Seals, such as those that appear on documents certified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, have a long history and were mentioned even in the Bible. They were widely used many centuries ago because most persons, even of high rank and wealth, did not read or write. Acceptance of a document was signified by making an impression of one’s coat of arms into a blob of soft wax, usually with an engraved signet ring. There was a general reluctance to affix seals to documents unless absolute certainty of the contents could be confirmed.
This eventually led to the idea that documents of state and other important personal papers, such as deeds, should contain a seal that bore witness to their authenticity. In 1629, King Charles I granted a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which included the authority to use a Seal Of Massachusetts. It featured an Indian holding an arrow pointed down in a gesture of peace, with the words “Come over and help us,” emphasizing the missionary and commercial intentions of the original colonists.
This Seal Of Massachusetts was used until 1686, shortly after the charter was annulled, and again from 1689-1692. From 1686 to 1689 Governor Edmund Andros used a Seal Of Massachusetts with two sides, one side showing King James II with an Englishman and Indian kneeling in front of him, the other side showing the lion and unicorn of the royal coat of arms.
When the Province of Massachusetts began in 1692, the royal coat of arms of England, combined with a motto specific to the reigning monarch, became the official seal. Royal governors affixed their personal seals to commissions issued to officers in the military service. The Great Seal Of Massachusetts is in the custody of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who is required by the Constitution to affix an impression of it to all commissions (official appointments) issued in the name of the Commonwealth.
The use of the coat of arms and the Great Seal Of Massachusetts for advertising or commercial purposes is prohibited by law. In addition to commissions, all records certified by the Secretary must bear the Great Seal. Permission to use the coat of arms and the Great Seal must be obtained from the Secretary of the Commonwealth.