The Seal of Warwick

Origin of the Seal of the City of Warwick, Rhode Island

Crest of Sir Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick as adopted by Warwick Parish
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Warwick was founded in 1642 as a town called Shawomet, after the local Indian tribe from whom the land on the west shore of Narragansett Bay was purchased.  Two years later, the beginning of a 34-year dispute with Massachusetts over title and jurisdiction sent the colony’s founder to England, seeking an official charter to maintain ownership and independence.

His mission was successful, thanks to Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick, then Governor-on-Chief of Foreign Plantations.   When the charter was granted in 1647, the grateful townsmen promptly re-named the settlement after their benefactor and his family coat-of-arms became its seal.

Warwick Coat of Arms

The principal device in the Warwick seal is a heraldic figure representing a mythical winged creature with two legs and the head of a dragon called a wyvern.  It appears by itself, within a circular inscription as “The Councel Seal of Worwick” as early as 1732 and was used in this fashion up to the time of the Revolution.

Although some authorities have attempted to credit it with being an early use of the spread eagle, details of the crude drawing do no bear them out.    It is obviously intended to be a grotesque, unnatural creature rather than the majestic bird indigenous to the New World.     This disproportionate size of long legs and small wings is not that of the eagle, and the beak is equally that of a dragon.  The lack of spurs on the feet is the distinguishing mark of the wyvern, and settles the argument.

Present Seal

Seal for Warwick, Rhode Island
(Click to expand)

The modern seal shows the wyvern in its more horrifying posture, still with ungainly long legs and the tongue of a serpent.   The latter justifies the origin of the word, through Middle English and Old Norman French, from the Latin for “viper”

The figure fills the top third, or “thief” of the shield, which has its own individual shape currently used in the design of historical markers placed on old houses by the Warwick Heritage Committee.  It appears in red (gules) on a gold (or) background.  The color combination is revered on the lower part of the shield, where a chevron of gold separates three gold crosses of the shape called botonne on a field of red.  “Botonne” signifies having a trefoil bud or button at the ends.

The technical description follows:  Gules a chevron between three crosses botonne or, on a chief of the last a wyvern displayed on the first.

Warwick is replete with heraldry.   The arms of the Colony, though not officially adopted by Rhode Island until 1882, appear as early as 1648, as drawn by John Warner of Warwick in the Providence Town Papers.   The only known impression of the actual seal is found on the Charter of the Town of Warwick, dated March 14, 1648.


Information provided by the Warwick Heritage Committee

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