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A Merrill Memorial

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A Few Questions of Heraldry - CHAPTER IX, pp 112-113

John Coles, Jr.

   William-Patten7 Merrill (1827-1900) writing in 1896 said, referring to the Merrill coat of arms: (*)

   "We have an old copy which grandfather passed down to us. This copy is very old. Grandfather brought it to Topsham with him in 1760. In heraldry it reads thus: 'He beareth Or, a chevron Azure, between two leopards' faces in chief Gules, and a dagger in base of the second, by the name of Merrill. On the back is pasted a paper which says, 'Granted anno D° 1641 to Sir Peter Merrill of Sumersetshire Bart. and descended to the family of Merrills.' "

John Coles, Jr.   This coat of arms accordingly is traced back to John5 Merrill (1734-1828), grandfather of William-Patten7 Merrill of Topsham and Brunswick, Maine. But it bears strong internal evidence of spuriousness.

   John Coles, and his son John, Jr., both of Boston, were industrious painters of coat-armor in New England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and in the early nineteenth. Their work was generally copied from Guillim's "Display of Heraldry," a folio published in several editions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Neither Coles, seemingly, made any effort to ascertain if there were any genealogical connection between a client and the grantee of the arms which Guillim described, and the work of both men is discredited by all students of heraldry.

   The coat of arms which William-Patten Merrill described was examined and photographed by the author of this Memorial in Brunswick in 1905. It bears unmistakable earmarks of the younger Coles' handiwork. The shape of the shield, the helmet surmounting it, the scroll, the fanciful mantling and other decorative details are identical in character with known examples of Coles' work. It may be dismissed as unworthy of serious consideration. (**)

   The heraldic artist seems to have been in doubt with regard to the identity of the creature whose head serves as a crest for the mythical Sir Peter's coat of arms. At any rate, he neglects to define or describe it. Perhaps the crest was a lion's head, erased, contourné.

   Gen. Lewis Merrill wrote, 16 Jan. 1885: "The Heralds' College says there never was a Sir Peter Merrill, Bart., in Somersetshire or elsewhere." Diligent search in Papworth and Morant's "Ordinary of British Armorials" fails to disclose a coat of arms answering the description of the one supposed to have been granted to Sir Peter.


(*) See pages 91, 533.

(**) The author has endeavored to reproduce this coat of arms, as well as may be with pen ard ink, without impairment or intentional improvement. The somewhat bizarre outburst of flourishes at either side of the helmet is the mantling, and is supposed to be a heraldic representation of the frayed and tattered trappings of a knight who has returned from the wars.

© - Updated 8 July, 2002