The Seal of the First Governor of Rhode Island

And the predecessor to the current Seal of the State of Rhode Island.


In 1637, a year after the founding of Providence, Roger Williams in a letter to John Winthrop, refers to “…Aquidnetick called by us Rode Island …”

The only “us” at that time was Roger, a few of his poor friends, and the Arnold clan. To me it’s pretty apparent they got this name from Hakluyt’s description of Verrazano’s voyage, (even though Verrazano actually used it in reference to Block Island).

On June 14,1638, as Anne Hutchinson, William Coddington, John Clarke, and the “Antinomians” were settling on northern Aquidneck, Roger Williams wrote to John Winthrop:

“Sir, concerning the islands Prudence and (Patmos, if some had not hindered) Aquedenick ….”

Roger wanted to call Aquidneck Island Patmos, the island to which St. John was banished in 95 AD, where he wrote one of Roger’s favorite books: Revelations. (In 1088 AD, a Monastery was built over the cave where St. John lived. The Greek island of Rhodes is nearby, but it’s 100 times larger than tiny Patmos.)

In 1641 the “colony” seal was to be a sheaf of arrows, with the motto “Amor Vincent omnia” (Love conquers all.) ( RI Manual, p. 12)

In 1644 the name of Aquidneck was officially changed to “Rhod Iland”(Rhode Island or the Isle of Rhodes).

In 1647 the First General Assembly made the colony seal an

anchor. At this time, Benedict Arnold was still a subject of the Mass

Bay Colony so he was not involved in this decision.
(Chapin, Illustrations of the Seals, Arms, and Flags of Rhode Island)

In 1663, Benedict Arnold was appointed by King CharlesII to be the first Governor, but it wasn’t until 1664 that he was elected by his contemporaries to that office. His very first act as elected Governor was to establish the seal for “Rhod Iland and Providence Plantations.” It was “The word Hope over the head of the anker.”

The combination of the word Hope and the graphic of an anchor has been used many times in the history of Christianity. It seems to have originated from the Biblical passage in Hebrews 6:19:

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,
a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind a curtain …”

Benedict Arnold used a seal that incorporated his initials BA, the anchor
(with fouled rope) and the word HOPE on
his official seal. (This silver seal (one inch
in diameter) has a handle (about 3 inches
long, with a 3 inch diameter knob) made of Seal polished hardwood. It is in the collection
of RI Historical Society in the John Brown
House in Providence.)


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