It’s on the one-dollar bill, and on the cover of every U.S. passport. It’s on plaques above the entrances to U.S. embassies and consulates all over the world, and on the most important official U.S. documents, including presidential proclamations, warrants, treaties, and correspondences with heads of foreign nations. It even appears on U.S. military uniform buttons.
The Great Seal of the United States is everywhere, but very few know of Charles Thomson, the man behind the national emblem — the Great Seal that officially launched 240 years ago, in June 1782. Even his own descendant didn’t have a clue.
In honor of this anniversary and American Independence Day, the MyHeritage team uncovered Charles Thomson’s family history, dating back to Ireland at the beginning of the 18th century, and found a living descendant: Michael Holmes, 72, from New Jersey. Until recently, Michael himself had never heard of Thomson and was amazed to discover an unknown treasure in his family’s history — a pioneering heritage “that I am honored to be part of,” he says. Holmes was so fascinated and impressed by the achievements of his newly-discovered relative that he decided to dedicate a special corner at his living room to honor Thomson, complete with photos, books, and important documents featuring Michael’s ancestor.
“Thanks to genealogy research done in recent years, I learned that I’m a descendant of Charles Thomson, and to be honest, this was also when I learned who Thomson was and the important role he played in the early days of our nation,” Michael admits.
On July 4th, 1776, just after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was issued, the Continental Congress agreed on the necessary next step: creating a national seal for the United States.
The greatest leaders of the nation were recruited to execute this important task, including founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. However, after 6 years and 3 committees with no sufficient result, this national responsibility was placed in the hands of Charles Thomson: the first and only Secretary of the Continental Congress (between 1774–1789).
It took Thompson only one week to come up with the final design of the Great Seal (collaborating with designer William Barton), approved by Congress in June 1782 — exactly 240 years ago.
Thomson, 53 at the time, pulled together what he thought were the best elements of the designs that had already been submitted to congress by past committees. Although he made several sketches, he did not include them or any other artwork in his final report to Congress. Thomson submitted only a written description of the seal, using technical language to explain his design precisely.
One of Thomson’s important ideas was placing the bald eagle as the seal’s centerpiece, designating the eagle as one of the most significant American symbols to this day.
The design of the Great Seal was only one of Thompson’s many contributions during the formative years of the fledgling United States. He was among the signatories of the first published version of the Declaration of Independence. The manuscripts of the Journals of the Continental Congress are in his handwriting, and his last official act as Secretary of Congress was to inform George Washington of his election as president.
Thomson also appears in the famous painting of the Declaration of Independence seen on the two-dollar bill.
“My ex-wife found some of my grandfather’s letters from the early 1900s and was intrigued,” says Michael. “She continued researching and loved learning about my family. She is the one who came upon this remarkable discovery.”
Charles Thomson is Michael Holmes’s 6th-great-uncle. Michael’s 6th-great-grandafther, Alexander, born in 1727 was Charles’s brother. “Alexander’s daughter, Elizabeth, had a son named Alexander Thomson Douglass,” Michael explains. “Alexander and his wife Maria had a daughter named Mary, who married Philander Martin Salisbury. He was a captain and the commander of the Missouri troops in the Mexican-American War. This part of my family history is well known to me for years, unlike the legacy of Thomson.”
“I never learned about Thomson in school, and never even heard about him until this genealogy discovery,” says Michael. “This is really wrong, as he was truly a very important figure and a special person. I don’t recall my father ever mentioning Thomson. He probably did not know all this as well, unfortunately. As far as I know, no one in my family ever knew about it. When I started reading and researching more, I was so surprised: how come he was never mentioned?”
“The more I learned about Thomson, the more impressed I became,” says Michael. “I bought a poster of the first printed edition of the first Declaration of Independence, framed and hung it on the wall in my living room, next to framed postcards of Thomson, and also books about him and his accomplishments. I have visited the Harriton House in Philadelphia, where Thomson passed away in 1824, a number of times. It was wonderful to learn he was an honest man, talented, very meticulous in keeping records and always truthful about what happened in the government. I was also impressed to learn he was the first to translate the Greek Bible to English. The final design of the Great Seal is of course a tremendous contribution that I wish more people knew about.”
Michael is proud to be a descendant of Thomson. “I reflect on Thomson’s contribution to our country and feel honored to be a descendant of his,” he says.
The post Who’s the Man Behind the Great Seal of the United States? appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.
Source: My Heritage