Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Printer-friendly page

Great seal of the state of North Carolina

Seal, State

The design of North Carolina's state seal, officially called the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina, was standardized by the General Assembly in 1971 and modified in 1983 after many variations. The official seal is a circle 2¼ inches in diameter that features the robe-covered figures of "Liberty" and "Plenty" in its center. Liberty is standing and holding a capped pole in her left hand, and in her right hand is a scroll on which is written the word "Constitution." Plenty is seated with her right arm extended, holding three heads of grain in her right hand and the end of an overflowing cornucopia in her left hand. In the background are depictions of mountains and a three-masted ship floating on the ocean. The dates "May 20, 1775" (the date of the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence) and "April 12, 1776" (the date of the Halifax Resolves) appear at the top and bottom, respectively, of the center part of the seal. Around the outside border of the seal are the phrases "The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina" and Esse Quam Videri, the state motto, meaning "to be rather than to seem."

Photograph of Gov. Kerr Scott passing the Great Seal of NC to Gov. William Umstead, January 1953.  Item H.1966.109.14 from the North Carolina Museum of History. Used courtesy of the Department of Cultural Resources.


J. Bryan Grimes, The History of the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina (rev. ed., 1974).

Additional information:

Grimes, J. Bryan. 1909. Great seal of the state of North Carolina: 1666-1909. North Carolina Historical Commission. Online at:,398289.

"State seal and motto." North Carolina General Assembly. Online at:

Image credit:

"State seal and motto." North Carolina General Assembly. Online at (accessed September 25, 2014).

"Photograph [Gov. Scott passing the Great Seal of NC to Gov. Umstead]," Accession #: H.1966.109.14. 1953. North Carolina Museum of History. (accessed September 25, 2014).




There are, so far as we know, no records to explain why the 18th and 19th century designers of the State Seal chose to include the particular figures and items depicted on the Seal. However, the design elements are all fairly standard emblems, and would have been familiar to many people at that time.

Plenty is almost always depicted with a cornucopia (though it is not exclusively her symbol—several other mythological deities and semi-deities also carried the horn of plenty, or at least were depicted that way in paintings and sculpture). The cornucopia is symbol of nourishment and abundance.

Liberty is often depicted holding the pole and cap (sometimes called a Phrygian cap). The pole and cap were symbols of struggle and eventual freedom from tyranny and slavery--the pole was imitated later in Liberty Trees during the American Revolution; the cap was a symbol from antiquity, adapted and re-adapted by people in the 18th and 19th centuries). Thus, the designers wished to show that the state was both bountiful and free. The ship symbolizes the voyages of discovery and colonization that brought people to the land that became North Carolina.

The State Seal of Iowa has a flag surmounted by a Phrygian cap, and the Seal of New Jersey depicts both Liberty and Ceres with their standard emblems, so these symbols are not unique to the state.

Steven Case
Government & Heritage Library


Thanks for posting a comment. This document in the North Carolina Digital Collections may have some more detailed information about the seal:

Grimes, J. Bryan. 1909. Great seal of the state of North Carolina: 1666-1909. North Carolina Historical Commission. Online at:,398289..

Also, I've forwarded your inquiry to Reference Services at the Government & Heritage Library. Their contact information may be found at Good luck in your research!


Emily Horton, Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at