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Heraldry
A Merrill Memorial

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A Few Questions of Heraldry - CHAPTER IX, pp 107-110

Thomas3 of South Hampton

Thomas3 Merrill (Abel2) lived in that part of Salisbury, Mass., which in 1741 became South Hampton, N.H. In 1726 he gave to one Enoch Little of Newbury a deed of an undivided twelfth of a certain large tract of land in Saco, Maine. In this deed he is described as a "cordwinder," no doubt meaning a cordwainer, or shoemaker.

   The deed bears evidence that one trained in the law had drawn it up. The writer supplied in ample measure the usual redundant phraseology of the period, declaring that "the said Thomas Merril hath given granted bargained sould Aliened Enfeoffed and made over, and Doth by these presants, fulley freely, clearely and absolutly, give, grant, bargain sell aliene Enfeoffe and make over and confirme unto the said Enoch Little," etc.--the premises in question. This deed was sealed with wax, in which was impressed a coat of arms, the principal charges of which may be described as three peacocks' heads, erased, one and two. The crest was a peacock's head, erased, proper. (*)

   The first person in modern times who took notice of this coat of arms, so far as the present writer is aware, was the late William M. Sargent of Portland. Mr. Sargent was a lawyer, a descendant from Priscilla3 Merrill, sister of Thomas3 of Salisbury and South Hampton. Under date of 13 Jan. 1880, he wrote to Gyles Merrill of Haverhill, saying that the deed was in his possession, and seeking information concerning the Thomas Merrill who executed it. Two photographs of this deed, made at different times, and an enlarged photograph of the seal, are now in the author's possession.

   Mr. Sargent considered that the use of this seal by Thomas3 Merrill was conclusive evidence that the device which it bore was a Merrill coat of arms, rightfully used by the family or which Thomas3 was a member. The same view was taken by Gen. Lewis Merrill, and it has been taken by others. The present writer, furthermore, is not in a position to deny that it may have been a Merrill coat of arms received by Thomas Merrill of Salisbury by inheritance from his grandfather, and belonging by equal right to all descendants of Nathaniel1 Merrill of Newbury.

Bar or Barrulet

   Mr. Sargent sent a sketch of the coat of arms to Gyles Merrill, with the comment: "The seal is defaced in part, and I have never been able to tell if the parallel lines were a division of the shield or not. . . This seal does not, of course, give the 'tinctures' or colors." Subsequently, in the Maine Historical and Genealogical Recorder, to which he was a frequent contributor, he gave an illustration of these arms, with this description: "Or, a barrulet between three peacocks heads, erased, proper." The horizontal lines on the barrulet in his illustration would indicate that the tincture was azure. (**)

   In "America Heraldica," by Edward de V. Vermont, (New York, 1837), this coat of arms, citing Thomas Merrill's deed as authority, is represented as shown herewith. It is thus described: "Argent, a bar azure, between three peacocks' heads, erased, proper." The bar in heraldry is a horizontal stripe occupying about one fifth of the field. But the space between the lower peacocks' heads and the upper one, in the seal, is insufficient to admit a bar. The barrulet is the heraldic diminutive of the bar, and is generally one fourth the width of the bar. In the photograph of the seal the lines across the middle of the shield certainly represent nothing broader than a barrulet.

   Mr. Sargent and Mr. Vermont agree that the crest is a peacock's head, erased, proper. The same crest accompanies the fleurde-lis arms described in Burke's "General Armory" under the name Merrill. (See page 113.) This fact may be cited as evidence --though certainly very inconclusive--that the arms used by Thomas Merrill were those of a branch of the Merrill family.

   In "America Heraldica," by Edward de V. Vermont, (New York, 1837), this coat of arms, citing Thomas Merrill's deed as authority, is represented as shown herewith. It is thus described: "Argent, a bar azure, between three peacocks' heads, erased, proper." The bar in heraldry is a horizontal stripe occupying about one fifth of the field. But the space between the lower peacocks' heads and the upper one, in the seal, is insufficient to admit a bar. The barrulet is the heraldic diminutive of the bar, and is generally one fourth the width of the bar. In the photograph of the seal the lines across the middle of the shield certainly represent nothing broader than a barrulet.

   Mr. Sargent and Mr. Vermont agree that the crest is a peacock's head, erased, proper. The same crest accompanies the fleurde-lis arms described in Burke's "General Armory" under the name Merrill. (See page 113.) This fact may be cited as evidence --though certainly very inconclusive--that the arms used by Thomas Merrill were those of a branch of the Merrill family.

Will of Thomas3

   A skeptic, who is inclined to dispute the right of Nathaniel1 Merrill's descendants to bear these arms, may argue that the seal which Thomas3 Merrill employed was not used by his father or his grandfather; it is not known to have been used by Thomas Merrill's immediate descendants; it was not used by Thomas Merrill himself when he made his will, 1 Feb. 1749. The seal on Thomas Merrill's will is a drop or two of red wax on which Thomas or some one else left merely the impress of a finger.

   Whatever the law may have been regarding the unauthorized use of coat-armor, in practice seals were used somewhat indiscriminately in the colonial period. The notary who drew up the deed may have dropped some melted wax on the paper, and impressed in it a seal which he kept on his desk for the purpose, just as attorneys nowadays affix a paper seal and indicate to a grantor where he shall sign his name, when a deed of land is being executed. Such unauthorized use of seals bearing coats of arms was not infrequent at the time when Thomas Merrill "granted bargained sould Aliened," etc., his interest in the Saco property for "fifty pounds of good and currant money of Newengland." In other words, employment of the seal is not proof that the arms were ever granted to Thomas Merrill, or to his ancestor.

Similar Arms of Other Families

   Three peacocks' heads, erased, appear as charges on the arms of certain Ridgeway families, as described in Burke's "General Armory," but in every case the arms differ in other important respects from those used on Thomas Merrill's seal. In no case is the crest the same.

   Arms much more closely resembling those on the seal are ascribed to a Patters family--Argent, three peacocks' heads, erased, gules; to Beconthorp and Oxley families--Azure, three peacocks' heads, erased, or; and to a Waring family--Sable, three peacocks' heads, erased, argent. Mr. Sargent in 1880 was in doubt with regard to the colors indicated in Thomas Merrill's seal. He was in doubt, too, whether there was a barrulet or other horizontal division of the shield. In the photograph the "parallel lines" noted by Mr. Sargent appear to connect with a broken surface of the shield on the dexter side, to which Mr. Sargent refers, and it seems quite possible that they have no heraldic significance. In other words, the description of some of these other arms may correctly describe the arms on Thomas Merrill's seal.

   The crests in the case of the Patters and Oxley arms, however, are quite different from the one shown in Thomas Merrill's deed; in the case of the Beconthorp and Waring arms no crest is described in such published works on heraldry as I have been able to find.

   If Thomas Merrill, or his attorney, had casually come into possession of a seal which had been made for the use of some other person or family, the identity of the original owner remains yet to be discovered.

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(*) "Erased," in the language of heraldry, signifies torn off, in distinction from couped, which would mean cut off by a straight line. "Proper" means in the natural color.

(**) In drawing these arms, as shown on the previous page, I have followed Mr. Sargent's illustration, departing from it, however, in some minor respects where the photograph of the seal indicated clearly that changes were warranted. The shape of the shield in heraldry is an immaterial detail left to the discretion of the artist. Similarly, the helmet under the crest may be represented or not at will, and the use of mantling with the helmet is equally a matter of personal choice.

© Merrill.org - Updated 8 July, 2002