This post was written by our summer intern, Kristin Brig. Thanks, Kristin!
In the medieval era, the coat of arms developed as a way for families to distinguish themselves and to broadcast ties to nobility or as well-to-do. All sorts of colors and shapes went into making a coat of arms, each with a specific task in mind. Even the background of the coat of arms meant something important.
On the Sevier family crest, two colors make up the background: gold and red. Gold indicates generosity and lifting one’s mind to higher thoughts than oneself. Red, on the other hand, demonstrates a belonging to a warrior class and to the military. Sometimes it means martyr.
Although no thick cross sits on the shield, the crest clearly divides into four areas. Such division therefore indicates a will toward faith and protection. In each of the four areas, there are symbols: two areas carry three boxes each in the same pattern, while the other two areas carry the same man’s head.
There are no indications of rectangular boxes carrying any significance on family crests, yet there is a symbol called the carpenter’s square that exists on certain crests. This square represents the family’s loyalty to the law of righteous and equity in society, which would further confirm the faith and protection division of the crest.
The most common question visitors give us when it comes to the crest, however, is why the human head with a turban is on there. According to family crest symbolism, this symbol points to prowess during the Crusades, actually naming the symbol the head of a Moor (a Spanish name for Muslim in the medieval era).
As for the writing at the bottom of the crest, “pro patria,” the phrase is Latin for “for country.” A flexible phrase for a flexible, ever-moving and ever-changing family.
If we read the Sevier family coat of arms via the meanings of these symbols, we discover something new about Sevier’s ancestors. Clearly the Seviers fought in the Crusades during the medieval era, due to the colors and Moor’s head chosen. They held true to their faith as well, even leaving their first homeland, France, in favor of a society in which they could practice their Huguenot faith. They believed in equality of persons, faith to their God and country, and even a warrior spirit in times of trouble. Each of these qualities showed in John Sevier during his life here in Tennessee, and his descendants still pass on these centuries-old qualities that we can find today in a simple coat of arms hanging in a corner of an old cabin.