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What Is the History of the State Seal of Tennessee?

By Emily Espinoza
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state seal of Tennessee evokes the importance of agriculture to the state and the contribution of the Tennessee River to the commerce. It also includes a few updates that have been made since the original creation of the seal. The top of the seal is occupied by images that symbolize agriculture and the important role it plays in the state. Underneath that is an image that represents how commerce via the Tennessee River has contributed to the economy and development of the state as well. Since the seal was first created, the basic design has remained the same, but a few small updates have been made.

Agriculture in Tennessee has long provided jobs and income for many residents. In fact, agriculture is so important to the state that 44 percent of the land is dedicated to it. It is for this reason that when the state seal of Tennessee was created, agriculture was made a prominent theme. The top half of the seal contains images that represent some of the most important aspects of agriculture at the time, with the word "agriculture" spelled out in capital letters below them.

Tennessee's state motto is "Agriculture and Commerce" so it makes sense that the lower half of the state seal of Tennessee would represent commerce. The Tennessee River has, for many years, provided a way for goods to be easily transported, and it has had a significant impact on the development of the state's economy. Since 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority has operated a series of dams and locks that allow the river to continue to handle the ever-growing shipping needs of the state. The image of a river boat above the word commerce signifies this industry on the seal.

In 1796, the provisions for the state seal of Tennessee were set in place as the state's constitution was being created. The design included the Roman numerals for the number 16, indicating Tennessee's place as the sixteenth state in the Union, and the date, February 6, 1796 to commemorate the creation of the seal. Over time the design of the seal has evolved slightly and the date has been changed to simply read 1796. Another noticeable change was the replacement of a boat with a boatman to a larger ship, complete with a rig. A new version of the state seal of Tennessee that incorporated these changes was adopted in 1987.

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