Who Is That Old Indian, Anyway?

To celebrate the Fourth of July last weekend, I bought a new flag.

A Massachusetts flag. Made, by the way, in our stateís correctional facilities. Although I still, not always being politically correct, call them prisons.

And, the men in charge, are still wardens, in my estimation. Although we call them superintendents now. Warden? Superintendent? Who cares. We waged that debate in the House two weeks ago.

Anyway, the flag. As we enjoyed the weekend, several of us wondered who the Indian on the flag was. And, although everyone claimed that he had a name (did it start with M?), we were all wrong.

And what, we wondered, happened to the old two-sided flag, with Indian, whoever he was, on one side, and pine tree on the other. And, why a pine tree anyway?

And, the state motto? "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem." No one could really translate it, or know where it came from.

Did the whole thing go back to Colonial days?

Secretary of State Bill Galvin has a great booklet called "Facts," a review of the history, government and symbols of the Commonwealth. You can buy your own copy if you like (800-392-6090) or find it on the www at state.ma.us/sec/cis.

The book came off the shelf, and answered all the questions. And then some.

No, the colonists didnít fly our official flag, just a marine flag on ships. Ours didn't come into being until after Massachusetts became a state (1780). And, its current appearance is relatively new.

Until 1971, the flag had the coat of arms on one side, the pine tree on the other. The pine tree was chosen to indicate the importance of lumbering. That industry is why the State House also has a pine cone on the dome.

The sacred cod, still hanging in the House chamber, as a salute to the fishing industry, never made it to the flag. And, effective November 1, 1971, the pine cone disappeared.

The General Laws of the Commonwealth describe the coat of arms as a blue shield with an Indian dressed in shirt, leggings and moccasins and holding a bow in his right hand, an arrow (pointing down) in his left. All in gold.

Thereís a five pointed silver star in the upper right hand corner of the field. The crest is a right arm, bent at the elbow, clothed and ruffled, holding a broad sword, on a wreath of gold and blue.

The motto is in gold on a blue ribbon. Translated, it reads "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." It wasn't dreamed up on Beacon Hill. It was the second of two lines written by an English soldier and politician, Algernon Sidney, about 1659 and adopted by the Provincial Congress in 1775.

Why a white field? Why blue? Why gold? Or silver? No one knows why certain colors were selected. Galvin says itís almost impossible to divine the intent of legislation filed hundreds of years ago, so I guess weíll never know.

Finally, no matter what we all believed, the Indian doesn't, under state law, have a name.

But, he is an Indian. That same state law hasnít yet been amended to term him a Native American.

So, donít call to tell me that the headline is not politically correct.

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