The City Seal Working Group began meeting last week to evaluate if the Newton City Seal, depicting Rev. John Eliot speaking to a group of Native Americans, should continue to represent Newton. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced on Aug. 5 that the Newton City Seal would be re-evaluated by a working group.
Applications for the city seal working group were accepted by the Director of Historic Newton, Lisa Dady. Beginning last week, the group will meet every other week to evaluate the seal.
The Newton City Seal, which also appears on the Newton flag, was created 155 years ago. Dady said that they have access to the minutes from the meeting in 1865 when the seal was approved.
Dady explained that the scene depicted on the seal is known to have occurred on Nonantum Hill, which is now Newton Corner. In the scene, Rev. John Eliot is speaking to a group of Native Americans in 1646. Dady said that part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter was the mission to convert Native Americans to Christianity.
Dady said that the most prominent man pictured on the seal is likely Waban, who was the leader of the Massachusett people in the area.
“Certainly Native Americans and a lot of non-Native Americans have made it clear that
in some ways the seal celebrates the invasion of the colonists, and it points to a time when the Native Americans were being persecuted and they were being killed,” Dady said. “And is that something that should be representing Newton in the 21st century?”
Dady explained that some of the Native Americans converted to Christanity because of the religion, others went through the motions of conversion, and others converted as a strategic move. As the Europeans continued to move onto the Native Americans’ lands, they also decimated entire communities because of disease.
“We actually know from our research what was going through Waban’s mind was like, ‘How do I protect my people?’ and ‘Will an alliance with someone like Rev. John Eliot and the colonists help me protect my people?’” Dady said.
The words on the seal are “liberty” and “unity.” Dady said that they have not found records of why those words were chosen. Since this seal was designed during the Civil War, Dady said that unity was likely on people’s minds.
The City Seal Working Group will begin meeting every other week. Fuller said that the group will report back to her with recommendations about whether to change the seal. If the group recommends changing the seal, they will suggest designs. The City Council will vote on any recommended changes.
“We’ll be looking first at everyone being sort of coming to a deep and accurate understanding of what’s being depicted,” Dady said. “We will be talking a little bit about the 19th century and why they were choosing Native Americans to be on their official seals and their flags.”
There were 40 applicants to the city seal working group, according to Fuller and Dady.
“They range from a high school student to older residents,” Fuller said in a statement on Thursday. “Their backgrounds include design, history of Newton, art, education, religion, equity for Indigenous communities and more.”
Dady said that the working group will aim to have a final report by early 2021.
Featured Image by Aneesa Wermers/Heights Staff