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The Stars on the American Flag and the Great Seal

The 13 stars on the first American flag may have influenced
the shape of the Great Seal's constellation of stars.

First American flag, 1777 Impression from first die, 1782

In September 1782, three months after Congress adopted the Great Seal in the form of a written description, the first die was created. It was engraved by Robert Scot who arranged the constellation of 13 stars into the shape of a hexagram – two intersecting triangles that form a six-pointed star.

Putting the stars in a recognizable pattern not specified in the Great Seal's official design description – whether a hexagram, a dollar sign, a heart, or other image – is contrary to the rules of heraldry. Unfortunately, this engraver's error was repeated in all subsequent dies of the Great Seal and government realizations.

It's not known why Scot chose the hexagram shape, and there's been much speculation about its symbolism, but he may have merely rearranged a few stars on the American flag.

Rectangular field of 13 stars on the flag. Circular field of 13 stars on first Great Seal die.
Stars on the flag and stars on the seal

The flag's 13 stars were in five rows (3,2,3,2,3) on a rectangular field. For the Great Seal, they needed to fit inside a circular field. This is easily done by moving the top corner stars down a row and the bottom corner stars up a row.

Animation: flag's stars to seal's stars.

Note: all preliminary sketches of the Great Seal
showed the constellation of stars in a random arrangement.

Detail of Charles Thomson's sketch.

It is alleged that George Washington requested the stars on the Great Seal to be put in the shape of a hexagram because that's also the shape of the Star of David – supposedly as a way of thanking the Jewish patriot Haym Salomon for his service to the country, particularly his financial help during the Revolution. But this story is only a legend with no evidence to support it.

Haym Salomon, however, did exist. He came from Poland to America around 1772. He was a skillful broker and merchant, but his activities were not confined to financial matters. In New York, Salomon helped French and American prisoners escape and persuaded Hessian officers to resign their commissions.

Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Copyright ©2016 by John D. MacArthur.