Seal of the High Court of Chancery
In January, 1791, George Wythe wrote to Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia to ask his opinion about the design of a seal for the High Court of Chancery of Virginia. Wythe enclosed a design by Benjamin West, who had previous had a hand in designing the Great Seal of Virginia, in 1776. Wythe mentions the front of the seal picturing the story of Sisamnes, and the reverse representing "Patomoack, &c" (the Potomac River), with the words "state of Virginia."
Jefferson wrote back in July of 1792, to say that an engraver in Philadelphia, James Poupard, could make the two-sided seal in brass for $64.00, or in steel for $128.00. A seal as described was made, since impressions of it exist, and a seal matching the description was donated to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in 1874.
Description of the seal
The front, or obverse, of the seal is inscribed around the perimeter: HIGH COURT OF CHANCERY M•DCC•XC. In the center is a judge seated at the entrance to—or inside—a temple; in his left hand is a scroll or proclamation; under his right hand is draped a flayed human skin. This is the son of Sisamnes, forced to sit in judgment on his corrupt father's skin. Over the entrance to the temple is written in Greek, ΚΡΙΝΕ Δ ΕΥΘΕΙΑΝ ΔΙΚΗΝ: "Let thy justice be direct," spoken by the Erinyes in the Eumenides of Aeschylus To the right of the judge is a female figure, naked but for being surrounded by clouds, with light emanating from her head. She points to the inscription above the judge's head. On the left is a helmeted figure bearing the Roman fasces and a mirror.
American Historical Record, August 1874
NOTES AND QUERIES.
An OLD SEAL.—The seal from which the enclosed is an impression was purchased some time since by a metal merchant. It bears the stamp of "James Poupard, Philadelphia," who is registered as an engraver in the Directory of 1793. Can you give any information regarding it? It is about to be presented to the Historical Society of this State.1
C. Harrod Vinton.
Philadelphia, May, 1784.
1 The impression shows the seal to be much worn. The devices, &c., seem to be these: In the centre of the seal sits the figure of a grave man draped in robes, sitting at the portal of a temple, over which is an illegible inscription in Greek. This figure holds a naked short sword in his right hand, and evidently represents Justice. On one side of him stands, partly enveloped in clouds, and evidently representing Truth, the figure of a naked woman pointing to the inscription over the portal. On the other side is the figure of a partly-draped man, with a helmet on his head, and holding in his right hand a mirror which reflects Truth, and in the other hand the fasces and axe, symbols of the Executor of Justice. Around the edge of the seal is the legend: "HIGH COURT OF CHANCERY. MDCCXC." Is it not a former seal of the High Court of Chancery of Pennsylvania?
Dunlap says there was an "M. Poupard, an engraver in Philadelphia, about 1790." May this not have been M. or Mr. James Poupard, above referred to? M. Poupard had been a player in a theatre in Martinique, and when he came to the United States, he turned his hand to engraving. Lawson, the celebrated engraver of birds in "Wilson's Ornithology," says Poupard married a woman of some property, who was a "fanatical Methodist," and that her husband, when with her, was "as far gone as herself; when away from her he was a very merry fellow, and amused his companions by reciting and acting."—[ED.]
- Wythe to Thomas Jefferson, 10 January 1791. The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
- Thomas Jefferson to Wythe, 12 July 1792. The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
- Seals for the State of Virginia and the High Court of Chancery, University of Virginia Law Library, University of Virginia.
- "An Old Seal," American Historical Record 3, no. 32 (August 1874), 375.
- John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Pennsylvania, 1609-1884, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts, 1884), 1055:
J. Poupard also engraved, for the Pennsylvania Magazine, a head of Dr. Goldsmith. He engraved several plates for the second volume of the "Transactions of the American Philosophical Society," and a curious seal for a burlesque "High Court of Chancery," which is in possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- A.W. Verrall, trans., The 'Eumenides' of Aeschylus, (London: MacMillan, 1908), 76-77.