The design of North Carolina State Seal, officially called the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina, was standardized by the General Assembly in 1971 and modified in 1983 after many variations. The official Seal Of North Carolina is a circle 2¼ inches in diameter that features the robe-covered figures of “Liberty” and “Plenty” in its center. Liberty is standing and holding a capped pole in her left hand, and in her right hand is a scroll on which is written the word “Constitution.”
Plenty is seated with her right arm extended, holding three heads of grain in her right hand and the end of an overflowing cornucopia in her left hand. In the background are depictions of mountains and a three-masted ship floating on the ocean. The dates “May 20, 1775” (the date of the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence) and “April 12, 1776” (the date of the Halifax Resolves) appear at the top and bottom, respectively, of the center part of the Seal Of North Carolina. Around the outside border of the seal are the phrases “The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina” and Esse Quam Videri, the state motto, meaning “to be rather than to seem.”
The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina is full of symbolism. Liberty, who appears on the left, is modeled after the Greek goddess Athena or the Roman goddess Minerva, both of whom represented liberty in their respective civilizations. The cap that Liberty holds in her hand is known as a “liberty cap,” a symbol meaning freedom from bondage that evolved from the Phrygian cap or the Pileus, a cap worn by freed slaves in the Roman Empire.
The liberty cap became a symbol of freedom during revolutionary America and France. It is also significant that Liberty is holding the scroll with the word “Constitution;” it suggests that the Constitution protects Liberty. Liberty and Plenty both made their first appearances on the state seal during the colonial period. Plenty is depicted in the Great Seal holding an overflowing cornucopia, which traditionally signifies food and abundance.
In the late 1700s there was much discussion as to the specific agricultural items to be depicted in the Great Seal—wheat to represent farms in western areas, Indian corn to represent Roanoke Island and the northern areas, and pitch tar and turpentine to represent commerce in the southern part of the state—but many items were removed for they were too difficult to see in the small seal. In 1793, Richard Dobbs Spaight suggested in a letter that a ship should be inserted in the Seal Of North Carolina because it was the “sublime emblem of commerce” to solve the problem of overcrowding on the Seal.