Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The evolution of the arms of Morse High School (Bath)

Morse High School
Graduation Program, 1966
This blog began as a thread I started in the American Heraldry Society forum. In it, I began researching the coat of arms featured on the graduation program of Morse High School which features a coat of arms.

I had originally assumed that - like much of modern heraldry, especially in America - it was an arbitrary design by non-heraldry experts with little history. However, the design features a crest which isn't aligned with the nautical themes of the school: two battle axes in saltire, behind a wreath of some sort. This prompted me to dig deeper into the design rationale.

I reached out to the Alumni Association, which is incidentally one of the oldest and the largest association of its kind in the country, and made contact with Troy Cunningham, who has served as president of the association and is a Morse High history enthusiast. He shared with me these scanned images of graduation programs. The earliest use of the arms featuring a ship appeared in 1966. Another program from 1963 bears a very different coat of arms.

Morse High School
Graduation program, 1963
After a little more digging, it appears the school used the arms of Charles W. Morse, a notorious businessman in the early 20th century who gifted the original school building (which later burned down). The blazon of those arms are: Argent a battle axe palewise Gules between three pellets.

Cunningham also shared with me a seal for the Morse Society, a genealogical group begun in the 19th century, which features the same crest.

After some brief genealogical research - mostly just a flurry of emails - I've yet to determine if Charles W. Morse was a descendant of the original armiger, but it's clear he used the coat of arms whether entitled to or not.

When presenting my findings with the American Heraldry Society, I went ahead and illustrated the coat of arms of Morse High School in a manner consistent with heraldic norms (omitting the clouds on the Argent background, and using blue as the ships tincture).

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