Creating a Seal

Duration: 30 minutes-2 hours
Recommended Ages: 8+, minimal to no adult supervision
Description:  Uncover the history of Virginia’s seal; learn the meaning of its elements; and design your own seal.

In 1776, the Revolutionary War had already started.  Each colony needed to get rid of its old colonial government and to form a new government for the state.  In Virginia, delegates traveled to the capital of Williamsburg to develop their new constitution.  

George Mason attended the Williamsburg convention.  He was one of the most important thinkers and speakers there.  First, he wrote the initial version of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  Then he drafted the Virginia (or state) constitution.  He also was part of a small committee that designed the official seal for Virginia. 

Why was everyone worrying about a seal?  Virginia was on the brink of a revolution!  Didn’t the delegates have more important matters to consider?

Governments mark documents with seals to show that the papers are official. In Britain, laws needed the King’s seal to become legal.  As they became states, colonies decided to follow the same system.  Virginia’s new government could not fully function until it had its own seal.  

George Mason and his committee members carefully chose the images and words that they proposed for the new design.  Each piece tells us what qualities they thought were important for the new state.

George Mason, George Wythe, and a few others designed the original seal of the Commonwealth in 1776. Today’s modern, full-color version the seal has only a few small differences.

Activity prompt goes here.

What is a Symbol?

A symbol is a picture or a design that represents an idea or a thing.  They are everywhere!

Sports teams and universities show fancy writing or a drawing of a mascot to make people think of the team.  Can you picture the fancy writing or drawing of a mascot that is connected to a sports team?  Draw a picture of it.

Many people use emoji in place of words.  Can you use emoji to send a message to someone?  What pictures, or symbols might you choose? Draw your message in emojis on one piece of paper, and write the message out on another.    Ask the person who received the emoji message to tell you what it says.  Did the other person understand your symbols?

Companies often use symbols called logos to help people think about their business.  Think of a symbol or logo for a company and draw it.  Show it to someone else.  Does that person recognize the symbol?  Can the person name the company?

Some symbols are part of our culture.   Do you know the common symbols for the words below?


the United States

no smoking

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Decoding the Seal of the Commonwealth

In order to understand Virginia’s seal, we must know a little about ancient Rome.  Stories from ancient Rome were popular with people in the New World and in Europe.  Wealthy gentlemen such as George Mason studied books written about and by Romans.  

George Mason and other founders admired the ancient Roman republic, and they copied many parts of its government.  They even used Roman symbols in the new Virginia seal.  

The committee that developed the seal combined symbols from ancient Rome with pictures related to the American Revolution and with images related to Virginia. 

The Seal of Virginia has two sides, and this activity investigates each one.  You might like to split this activity with friends. You might use a video or phone call to talk with a friend about one side of the seal. Another friend or two might take a look at the other side. If you like, you might share your ideas with each other once you are finished.

Obverse (front of the Seal)

Fill in the rest of the graphic organizer as you determine the meaning of the different parts of this side of the seal.


What it looks like What it means Why the Virginia founders might have included it


A woman wearing a toga stepping on a man



A spear pointing to the ground
A sword in its sheath


A man lying on the ground

Keeping someone in captivity

Punishing someone


Virginia creeper vine and leaves

Motto Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus always to Tyrants)

Reverse (back of the seal)

Identifying the People

Three women stand next to each other on this side of the seal.  Each woman represents a goddess from ancient Rome.

One goddess is named Libertas.  In ancient Roman images and in more recent drawings, paintings, and sculptures, she usually carries a tall stick or torch and a floppy cloth hat.  

Another goddess is called Ceres.  Ancient Roman designs show Ceres holding wheat or another kind of grain. Ceres symbolized agricultural abundance, or having more than enough crops.  After the end of the Roman republic and Roman empire, people still liked the stories of Roman mythology.  Sometimes they changed the way things looked a little.  By the 1600s, images of Ceres often included a cornucopia, also called a horn of plenty.

The third goddess is called Aeternitas.  She is holding a globe with a bird called a phoenix standing on it.  In ancient Rome, the phoenix was reborn every time it died, so people used it to stand for the idea of something lasting forever. 

Look at the three women on this side of the seal.  Which one is Libertas?  Where is Ceres?  And which woman is Aeternitas?

Look for English words

Look carefully at each of the three names:




Each of these names is similar to a word in English.  To find the English word, you may need to cover up the last letter or two of the letters of the name.  For Aeternitas, cover up the first letter, too.

Match the ideas the Romans and early Virginians connected to each goddess.


Aeternitas riches (having more than enough)
Libertas freedom

power lasting a long time

There’s a surprise!  The motto, or saying, on this side of the seal is different from what the committee proposed and the legislature approved in 1776.  The original phrase was “Deus Nobis Haec Otia Fecit.”  These words mean “God has granted us this leisure.”

The current word is Perseverando.  It means to persevere or to keep going.  The Virginia legislature changed to this motto in 1779.   

Why do you think that the legislature decided to change the motto only three years after they approved the design of the seal?

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