THE GREAT OR BROAD SEAL
THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA
A BRIEF. HISTORY1
Presented by Field and Fireside, Inc.
Twenty-six Thirteenth Street,
For many years there has been considerable mystery regarding the existence and history of the Great Seal of the Confederate States of America, Much has been written and many stories and legends have arisen regarding it. Antiquarians museums, libraries have little information on its history. Few people have seen it. Many do not know of its existence or have been able to enjoy its great symbolic beauty. The Great Seal of the Confederate States of America does exist, respectfully housed in the most appropriate place, The White House of the Confederacy; The Confederate Museum, Richmond, Virginia, surrounded by the treasured relics, paintings and personal effects of heroes of the Thirteen Confederate States and preserved in sacred memory by the Confederate Memorial Library Society. A brief history follows:
The Great or Broad Seal of the Confederate States of America was authorized at the Third Session of the First Congress of the Confederate States of America and approved April 30, 1863. Accordingly, the Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State dispatched an authorization; for its manufacture to Hon Jas. M.; Mason, Commissioner near the Government of Great Britain.
On February 18, 1864, Mr; Mason’s dispatch to Mr. Benjamin advises that Mr. Joseph S. Wyon, Chief Engraver of Her Majesty’s Seals, is working on the Seal and is executing it in silver (the metal of the State Seals of England). The Seal was completed July 6, 1864, at a cost of 122-10 pounds (equal to about $700 United States currency.
The Seal, with ivory handle was packed in a separate box and given to Lt, Chapman who was charged under no circumstances to run the risk of being captured. The iron press with supplies of wax and other materials for use of the Seal was packed in two boxes and shipped through Messrs. Fraser, Trenholm & Co. Lt. Chapman made his way via Halifax and Bermuda and ran the blockade successfully and reached Richmond in September 1864. The press and other parts never got through and were later found in Bermuda.
In Richmond at time of evacuation
The Great Seal was in Richmond until the time of the evacuation and was used on a number of documents and a few impressions were given to officials and others. During the seige of Richmond, April 2, 1865, the Seal was carried out hidden in clothing of the wife of Mr. W. J. Brownell, Assistant to Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of State, and was hidden in a barn nearby for some time. The Seal was ultimately secreted in Washington.
In 1872 the Library of Congress sought to obtain records of the Confederate Government for historical purposes and appointed Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge to negotiate with Mr. John T. Pickett, acting for Mr. Brownell. The purchase of certain archives was consumated (sic) at a price of $75,000. As a token of appreciation to Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge for his activity in promoting the sale of the papers, Mr. Pickett gave him the Great Seal.
Gift kept secret
The gift was kept secret, however, and it was not until many years later in 1912, that Mr. Gilliard Hunt of the Library of Congress came into possession of the personal papers of Mr. Picket and the true facts were learned,—and Selfridge, who at that time was a Rear Admiral, retired, admitted he had the Seal. Mr. Hunt rightly enough felt that this great treasure should be in the Confederate Museum in Richmond and communicated the whereabouts of the treasure to Mr. Eppa Hutton, Jr., who with Mr. William H. White and Mr. Thomas P. Bryan began negotiations and purchased the Seal from Admiral Selfridge for $3,000, subject to proof of its authenticity.
Such proof being obtained from Allen J. Wyon, a nephew of the original maker, The Great Seal, together with various certificates and all correspondence relating to it was presented by these gentlemen, Mr. Eppa Hutton Jr., Mr. William H. White and Mr. Thomas P. Bryant to the Confederate Museum in Richmond in 1912, and lies there in state today.
The unique design is now available in various decorative mediums to those who will love and appreciate its symbolic beauty.
1Transcribed from The Alabama Historical Quarterly Vol 10, Nos. 01, 02,03, 04, 1948