Encyclopedia Americana, 1919

Joseph McMillan
Joseph McMillan
Total Posts:  7658
Joined  08-06-2004
14 December 2007 21:42

So it seems I’m not the first to attempt a comprehensive discussion of the arms of the American Presidents.  Hopefully, the end result of my current series will not be thought as ridiculous 88 years from now as the following article from the 1919 Encyclopedia Americana seems today.  I quote it in its entirety, heraldic howlers, inaccuracies, fantasies and all—observing that there are one or two useful nuggets worth following up, buried in the gibberish.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA AMERICANA, vol 22 (New York and Chicago, 1919), pp. 548-549


One-half of our 28 Presidents possess either through the paternal or maternal side heraldic bearings, while four additional executives come into heraldic relationship by marriage. The study of these heraldic symbols is not only interesting, but profitable, since they suggest much which is of historic importance and bring to the surface accurate genealogical connections between them and great families of the past.


The grants of arms were not given in recognition of royal blood, but were honors conferred on the ancestors of our Presidents because of some special merit, achievement, heroism or patriotic valor. Hence, the pride we have in their shields, crests or supporters is "born of high record." The frequent association of aristocracy with this meritorious form of heraldic bearings is an error and none so often has this misconception as the American. While the former pertains to regal blood the latter, an entirely different mode of distinction, relates to honor and personal worth and they have nothing in common other than the expression of heraldic emblems. No relationship exists between these two branches of armorial devices, the latter antedating the caste or titled aristocracy by generations, centuries and decades, for family arms and national insignia are of most ancient conception, as papyrus, stones, edifices and scripture will attest.


George Washington’s people came from England, where centuries ago they were known as De Wessingtons and their immediate ancestors came from France, with William the Conqueror, and the original family name was William de Hertburn and he was knighted in the 12th century. In the "Balden Book" a record is made of all the estates of the people of Durham; in 1183 is found the entry that William de Hertburn of Hertburn, France, took the manor Wessington in exchange for soldierly service. With this grant Sir William de Hertburn became Sir William de Wessington. In these olden times "when knights were bold and barons had their sway" this Wessington served his king, being among the preux chevaliers, fighting, hawking, gaming, conspiring, conquering and feasting, the king granting him a silver shield upon which were two golden bars, surrounded by three spurs of the knight in red with a crest of the black raven emerging from a ducal coronet.


In the great struggle of Charles I, the Washingtons remained loyal to the king and upon the promotion of Cromwell the Washingtons eagerly sought refuge in the Virginia colony, where they prospered and were men of great estates. Washington, our first President, devoted considerable attention to the investigation of his pedigree.[Note 1] The public is familiar with his frequent blazoning of the family arms on carriages, books, plate, mirrors, private seal, dishes, pictures and practically every memorable family token was decorated with the old shield of the English Washingtons. As a book plate all the Washingtons employed the family arms, both in England and America.


John Quincy Adams in a communication writes: ‘That the fact of my father securing this high position and rank at Harvard was due rather to the position of the maternal branch of the family than to the Adamses." This is strange reading to Americans of this day. The coat of arms of the Adams family was a red shield with a silver cross upon which were five mullets of gold; the crest, a demi-lion emerging from a ducal crown. [Note 2]


Jefferson was eager about knowledge of the early Jeffersons and was well acquainted with the lineage.[Note 3] On 20 Feb. 1771 he wrote Thomas Adams of London (Vol. 81, p. 205, Harper’s) a letter, in which the following request appears : "One further favor and I am done; to search the herald’s office for the arms of my family. I have what I have been told were the family arms, but on what authority I know not." Jefferson’s book-plate and personal seal consisted of his monogram, about which were the words: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." A distant relative in preparing the domestic "Life of Thomas Jefferson," by Sarah V. Randolph, had the Jefferson arms prominently blazoned on the cover of the volume and Jefferson’s private seal decorates the title- page. The coat-of-arms of the Jeffersons was a deep red, upon which blazoned three leopards base with cross of Saint Andrew entwined with a lozenger and field blue crest a demi-lion proper.[Note 4] See GREAT SEAL OF UNITED STATES.


The next stratum of American history brings us to the administration of James Monroe, of the ancient Monroe or Munroe family, noted for their studiousness and mildness of character. The family escutcheon of gold was of English origin and contained a spread eagle. In beak a sprig of laurel proper; crest same as arms; motto, "Dread God." Crest eagle’s head erased gules.[Note 5]


The ancestors of Andrew Jackson were Scotch by blood, though they came from the geography of Ireland and in 1765 we find the Jackson family. Generations ago these people were prominent in the wars of Great Britain and the mark of distinction which came to them consisted of a silver shield with a fess or bar, with three birds blazoned; the helmet had perched upon it a bird and a shell supported the shield. The motto, "I move carefully.” [Note 6]


Then comes John Quincy Adams[Note 7] with an armorial device. He inherited a love for the heraldic and early in his life used the Adams crest as a book mark, but later in life he employed in connection with the crest a shield, upon which were blazoned the arms of his ancestors, both paternal and maternal. He was a deep student of things heraldic and while he was Secretary of State he devised and used — contrary to any authority—a private device as the seal of the Department of State. It was his heraldic idea of the constellation Lyra, infrequently referred to in the act creating our national flag, the lines reading "Thirteen stars, representing a new constellation." See FLAG OF UNITED STATES. [Note 8]


The name Harrison throughout national life is redolent of patriotic intellectual greatness. The family insignia was "a golden shield upon which were two ermine bars and, spangled on shield, five silver stars, with a lion as a crest." [Note 9]


President Tyler’s wife was a Miss Julia Gardiner, of a distinguished family who owned by kingly grant the island of Gardiner of New York. Their coat-of-arms, which can at this day be seen on the walls of this colonial manor house, was “Arms of silver with three hunters’ horns and chevron (roof shaped), red crest, an armor with visor surmounted by an arm holding a baton.”


Millard Fillmore family arms were Sable, three bars in chief, three cinquefoils.[Note 10]


President James Buchanan was a descendant of James Buchanan, who came from Ireland just as the American Revolution closed, settling in Pennsylvania. From a book-plate and also from a tombstone at Christ Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, the coat-of-arms of his family is obtained a golden shield blazoned with lion, the helmet is surmounted by a rose, the mottoes "Supported by Courage" and "Honorable Reflection." [Note 11]


In our backward journey we find Rutherford Birchard Hayes as one of an heraldic family. Little, indeed, is known of the ancestry of Mr. Hayes, though the family has cherished a purple shield, upon which are blazoned three lesser shields of silver.[Note 12]  He was of Scottish ancestry, the first member of the family in America being George Hayes, who settled in Windsor colony of Connecticut in 1682. The Scottish ancestry were granted the arms early in the 15th century as a distinction for profound ability at the bar, a heritage which made the branch of progress easy for the scholarly Hayes.


Garfield’s shield of gold, with its three bars of red and its right canton with cross and left canton with heart, is symbolic of the armorial ancestral device. As a crest the arm clasping a sword and for a motto those significant words "In the cross I conquer." The name and the arms are possibly of Saxon origin, for the name occurs in the Teutonic heraldic insignias as meaning "Garfeld" or "watch of the field" and the crest is of crusade origin, the remote Garfields having been a part of the noble army of religious patriots.


The name Cleveland is, in truth, not the name of this great American family, but rather the designation of the immense estate they once possessed in England, where these folks were known as "De Cleveland* of Durham, England.  This French nobiliary predicate "de” formed a part of this family name up to the 13th century, some genealogists claiming their ancestry French and hence the French word "of" prefacing the name. The Clevelands have an armorial bearing which dates back to the remote period of the 12th century and the crest, which represents a spearman, is in token of Sir Guy de Cleveland, who commanded the spearman at the famous battle of Poiclien-Poitiers of 19 Sept. 1356. The Cleveland shield, with its black chief and silvery base spangled with stars and its argent chevron (roof) with stars,[Note 13] once formed the book-plate of Stephen Cleveland, father of the Hon. Grover Cleveland. The motto in this coat-of-arms is especially appropriate, meaning "For God and Fatherland." [Note 14]


Benjamin H. Harrison was the 23d President and his armorial device the same as William Henry Harrison.


The Roosevelts were in old New York when the Pilgrims of Massachusetts were banishing men and women for freedom in religious worship and executing so-called witches and tyrannizing the wilderness with self-destruction. At this same time the Dutch of New York were welcoming the world and laying the foundation of our present public-school system. In this atmosphere the Roosevelts flourished as early as 1649. The Roosevelt coat-of-arms in its heraldic colors was painted on the dining-room wall of old Jacobus Roosevelt[Note 15] and opposite in oils in a heavy frame was the likeness of Klaas Roosevelt, the first emigrant Roosevelt, who came as early as 1649 when New York was still New Amsterdam. The Arms are a silver shield charged with red roses and Latin motto, meaning "God who has transplanted it will protect it.” The ancient Dutch grant of arms is interesting, though too lengthy to reproduce.[Note 16] Suffice the statement that this shield of honor was conferred upon his kin early in the 1500’s, during the campaign leading up to the founding of the Dutch Republic. Needless to say, these Roosevelts or Van Roosevelts, as they were entered in record, were of the Republican party and of the Protestant army.


B. J. CIGRAND, Author of “Our Presidents” and “Heraldic Americana”



1.  Washington expressly denied to Garter King of Arms that he had any particular interest in his family’s genealogy.

2.  A reference to the arms shown at the bottom of our Adams article, which see, but with the blazon backward.

3.  Evidently not, since his autobiography only traces his lineage back a couple of generations.

4.  Despite the garbled blazon, this would seem to support the color scheme currently shown in our Jefferson article.  Not the most reliable of evidence to depend upon, unfortunately.

5.  Monroe’s ancestry was not English but Scottish.  His Munro of Foulis ancestors would have borne "Or an eagle’s head erased Gules," not a spread eagle, but the President was from a long series of cadet branches who never seem to have matriculated arms of their own.  James Monroe’s seal, used on the treaty by which Louisiana was purchased, shows a script "M" on a plain shield outline.

6. ???

7. Wrong—JQA came before Jackson.

8. See our Adams article; this is largely nonsense.

9.  A similar shield was used in the Harrison family, but the field is Azure, not Or.  WHH himself may have used a shield with the field Or, but not with Ermine bars or stars (Or on a fess Sable three eagles displayed of the field, in chief a crescent for difference.

10.  I’ve never heard of this; worth following up.

11.  The arms of the chief of the Scottish clan of Buchanan of Auchmar are Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counterflory Sable.  According to Zieber, these arms do indeed appear on the tombstone of Andrew Buchanan.  Unfortunately, he does not seem to be any near relation of the President.

12.  Yet another version of these putative arms.  The arms of Hay, Earls of Erroll, are Argent three escutcheons Gules.  No purple version appears in the Scottish Public Register of All Arms and Bearings, and a purpure coat would have been extremely unusual in 15th century Scotland.  (Not to mention that the immigrant Hayes ancestor probably wasn’t Scottish anyway.)

13.  Jeez!  Not stars!  Ermine spots!

14.  If Grover Cleveland’s father actually used this as a bookplate, it should be mentioned in our article.  Worth following up.

15.  Worth following up; should be mentioned in our Roosevelt article if true.

16.  Ancient Dutch grant of arms to a farming family?  Not likely, especially since none of the exploration of Dutch connections of FDR ever turned up anything of the kind.

Guy Power
Guy Power
Total Posts:  1576
Joined  05-01-2006
15 December 2007 01:04

re note 10:

Robert Fillmore lived at parish Otterden, Hertfordshire, in the reign of Edward III. A descendant of this Robert had the Filmore arms confirmed in 1570, viz: Sable three bars three cinque-foiles in chief or.




Same Page:


(Showing descent from Robert Fillmore, above) ...


Fillmore was known afterward as Captain. He was a man of probity, a useful citizen, member of the church and captain of a military company. He joined the church at Norwich, July 29, 1729. He was captain of the Seventh Company of Norwich in 1750. He bought of Samuel Griswold Jr., a farm of seventy acres at Plain Hill, Nowich.

He married (first), Nov. 9, 1724, Mary Spiller, of Ipswich; (second) in 1734, Dorcas Day, of Pomfret. She died March 16, 1759, and he married (third) Mary Roach, a widow.

Children, all mentioned in will:

1. John, born about 1728; settled in Nova Scotia.

2. Abigail, March 28, 1728-19; married Nathaniel Kimball Jr.

3. Mary, Aug. 17, 1731; married John Taylor.

4. Henry, June 28, 1733; married, April 1, 1756, Thankful Downer.

5. Dorcas, Feb. 13, 1735-36; married Abel Page; lived at Haverhill and inherited the pirate’s gold rings.

6. Jemima, April 1, 1737, died Dec. 1, 1741.

7. Miriam, Nov. 22, 1738; married Nathan Colgrove.

8. Nathaniel, March 26, 1739-40; married Hepzibah Wood; their son Nathaniel settled in New York, and was the father of Millard Fillmroe, president of the United States.

Joseph McMillan
Joseph McMillan
Total Posts:  7658
Joined  08-06-2004
15 December 2007 08:15

Yeah, but:


Robert Fillmore lived at parish Otterden, Hertfordshire, in the reign of Edward III. A descendant of this Robert had the Filmore arms confirmed in 1570, viz: Sable three bars three cinque-foiles in chief or.

(I) John Filmore, or Fillmore, was the immigrant ancestor of probably all of this name in this country.

This is written in a way that implies but doesn’t state, let alone prove, a connection.  There’s a gap of two or three generations between confirmation of arms in 1570 and the likely birth of a man who came to America, was married in 1701 and died "a young man" in 1711.  I would say that probably puts his likely date of birth about 1675, give or take five years.