West Virginia

by Joseph McMillan
Originally prepared for Flags of the World

West Virginia Banner Photo

After what is now West Virginia broke away from Virginia in the midst of the Civil War and was admitted to the Union as a separate state in 1863, a committee of the state legislature commissioned Joseph H. Diss Debar, a local artist and political figure, to design a state seal. Debar's design was approved by the legislature on September 26, 1863, and is now enshrined in the state constitution.

The coat of arms is essentially the pictorial design of the obverse of the seal transplanted onto the field of a shield, with the colors of the foreground and sky filled in. The description of the seal and its symbolism, offered by the committee in its report, is therefore the closest thing to an official blazon:

In the center a rock with ivy, emblematic of stability and continuance, and on the face of the rock the inscription, "June 20, 1863," the date of our foundation [admission to statehood], as if graven with a pen of iron in the rock forever. On the right of the rock a farmer clothed in the traditional hunting garb, peculiar to this region, his right arm resting on the plow handles, and his left supporting a woodman's axe, indicating that while our territory is partly cultivated, it is still in the process of being cleared of the original forest. At his right hand a sheaf of wheat and a cornstalk. On the left hand of the rock, a miner, indicated by a pick-axe on his shoulder, with barrels and lumps of mineral at his feet. On his left an anvil, partly seen, on which rests a sledge hammer, typical of the mechanic arts, the whole indicating the principal pursuits and resources of the state. In front of the rock and the hunter, as if just laid down by the latter and ready to be resumed at a moment's notice, two hunters' rifles, crossed and surmounted by a Phrygian cap, or cap of liberty, indicating that our freedom and liberty were won and will be maintained by the force of arms."

The one significant difference between the seal and the coat of arms is that the arms include a scroll in the base of the field with the state motto, Montani semper liberi (Mountaineers are always free).