Arms and Seal


The city of Newburyport's government was organized on the 24th of June 1851.  On that day, some three to four hundred spectators gathered upstairs in City Hall[1] as the oaths of office were administered to the new bodies of city government:  the Mayor, six Aldermen (each representing a ward) and eighteen members of the Common Council (three from each ward).

Among the first decrees and ordinances passed by the new City Government was Ordinance No. 14, “To Establish the City Arms and Seal.”  The ordinance reads ...

“Be it ordained, &c., as follows:

Section 1. The Arms of the City shall be the following, to wit:  Quarterly, first, two light-houses,[2] in the distance, a ship under full sail;[3] second, a steam-mill;[4] third, a ship on the stocks;[5] and fourth, the seal of Newbury, in England, on a mount three domed towers,[6] on each a pennon, crest, a mural coronet[7] surmounted by two hands conjoined;[8]supporters, two female figures, that on the dexter side[9] representing America, that on the sinister, [10] Massachusetts; scroll, Terra Marique.[11]

Section 2. The seal of the city shall bear as a device, the shield, crest and scroll of the arms of the city, with the legend, ‘City of Newburyport, A.D. MDCCCLI’.” [12]


Anticipating the City's Sesquicentennial Year celebration in 2001, Mayor Lisa Mead ordered the city seal faithfully restored to the original (depicted above) --- a design inspired by Newburyport's first Mayor, Caleb Cushing. A simplified graphic appeared on the City Sesquicentennial commemorative flag, its colors flying high on the flagship Misty Isles as an ensign during her homecoming and other comings and goings (link within) that year.

Newburyport's illustrative city seal is widely represented, found on official documents, administrative letterheads and imprinted on the the city's adminstrative invoices and receipts. With the New Millennium, just as Newburyport marked its 150-year milestone, replacement street signs were embellished with the municipal emblem. The website's homepage found at this link within depicts the framed City Arms and Seal that adorns City Hall's Council Chambers.

During the inauguration ceremony held in City Hall's Auditorium on January 4, 2010, that muncipal arms and seal was an impressive backdrop as the new mayor, councillors and school committee members pledged their oaths of office. Images of the civic arms on the front and back of the inaugural program, also quoting City Ordinance No. 14 (above). Two annotations (in parentheses) are added to the arcane terms dexter and sinister (link without) to orient the description of the various elements and the website is eferenced for more information.


[1] Then newly constructed, Newburyport City Hall's cornerstone was laid and dedicated on July 4, 1850, with the building opened to the public exactly 8 months later on March 4, 1851. That spring, the facilities hosted various meetings preceding Newburyport's offical incorporation as a city form of government, including Newburyport’s last annual town meetings.

On March 18, 1851 the body politic reconvened its meeting in City Hall after a long and contentious session at the Market House (now the Firehouse Center). Along with other matters, the selectmen and citizens discussed the initiative to incorporate Newburyport as a city form of government and the future annexation of the portions of Newbury called Joppa and Belleville.

For more detail about the process of annexation and incorporation, refer to the passages of Euphemia Vale Smith's "History of Newburyport" which can be found digitized at Google Books at this link without.

[2] In 1783, the Newburyport Marine Society erected two beacons on Plum Island to assist in the night navigation of vessels into the harbor. This project was privately underwritten by interested parties, including downtown merchants. Subsequently, in 1787 the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts authorized the construction and funding of "two small wooden light houses on the north end of Plumb Island." To avoid delay, once again Newburyport merchants and entrepreneurs voluntarily contributed the sum needed, and the lighthouses were likely constructed the following summer. These structures were ceded to the federal government in 1790.

Because of the shifting sands of Plum Island's barrier beach as well as the port's shallow channel, it was necessary to construct the towers atop foundations that would allow them to be moved for realignment. Unfortunately, this adaptablility left the structures more vulnerable to the elements, requiring they be rebuilt frequently. The two lighthouses depicted on the 1851 city seal were the two towers that the federal government had reconstructed and refurbished in 1838 (link without).

History records that “[on] August 8, 1856, one of these light-houses was destroyed by fire, and the other was rebuilt and provided with new lanterns.  A movable light was then placed in range with the stationary one, to mark the shifting channel at the mouth of the Merrimack River, and was maintained by the federal government until 1890, when it was discontinued” (link without). The lens of that tower was used in the single tower constructed in the year 1898 (link without). More than 120 years later, that impressive lighthouse and adjacent keeper's house withstand their commanding post. Refer to the National Park Service website at this link without for more insight about the historic Plum Island Harbor Light. For information about seasonal tours, check the Friends of the Plum Island Lighthouse webpage found at this link without.

Not to be confused with the Plum Island lighthouses, two additional structures also served to assist safe navigation into Newburyport's shallow channel. Established in 1873, the two Newburyport Harbor Range Lights were deactivated in 1961. Always in the same vicinity and proximity, because the towers must be aligned by mariners for orientation, these structures would be moved periodly. However, these tandem structures presently remain in the general vicinity of their original situations: the wooden front range light now located at the Coast Guard station, with the rear brick range light situated nearby on Water Street (link without). Both are included on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information about The Newburyport Harbor Range Lights, refer to the National Park Service website (link without).

[3] Offering the explanation that the upper dexter quadrant (at the upper right side of crest, as viewed on the left) depicts two lighthouses with a ship or boat under full sail arriving into port, representing Newburyport's maritime tradition in seafaring and trade --- those aspiring to be one of the Knowing Ones (who ask good questions and question the answer) often pose the question: "Where is the ship?" Further explaining that the design represents a sloop or ketch rather than the gallant ships associated with " Clipper City" --- the typical reaction is that the artwork "doesn't look like a boat!" This provides the perfect opportunity to ply a favorite lifeline from Winnie the Pooh (when Piglet was entirely surrounded by water) and respond, "Ah, but you see, that isn't just an ordinary sort of boat, sometimes it's a boat ..." The interested reader will find the next tack in the conversation at this link within.
[4] By the time the City of Newburyport was incorporated in 1851, several steam mills were in operation. The Newburyport Steam Cotton Company, built in 1835 near a wharf at the foot of Strong Street, had been purchased and renamed the Essex Steam Mills in 1844; Manufacture of cotton cloth continued until that factory was destroyed by fire on March 6, 1856. Investors incorporated the Wessacumon Mills in 1837 and built a large brick factory on the corner of Pleasant and Inn Streets. Expanding in 1840, another large factory was constructed on an adjacent property (now the Green Street municipal parking lot) --- and the whole operation was renamed Bartlett Steam Mills. Both factories were destroyed by fire in March of 1881 and never rebuilt. After the incorporation of the James Steam Mills in early 1842, the factory experienced several expansions, reorganizations and acquisitions by other manufacturing industries. The four-story building of the Ocean Steam Mills stood on the corner of Kent and Munroe Streets. First incorporated in 1845, the company expanded the structure in 1867 and after twice changing ownership, a second factory was built in 1880.
[5] Some assume the lower dexter (right) side of the city seal (to the left, as viewed) portrays a ship at sea, thus they question the sails missing from the ship's rigging. The graphic actually depicts a ship under construction, supported by a shipyard's stocks, in recognition of Newburyport's prominent role as a shipbuilding community in the 19th Century, a common scene along the waterfront. At one time, the Middle Shipyard was made available for shipbuilding at a fee of 3 pence per (vessel) ton.
[6] The Massachusetts Bay Colony plantation of Newbury [renamed from the Indian reference Wessacucon also spelled Wessacumcon] assumed the name of its English namesake not because the settlers had originated from Newbury but because founder Reverend Thomas Parker had onetime preached there. Newbury, England is located approximately fifty-six miles from Hyde Park, London on the river Kennet, with the Waterside in Newbury on the Avon Canal. In the first millennium, the town went by the Saxon name Uluritone (likely a corruption of the word Ulwardstone) after its feudal lord, Ulward. However, at the close of the twelfth century the town assumed the name of the castle of the Earl of Perch, which was called "Newbury," and the town's arms and seal depicted that grand manor, which the City of Newburyport duplicates to honor its namesake and heritage.
[7] A pennon is described as a long triangular or "swallow-tailed" streamer or pennant also known as an ensign (link without). The crest is that area of an armorial "escutcheon" with an armorial shield (link without) with representative graphics. In municipal heraldry, a mural-coronet is a embattled crown which represents the collective bravery during military engagements (link without).
[8] Above that mural-coronet, the image of "conjoined hands" can be construed to represent cooporation, compromise, coalition and "comity" within and without the community.
[9] Its etymology derived from the Greek word for right (dexios), the term "dexter side" is defined as the right side of a heraldic or armorial shield (or other arms and seal). Note that this orientation refers to the right side of the person bearing it though oriented to the left side as viewed (link without).
[10] Of Latin, Middle English and Anglo-French etymology (meaning "on the left") --- thus "sinister side" refers to the left side of a heraldic shield of the person bearing or wearing it but on the right side as viewed (link without) .
[11] Translated from the Latin, "Terra Marique" (land and sea) references "the Waterside" Third Parish of Newbury that separated as the town of Newburyport in 1764. The bounds and ambits of Joppa Flats and Belleville sections of the Waterside were later annexed during the City of Newburyport's organization in 1851. As laid out today, all six wards of Newburyport share some part of "the Waterside" --- in geography and history (link within).
[12] AD is the abbreviation for Anno Domini, Medieval Latin translated as "the year of Our Lord." As noted at this link without, the term "Common Era" (abbreviated as CE) has since been adopted for secular use. Refer to this link within for a primer on Roman numerals, which in this instance represent the year of the City of Newburyport's incorporation in 1851.
(Facts corroborated by John J. Currier's "History of Newburyport Massachusetts 1764 - 1905" and Euphemia Vale Smith's "History of Newburyport" and other references cited in context.)
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