September 26, 1863: The First West Virginia Legislature Adopts State Motto and Great Seal

Sep 26, 2019

On September 26, 1863, the first West Virginia Legislature adopted our state motto and great seal. Both were the brainchild of Joseph H. Diss Debar of Doddridge County. For the state motto, Debar suggested a Latin phrase, “Montani Semper Liberi,” which translates as “Mountaineers are always free.” This phrase had been long used by Swiss immigrants, like Debar, to express their independent spirit.  

The state seal, which remains unchanged to this day, was also Debar’s concept. He wanted to symbolize our state’s principal pursuits and resources in 1863, including agriculture, timbering, mining, and blacksmithing. The seal also features two crossed rifles resting on a cap of liberty, indicating that freedom and liberty were won, and will be maintained, by the force of arms.

The lesser-known reverse of the seal, which is also the governor’s official seal, displays a wooded mountain with a representation of the Preston County Tray Run Viaduct, a train, and a factory, fronted by a river with boats, a derrick, a shed, and a meadow with sheep and cattle grazing. The reverse includes another Latin phrase, which means ‘‘Freedom and Loyalty.’’