For a recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about a legislative proposal to change the seal and flag of Massachusetts, the newspaper turned to Kevin Sweeney, emeritus professor of American studies and history, for historical perspective on why the Commonwealth’s seal features a Native American man holding a bow, with a disembodied arm bearing a sword hovering overhead.
This is actually the fourth iteration of the seal, which originally featured a Native American man, but was later changed to a British coat of arms, and then a soldier holding a sword. Sweeney said the original figure was put back following the Revolutionary War, with the sword and a Latin motto meaning “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty,” a hodgepodge of symbols to show that the citizens of Massachusetts were no longer subjects of the British crown.
“By 1780, they were saying, ‘We’re not English anymore,’” he said. “The Native American was used as a representation of America … It’s obviously a cultural appropriation, but it’s not a mascot.”