on the sinister, which positions should be reversed to correspond with the design first adopted and used in 1778. As a work of art these figures have no merit as they are largely out of proportion. This might be pardoned if the design itself was more correct, but as they now are they cannot be acknowledged to be the arms of the state.


There is a mahogany panel, eighteen by fourteen inches in size, on the Clerk’s desk, carved with the charge upon the shield, but without the supporters. It is in bas-relief and has also its own peculiarities. In this case the sun is in chief, or in the upper one-third of the shield, and at the base of the mountains from behind which the sun is rising, is a river as in the military commission of 1778, and not the sea in calm subsequently used. But the anachronism of putting on the river a three-masted schooner as the engraver has done, is too apparent. These vessels began to be used about 1840, and have no more right to be inscribed in arms of 1778 than the canal boat and locomotive. This sculpture is surrounded by a very fine scroll work of oak leaves and acorns, and excepting the anachronism, is an ornament very creditable to the designer.

The military commission referred to must be regarded as the most authoritative witness extant as to what


As it contains an engraving of these, and bears the date of June 25, 1778, which was within a few months of the time of their adoption. In this design at the base of the mountains is a river on which are a ship and sloop passing and about to meet. The ship has only her three topsails and jib set, and at the base of the shield bordering the river is a plantation. In this, as well as on another and different original of early date, Liberty has one of her feet resting on the British crown. The designers of our state arms evidently drew their inspiration from their surroundings. As they met in legislature at Kingston, the river at their feet and the mountains on the east side of it with the rising sun, all were to them the emblems of the commerce, the wealth and the future prosperity of the state. It is true, those who devised the seal (probably Gov. George Clinton and Robert Livingston), may have had their minds directed to this by the seal of the colony under James II, the warrant for which bears date August 14th, 1687. As cited in the fourth volume of the Documentary History of New York, it is described therein as having “on the one side our royal effigies on horseback in arms over a landskip of land and sea, with a rising sun and a scroll,” etc.

And out of their aspirations for freedom came the foot of Liberty upon the royal crown. Massachusetts by her arms and motto declares that the sword shall give her peace and quiet; Virginia, that her foot shall be upon the tyrant’s breast; but New York almost at the opening of the war aims her attack directly at the royal crown of England (there is no mistaking its form surmounted with the Maltese cross) and puts it overturned under the foot of Liberty. It may be that in this day when a kindlier feeling exists between the empire state and the mother country, it would be well to change the form of this crown to one simply symbolic of royalty without pointing to that of any particular country. This feeling accounts for the fact also that in the painting of the State arms in St. Paul’s church, New York city, made after the proclamation of peace, the crown no longer is under the foot of Liberty, but simply at her feet; and as time went on and the friendly relation between the two countries deepened, the crown disappeared altogether from the arms.

Vocabulary: Argent—white or silver; or—gold or yellow; gules—red; vert—green; party per fess—divided horizontally into two equal portions; dexter—the right; sinister—the left; proper—the natural color belonging to any object; martlet—a bird without legs and feet; mullet—a star of five points.

Digitized in 2019 by Richard Mammana