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What Is the History of the State Seal of Louisiana?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated: May 17, 2024

Details on the history of the state seal of Louisiana remain sketchy, but most historians attribute the use of the brown pelican on the seal to William C.C. Claiborne. Claiborne was named the first governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and elected governor when Louisiana became a state in 1812. He reportedly admired the brown pelicans abundant in the Gulf Coast region and used the bird on the earliest state seal of Louisiana.

The design of the state seal of Louisiana underwent several revisions over the years, with one style showing a mother pelican with 12 babies in the nest, even though pelicans rarely have more than three offspring at a time. The current design of the state seal of Louisiana, officially adopted in 1902, shows a female pelican with three chicks nesting below her. She appears to be tearing at her breast to obtain food for her offspring, represented by three drops of blood.

This may stem from a myth back in Claiborne’s time about a mother pelican ripping its flesh to feed its young in desperate times. According to the Louisiana State Museum, the image of a pelican pecking at its breast might symbolize Christ shedding blood for the sins of mankind. The exact meaning of the image on the state seal of Louisiana may never be fully known.

When Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861, the pelican first appeared on the state flag. A dispute between two competing governors arose in 1864 over wording of the state motto, which appears on the state seal. One governor favored the word union, while the other preferred justice. The state seal ultimately adopted includes both, along with the word confidence.

Set on a white background with black lettering, the state seal of Louisiana reflects a simple design with pelicans appearing in a circle in the middle. The state motto is imprinted across the top, with very few flourishes. Pelicans also appear on Louisiana’s bicentennial quarter.

Legislators in the Pelican State adopted the bald cypress as Louisiana's state tree and the magnolia as the state flower. Its official fossil is petrified palm wood, and its stone is an agate. Louisiana became a territory in 1804 when the U.S. purchased it from France, and gained statehood in 1812. The state seceded from the Union in 1861, but was re-admitted in 1868.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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