The Story Behind New York State Flag’s Coat of Arms

New York State’s flag is a source of pride for residents of the Empire State, featuring a striking coat of arms that symbolizes the state’s history, identity, and values. But how much do you know about the story behind the flag’s design? In this article, we’ll dive into the history and meaning of New York’s coat of arms, including its evolution over time and the significance of its key elements. From the shield at the center of the design to the majestic eagle perched atop it, you’ll gain a deep understanding of the symbolism behind this iconic image. So let’s explore the rich history of New York’s state flag and uncover the meaning behind its enduring design.

History of the New York State Flag

History Of The New York State Flag
The history of the New York State Flag is a long and storied one, stretching back to colonial times. The first flag represented the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, while the second showed the British origins of the state. Then, in 1777, during the American Revolution, the state adopted the first flag to feature the coat of arms that remains on the flag to this day. This coat of arms reflects the state’s Dutch and English heritage, featuring a shield with symbols representing New York’s greatest strengths. The flag has undergone a few changes over the years, but it remains a proud symbol of New York’s history and identity.

The First Flag

The first flag of New York State was introduced in 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, and was used until 1901. It had a white background with the New York State coat of arms in the center. The coat of arms was a shield with an eagle on top, surrounded by various symbols and figures. The shield depicted a sun rising over a mountain, representing the dawn of a new era, and a river flowing through a forest, symbolizing commerce and civilization. The eagle symbolized freedom and independence.
The flag’s design was simple yet meaningful, and it represented the state’s pride in being an essential part of the American Revolution. Despite being short-lived, it paved the way for a more elaborate design that would come later.

The Second Flag

of New York State was officially adopted on April 2, 1901, and is still in use today. The flag maintains the same design as the first – the state’s coat of arms on a dark blue field. However, the shade of blue on the second flag was changed, and the placement of elements on the flag was reconfigured.

The major difference between the two flags was on the reverse side. The first flag’s reverse depicted the goddess Liberty holding a pole and Phrygian cap with the inscription “Excelsior,” while the second flag’s reverse showcases the state seal with its Latin inscription “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “Out of many, one.” The state seal on the reverse features the same eagle, world globe, and banner holding the state motto that are found on the Coat of Arms.

It is important to note that the First Flag symbolizes the history of New York, while the Second Flag represents the present and future. The changes made to the second flag ensured that it would be easier to reproduce and identify from a distance. The Flag of New York State has become a symbol of pride and patriotism, recognized throughout the nation for its intricate design and historical significance.

If you’re interested in the evolution of state flags, be sure to check out the story of the Maryland State Flag and its unique display of heraldry, or the evolution of the Californian flag and its various designs over the years.

Design of the Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms on the New York State flag is rich in symbolism and history. At the center of the design is a shield, which is divided into three parts. The left and right sides depict ships sailing on the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean, respectively, representing New York’s role as a center of commerce. The center section of the shield shows the sun rising behind a mountain, symbolizing the state’s early growth and the ability to overcome adversity. Above the shield is an eagle perched on a globe, representing the country and the state’s commitment to freedom and liberty. On either side of the shield are supporters, one representing Lady Justice and the other representing the goddess of Liberty. Below the shield is a banner with the state motto “Excelsior,” which means “ever upward.” The design of the New York State Coat of Arms is complex and meaningful, much like the state itself.

Symbolism of the Shield

The centerpiece of the New York State Coat of Arms located on the state flag is the shield, which is supported by two creatures. The shield features a dark blue background and includes a number of symbolic images representing the state’s history, values and resources. The central piece of the shield is a beaver, displayed in recognition of the valuable fur-bearing industries throughout the state. Above the beaver, there is a rising sun indicating hope and a pathway to a brighter future for New York. Five mountains encompass the background of the seal with the phrase “Excelsior” inscribed on a blue ribbon, meaning “ever upward” in Latin, indicating the state’s goal of achieving greater heights.

The scene on the right side is dominated by a ship and a sloop, placed on the Hudson River, symbolizing the importance of water transportation for commerce throughout the state’s history. Beneath the vessels are two high shorelines, depicting both the Palisades and the Highlands of the Hudson Highlands Region. On the left side of the shield, there is a key indicating the state of New York’s prominent role in commerce.

The shield’s color and symbols are rich in meaning and provide a glimpse of the character and values of both the state and of the people who reside there. Interestingly, there are similarities in the state flag designs across the United States, particularly in terms of shield symbolism. For example, the Florida flag features a red saltire cross, while the Tennessee state flag boasts six stars instead of the traditional five. Each state flag and seal has a unique history and symbolism. To learn more about state flags, visit texas-state-flag-meaning for an eye-opening read.

Supporters and Motto

The supporters on the New York State flag depict two heraldic creatures; Liberty, on the left, holds a staff surmounted by a Liberty Cap which represents freedom, while on the right is Justice, who holds the scales of justice in her left hand and a sword in her right. Both figures are dressed in classical attire to symbolize the values of Western civilization on which the state was founded. The shield is supported by a globe, which signifies the global influence of the state, and a bald eagle, which represents the strength and freedom of the United States.

The flag’s motto “Excelsior” is Latin for “Ever Upward”. This motto represents the state’s aspiration and pursuit of excellence and progress. It is also a nod to the state’s geography, as the Adirondack Mountains, which are part of the state’s natural beauty and one of New York’s enduring symbols, are at a higher altitude than the White Mountains of neighboring New Hampshire. The motto is used in many official settings and is often associated with the state as a whole.

Interestingly, New York is not the only state flag with the motto “Excelsior”; it is also the official state motto of neighboring Vermont. However, the Vermont state flag lacks any kind of emblem and only displays a blue field with the state’s coat of arms in the center. Other states have also used similar mottos on their flags, such as “Forward” on the Wisconsin state flag and “Ever Vigilant” on the Connecticut state flag.

If you want to learn more about the history and symbolism of other state flags, check out these articles:

Florida State Flag History
Arizona State Flag Timeline
Tennessee State Flag Six Stars
Virginia State Flag Symbolism
Louisiana State Flag After Katrina
South Carolina State Flag Facts.

The Eagle

The eagle on the New York State flag is a symbol of freedom and the pursuit of excellence. Its strong and majestic appearance represents the state’s determination to overcome obstacles and soar to new heights. The eagle is depicted with its wings spread wide, grasping an olive branch and arrows in its talons. This imagery has a rich history and deep meaning.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace, while the arrows represent strength and readiness for war. Taken together, they symbolize the balance between peace and war that every nation must maintain. This balance is particularly important in New York, which has a long history of military service and a commitment to both defending its citizens and promoting peace.

The eagle’s talons are clutching a ribbon that reads “Excelsior,” which is the state motto. This Latin word means “ever upward” and captures the spirit of New York’s pursuit of excellence. The eagle is also flanked by the state flower, the rose, and the state fruit, the apple. These symbols represent both the beauty of the state’s nature and its agricultural traditions.

Interestingly, the eagle used on the flag is not just any eagle – it is specifically a bald eagle. This choice was made because the bald eagle is native to North America and has long been seen as a symbol of American freedom and strength. The eagle on the New York State flag is a beautiful representation of the state’s values and history, and serves as a powerful reminder of what the state stands for.

The Flag and the State

The New York State flag has been a symbol of pride and identity for the state since its inception. It represents the values and history of the state and its people. Over time, the flag has been used in various ways to represent the state. It is flown on government buildings and used during official ceremonies. The flag also serves as a way for New Yorkers to show their pride in their state. However, there have been controversies surrounding the flag’s use. Some argue that it is outdated or too closely tied to certain political or historical figures. Despite this, the flag remains an important symbol of the state’s identity and history.


One of the main controversies surrounding the New York State Flag is its similarity to the coat of arms of the Syracusan Empire, a state located in ancient Greece. According to some historians, the similarities are too significant to be coincidental. The Syracusan coat of arms features a shield with a blue field and a white stripe across the middle, with a centered sun symbol and two rampant lions flanking the shield. The New York State Flag, on the other hand, features a shield with a blue field and a white stripe across the middle, with a centered sun symbol and two rampant supporters (a bald eagle and a American lion) flanking the shield.

Another controversy surrounding the flag is the use of the word “Excelsior” on the scroll underneath the shield. The word, which translates to “ever upward,” has been interpreted by some as a reference to the state’s political aspirations, as well as a nod to the Freemasons, who use it as one of their symbols. However, others have argued that the word is exclusionary, as it only applies to those who are able to climb “ever upward,” and does not take into account those who may struggle or face barriers along the way.

More recently, there has been debate over whether or not the eagle on the flag is actually a bald eagle, as the design features some characteristics (such as a feathered neck) that are more commonly associated with the golden eagle. While some argue that the eagle’s exact species is not relevant to the overall symbolism of the flag, others maintain that it is important to ensure that the state’s official symbols are accurate and reflective of their intended meanings.

While the New York State Flag has been an important symbol for the state for over a century, it is not without its controversies and debates. From questions about its origins to concerns about its meaning and accuracy, the flag remains a complex and multifaceted symbol that continues to inspire discussion and debate among historians, scholars, and everyday New Yorkers alike.

Uses of the Flag Today

The New York State flag is an important symbol of the state’s rich and varied history. Today, the flag is used in a variety of ways to represent the state and its people.

Public Events: The New York State flag is often displayed at public events and ceremonies, such as parades, flag-raising ceremonies, and government meetings. It serves as a reminder of the state’s unique character and rich history.

State Buildings: The flag can be seen flying proudly outside of state government buildings and institutions, including city halls, courthouses, and state universities. These buildings serve as a reminder of the state’s commitment to upholding the values and principles represented by the flag.

Private Use: Many New Yorkers choose to display the state flag in their homes or businesses as a symbol of pride and identity. The flag can be seen in windows, on cars, and on clothing. It is a way for individuals to express their connection to the state and its history.

Sports: The New York State flag is often seen at sporting events, particularly those involving teams based in the state. It is common to see the flag displayed by fans at professional and college sports games, as a way to show support for the home team and pride in the state.

Tourism: Finally, the New York State flag serves as a symbol of the state’s appeal to tourists from around the world. It can be seen in marketing materials and on merchandise, reminding visitors of the state’s unique attractions and cultural heritage.

In all these contexts, the New York State flag remains a powerful and enduring symbol of the state’s history and identity. Its design and symbolism are beloved by New Yorkers for their ability to capture the spirit of the state and its people.


In conclusion, the New York State flag has a rich history and centuries-old traditions that are still evident in its design. The flag has undergone many changes throughout the years, but the coat of arms has remained consistent as a symbol of the state’s pride and strength.

The coat of arms is full of symbolism that represents the state’s history, people, and aspirations. From the eagle to the shield, every part of the design has a story to tell. The flag and its coat of arms have become an important part of the state’s identity, recognized by people all over the world.

Despite some controversies surrounding the flag’s use, it remains an important symbol of New York State and its people. The flag is flown proudly at government buildings, schools, and other public places throughout the state. It is also used in parades, ceremonies, and other events as a way to honor the state and its history.

Overall, the New York State flag and its coat of arms are an important part of the state’s identity and history. By understanding the flag’s history and meaning, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the state and its people.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history behind the current New York State flag?

The current New York State flag’s design originated from a request by the State’s Adjutant General that a banner should be created to represent the State.

What was the first New York State Flag Like?

The first New York State flag was a simple, state seal on a blue background with the words “The State of New York” in gold lettering beneath it.

What led to the creation of the second New York State flag?

The need to produce a new flag design was spurred by a visit by Governor Al Smith to Europe, where he discovered that most other European countries had much more distinctive state flags than the first New York State flag.

What are the symbols in the New York State Coat of Arms?

The New York State Coat of Arms features a shield containing a landscape of the Hudson River Valley, a Hudson River sloop, a sunrise with a globe situated below, and two supporters who represent Liberty and Justice.

What does the landscape in the shield of the New York State Coat of Arms symbolize?

The landscape is a depiction of the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondack Mountains. It represents the natural beauty of the State as well as its economic and cultural importance.

What do the supporters on the New York State Coat of Arms represent?

The female supporter on the left represents Liberty, while the male supporter on the right represents Justice.

What is the significance of the eagle on the New York State Coat of Arms?

The eagle represents freedom and democracy. It originally appeared on the first State seal designed in 1777.

Have there been any controversies surrounding the New York State flag?

Controversies surrounding the flag have mainly been related to whether or not it depicts Native Americans in a derogatory way.

What are some common uses of the New York State flag today?

The flag is commonly flown at State buildings, schools, and during parades. It is also often used as a patriotic symbol on various types of merchandise.

What is the significance of the New York State flag to the people of New York?

The flag is regarded as a symbol of pride and unity for the people of New York State. It represents the State’s rich history, natural beauty, and cultural significance.


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