The Great Seal of the State of California

Great SealA series of bronze plaques lead visitors up the walkway to Colton Hall in Monterey, site of the state’s Constitutional Convention. At the top of the walkway, directly in front of the entrance to Colton Hall, lies a bas relief of the Great Seal of the State of California.

Convention delegates approved the seal’s design in September 1849.

31 stars adorn the crest of the seal, representing the 31 states expected after California’s admission to the Union. Below the stars is the word Eureka -“I have found it” – the state’s motto, a likely reference to the discovery of gold.

Great ships sail within the Golden Gate, in the San Francisco Bay, bringing commerce and new immigrants. The Sierra Nevada range towers in the distance, guarding the vast deposits of gold. In the foreground 49ers search for wealth along the Sacramento River.

2013-04-04 13.48.57Most prominent is the figure of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. According to mythology Minerva was born fully grown, leaping from the head of Jupiter, her father. Similarly, California achieved statehood without first becoming a territory. Minerva’s shield displays the hideous head of Medusa.

Grapes, a sheaf of wheat and the grizzly bear boast of the state’s rich and diverse agriculture, flora and fauna.Gen Garnett

The Great Seal of the State of California owes its design to Robert S. Garnett, a US Army Major in California at the time. Garnett, worried about divisions between military and civilian authorities, was reluctant to submit his design. Garnett gave his blessing and design to Caleb Lyon, Clerk of the Convention, who submitted it to the body for approval. Some minor details were changed with redesigns in subsequent years.

Garnett was a West Point graduate and a proud Virginian. Pledging his allegiance to the Confederacy , Garnett owns the distinction of being the first of more than 120 General Officers killed in the Civil War. Garnett met his end in what is now the state of West Virginia in 1861. His cousin Richard Garnett, also a West Point graduate and Confederate general, was killed at Gettysburg.

Garnett SealJust a few yards from the Great Seal is a plaque dedicated to Garnett, placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy . The General Robert S. Garnett Chapter of the UDC, from Fairfield, CA, has left a lasting memory to the designer of the great Seal of the State of California.


Photos by author and mayo Hayes O’Donnell Library

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