Brand granted to Natick by the Massachusetts General Court in 1670 (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Archives)
"On May 31st, 1670, nearly twenty years after Natick was established as a Praying Town in 1651, residents petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a town brand. Their goal was to distinguish their animals, especially swine, from those in neighboring communities. In England, courts commonly granted brand marks that reflected the first letter of a town’s name. However, the Massachusetts General Court designated a wholly different symbol for Natick: a bow and arrow. At the time, Natick was home to Algonquian-speaking people who came from the Massachusett, Nipmuck, and Wampanoag Tribes. The bow and arrow symbol indicated that, despite twenty years of acculturation, English education, and conversion among its residents, the court viewed Natick as distinct from other English towns. (1)
The state of Massachusetts incorporated Natick as a town in 1781—by then, English colonists outnumbered Native residents. Over a century later, the 1876 Town Report featured an official seal for the first time. Simple in its design, the seal did not include an image and referred only to Natick’s date of incorporation (February 19th, 1781). It was not until 1899 that the Massachusetts General Court passed legislation requiring every city/town government to have a seal on all official documents. The town of Natick did not immediately pursue a redesign under the new law and the 1876 redesign remained in use. (2)
The state’s legislation drew increased attention to town seals, however, and two years later The Natick Bulletin lamented how plain the Natick’s seal was compared to neighboring towns. In 1901, The Bulletin organized a competition among school children for the design of a new seal worthy of the town’s long history. The competition organizers explained that a town seal: (3)
“should be emblematic. The design should not be merely artistic; but should be full of meaning… Geographical features of towns are often represented, and if the scene is well chosen, favorable impressions of the town are gained by outsiders.”
Edith P. Roberts’ first place design (left, NHS Collections)
Detail image of the 1876 Town Seal as featured in 1899 Town Report (NHS Collections)
The winner of the 1901 competition was to be given a complete set of Longfellow’s poems bound in calf leather. Many submissions were sent in, and from those the judges ranked their three favorite designs which would receive prizes for their work; in first place: Edith P. Roberts, in second: Marion Pooke, and in third: Sarah F. Whitney. There was controversy, however, when it was revealed that the winning design was copied from a poster publicizing Natick’s 250th anniversary (1901). As a result of this scandal, the town seal was never officially changed and the 1876 seal remained in use. (4)
When the town began preparations for its 300th birthday in 1951, the Anniversary Committee adopted an official emblem to publicize all tercentennial events. George T. Hutchings, manager at Newton Memorial Art Company and Natick resident, designed the image. Town departments, civic organizations and local businesses were encouraged to promote the events by using the 300th anniversary emblem on their stationary and in their advertising. Many local businesses took up the suggestion and included Hutchings’ design in their advertisements. A town publication, the Natick List of Residents, also included the emblem on its 1951 cover—prior and subsequent covers featured the 1876 town seal. Although Hutchings’ design was created specifically for the tercentennial celebration and not intended to serve as a town seal, it would become the basis for a new town seal thirty years later. (5)
On October 16, 1980, in the fourth session of Special Town Meeting No. 3, the Town Clerk proposed an article to replace Natick’s town seal (the 1876 seal) with a new seal based on Hutchings’ 1951 design. The proposed new seal would be nearly identical to the 1951 design, except that the years “1651-1951” would be removed from the top scroll. Town Meeting passed the article and Hutchings’ 1951 design appeared as Natick’s official seal on town publications by 1982. (6)
In 1997, a large depiction of the seal painted by local residents was installed inside the Natick Town Hall. The project first began in 1993, when member of the Select Board John Moran requested that a team of senior residents paint the town seal for installation in the Select Board meeting room. The group that painted the seal changed the design slightly, replacing a teepee (or tipi) with a wigwam/wetu, a type of home commonly constructed by Native people in New England around the time that Natick was established as a Praying Town. This large depiction of the seal hangs over the main staircase in the entryway of the Natick Town Hall today. The seal also appears on town publications, vehicles, uniforms, stationery, and more. (7)"
(1) Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004), 203-204; Jean M. O’Brien, Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Proceedings of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, 1629-1686. Vol 4: Page 658, Brandmark for Natick Indians. CT0/1700X. Massachusetts Archives. Boston, Massachusetts.
(2) Bernson, Alexandra, “For Every Seal a Story: Town and City Town Seals in the Commonwealth,” State Library of Massachusetts (blog), MA State Library, July 23, 2018.
(3) “Natick Town Seal: Twenty-Five Dollars Offered for New Design,” The Natick Bulletin (Natick, MA), July 4, 1924.
(4) “Facts About Natick,” The Natick Bulletin (Natick, MA), n.d.; “Natick Town Seal: Twenty-Five Dollars Offered for New Design,” The Natick Bulletin (Natick, MA), July 4, 1924.
(5) [300th Anniversary Seal], The Natick Bulletin (Natick, MA), c. 1951; Town of Natick Board of Registrars, List of Residents Over Twenty Years of Age, Natick, MA: 1951; The Natick Bulletin (Natick, MA), June 7, 1951; Town of Natick Board of Registrars, List of Residents Over Twenty Years of Age, 1951.
(6) Town of Natick, Annual Town Report, Natick, MA: 1980.
(7) Doyle, Joyce, “Seal signed and almost delivered,” The Natick Bulletin (Natick, MA), July 17, 1997; Natick Council on Aging, A Senior Citizen Project: the seal of the town of Natick, Massachusetts, 1993-1998.
Keep Learning... Additional Research Resources
Resources to Learn More
Brooks, Lisa. Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018.
Clark, Michale P., ed. The Eliot Tracts: With Letters from John Eliot to Thomas Thorowgood and Richard Baxter. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.
Cogley, Richard W. John Eliot’s Mission to the Indians Before King Philip’s War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England. Hill and Wang, 2003.
DeLucia, Christine M. Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast. Yale University Press, 2018.
Lopenzina, Drew. Red Ink: Native Americans Picking Up the Pen in the Colonial Period, State University of New York Press, 2012.
Mandell, Daniel R., Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts. University of Nebraska Press 1996.
O’Brien, Jean M., Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790. London: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Senier, Siobhan, ed. Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England. University of Nebraska Press, 2014.
Silverman, David. This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.
Niki Lefebvre Presentation on the Town Seal (9:41-41:50)
Kelsey Merriam Presentation on the Town Seal (4:30-32:50)