Thursday, May 7, 2009

Seashell Coat of Arms

Richard Hawley, Marblehead, MA 1698

I looked up the Hawley family crest — this isn't it. Still, it's a lovely coat of arms. I wish I knew what it symbolized. It looks right at home on Old Burial Hill in Marblehead, overlooking the sea.


Robert J. said...

Ah, that's a wonderful one. I'll post a note on a heraldry group and see what the folks there can tell us -- we turned up some very good information about "Pitcairn's Pistols" a few weeks ago on J.L. Bell's Boston1775 blog.

There is a very brief paper by Grossman on New England heraldic gravestones that mentions this stone in passing but doesn't comment on it:

I'm no expert on blazon, but this would be something like: between two fleurs de lis, three escallops on a bend.

J. L. Bell said...

I recall a symbolic connection between seashells and medieval pilgrims to Santiago de Campostela.

Robert J. said...

Yes, the conventional association of scallops (or 'escallops' in heraldic usage) is with pilgrimage. Properly speaking, however, coats of arms belong to individuals rather than families, and they are passed on in complicated ways through the laws of inheritance, just like any other kind of property. (It's an exceedingly intricate subject.) So in a true sense, there is no such thing as a "family coat of arms," and if there had been some original association with pilgrimage, it would have referred to the original grantee -- perhaps someone who lived centuries earlier.

That being said, usage has always been sloppy, especially over here in the Colonies where such things are not regulated in law. (Technically they would have been in 1698, but the College of Arms is a long way from Marblehead.) There's really nothing to stop you or me from sticking a shield on our wall (or gravestone) and declaring that it's our coat of arms -- gules, on a bend sinister three rubber ducks proper. People do that today, and I imagine they occasionally did it in the 17th century too.

Here's the inquiry I've posted over on rec.heraldry. There are some very knowledegable folks there, so I bet they will be able to offer some good insights.

David B. Appleton said...

I'm not at all certain of the identification of the charges on the bend as "escallops". In heraldry, the hinge of the shell would normally be towards the top of the shield. If these are escallops, then they are "reversed" (or inverted), which would be most unusual.

Checking Burke's "General Armory" under Hawley, I found nothing like this coat of arms.

Looking at Papworth's "Ordinary of British Armorials", there is a coat of arms for the name Rigston which seems to match the coat on the Hawley gravestone: "Argent on a bend between two fleurs-de-lis sable three standing cups (with covers ?) of the first." In other words, on a white shield, a black diagonal stripe from the upper left to the lower right between two black fleurs-de-lis, on the stripe three white cups, or covered cups (rather like chalices or wine glasses, with a dome lid).

I'm not sure why Hawley would be associated with a Rigston coat of arms, there have been instances in colonial America where an individual was using his mother's family's coat of arms.

Robert J. said...

I knew there was a long study of heraldic gravestones in New England, but couldn't remember the source. It is:

Chase, Theodore, & Laurel K. Gabel. 1997. Headstones, hatchments, and heraldry, 1650-1850. Gravestone Chronicles, 2: 496-604. (Boston: NEHGS.)

It's more than 100 pages long and heavily illustrated, but on a quick reading it does not appear to mention this particular stone.

David B. Appleton said...

An illustration of two different heraldic "covered cups", the second one (for Cluer) demonstrating at least a passing resemblance to the charges on the bend in this coat of arms, may be found at: