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Brown University: 1764-1898

Materials to research the early years of Brown University.

History of the Seal

First College Seal, 1765

A seal for the College was ordered after the second annual meeting of the Corporation in 1765. The entry in the Corporation minutes reads, “A Seal for the College was ordered to be procured immediately by the Reverend Samuel Stillman with this Device; Busts of the King and Queen in Profile, Face To Face. Underneath George III. Charlotte. Round the Border, The Seal of the College in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in America.” The seal was made of silver in Boston at a cost of ten pounds thirteen shillings sterling. Above the profiles of the King and Queen is the motto, possibly that of the monarchs, “Amor et deliciae humani generis,” (love and delight of the human race) and the name of the college around the border, translated into Latin and abbreviated to “Sigillum Collegii in Colonia Ins. Rhod. & Provid. Plant.”



Second College Seal, January 1784

At the first meeting of the Corporation after the Revolution, “The Chancellor, the President & Henry Ward Esqr: were appointed a committee to break the old Seal of the College, which contains the Busts of the present King and Queen of Great Britain; and to agree upon a new Seal with suitable devices.” The University owns a silver reproduction of the first seal made from an impression of the original in the Rhode Island Historical Society, which was presented to the Corporation in 1910 by the Rhode Island Chapter of the Society of Colonial Dames.

When a new seal was designed, President Manning wrote in January 1784 to William Rogers 1769 of Philadelphia, “Inclosed you have the Device of the College Seal, which you are requested to procure engraved in the best Manner, & and at the lowest Price, by the famous Engraver, who executes for the Public their curious Devices ... as you know the Poverty of the College we rely on you to obtain it on the best Terms.” Rogers, complying with the request, replied in April, “The Seal, with suitable Directions, I have got Josey Anthony to procure, he has an Intimate Acquaintance with the best Engraver & and does the silver Work himself.” Preliminary drawings of the second seal have been found in the papers of Solomon Drowne 1773, who appears to have had a hand in its design.

The central design is a temple with five columns. On the columns and between the outermost columns are inscribed abbreviated names of the seven liberal arts described in the fifth century – the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic) and the Quadrivium (Music, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy). Between the center column and the columns to either side are stands, one holding a telescope and the other a book. On the base of the dome above the columns is “Scientia S.” This inscription in Drowne’s notes is “Scientiae Sacrum,” meaning, somewhat ungrammatically as it appears on the seal, “(A temple) sacred to knowledge” and is continued in the motto on the foundation of the temple,"Patet Omnibus” (is open to all). Over the temple on a ribbon is the motto, “Virtus magis colenda” (Virtue is more to be cultivated). On the second seal, in the name of the college, “Republica” is substituted for “Colonia” as indeed Rhode Island was no longer a colony. Drowne’s notes reveal that there were at least four other designs under consideration, described as: “America attended by Mars and Apollo ... A view of the College, or part of it, and a Student reclined beneath a Tree, with a Book in his hand ... Apollo & Minerva crowning America with a wreath of laurel: Fame overhead blowing her trumpet ... Books and Philosophical Instruments.”


Third College Seal, 1834

President Wayland in his report to the Corporation on September 3, 1833, almost thirty years after the change of name from Rhode Island College to Brown University had taken place, pointed out that the seal had never been changed to bear the new name. A committee was appointed to have a new seal made and one year later recommended the device of the present seal. The seal is a circular disc with the inscription “Sigillum Universitatis Brunensis” around the edge which encloses a coat of arms consisting of shield, crest and motto. The official description of the coat of arms is as follows:

“The Brown University arms as correctly blazoned are: Argent (silver or white), a cross gules (red) between four open books of the first (argent), bound of the second (gules). Crest: a demi-sun issuant radiant or (gold or yellow) through clouds argent. The crest should rest on a torse. which is a twisted cord divided vertically into six sections, colored alternately argent and gules, and placed a little above the top of the shield. Motto: In Deo Speramus. The motto should be on a scroll below the shield.”

It is supposed that the red cross is the cross of St. George, that the four books denote learning, and that the crest symbolizes the rays of the sun of learning piercing the clouds of ignorance. It is permissible to use the shield by itself without the crest, torse or motto, to vary the shape of shield provided it does not approach the lozenge (diamond) shape used for women’s arms, and to place a scroll lettered “Brown” and “1764” above the shield. It is not permissible to encircle the coat of arms with an inscription, lest the device be imitative of the seal, although the arms may for decorative purposes be enclosed with a simple circular, framing line. While the arms may be used decoratively, the use of the seal is reserved for legal authentication of diplomas and other documents. In the coat of arms as it appears on the seal, the sun of the crest rests directly on the shield, and not on a torse. An emblem for the bicentennial celebration of 1964 was composed of the first and third seals joined together.



Over the years some apocryphal stories relative to the seal have appeared in print, and are worthy of being disregarded. It has been reported that the four books on the shield represent the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, although no documentation for this has been found. Another story was that the motto “In God We Trust” on United States coins was inspired by the Brown motto, “In Deo Speramus” (which actually means “In God We Hope") and that this probably came about through the connection of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to Rhode Island through the marriage of his daughter to Governor William Sprague.

The Women’s College occasionally made informal use of the arms of Pembroke College in Cambridge for decoration on Ivy Day programs and pins, even before the College took the name Pembroke College in 1928. Before that time women students might be referred to as “Pembrokers,” from the principal building on their campus, Pembroke Hall, which had been named for Pembroke College in Cambridge, the alma mater of Roger Williams. The coat of arms of Pembroke College (Cambridge) is described as follows: “Barry of ten pieces silver and azure an orle of martlets gules (for Valence) halved with gules three pales vair a chief gold with a label of five points azure (for St. Pol).” The arms are those of Maria de St. Pol, who founded Pembroke College (Cambridge) in 1347. Her husband, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, had died in 1324, contrary to a legend that he was killed in a tournament on their wedding day in 1321. The arms are devised by joining the arms of the husband and wife, which are cut down the palar line, and the dexter half of the husband’s conjoined with the sinister half of the wife’s on one shield.

Mitchell, Martha. Encyclopedia Brunoniana. Providence, R.I: Brown University Library, 1993. (catalog record)