The State of New Hampshire has held two seals since it declared its independence from Great Britain on January 5, 1776. While both seals have been retained, most people are only familiar with the Great Seal due to its corporate use.
In 1784, when the present state constitution became effective, the legislature revised the seal to depict a ship on stocks, with a rising sun in the background, to reflect Portsmouth having become a major shipbuilding center during the war years. Over the years, various items for shipment were also shown on the frontal dock in the seal.
In 1919, New Hampshire Historical Society Director Otis G. Hammond, on the order of the Governor and Executive Council of New Hampshire, wrote a history of the state seal and flag. Hammond described how because the law governing the design of the seal was not very specific, when the dies wore down and had to be redesigned, the artists and sketchers had injected surprising details into the seal, such as rum barrels on the dock, sometimes including people standing beside them. In 1931, after Governor John G. Winant began his second term, he named a committee to produce a seal devoid of controversy. The General Court approved the committee's recommendations, later enacting a law codifying the official design of the state seal.
The 1931 State Seal law placed the frigate Raleigh as the centerpiece of the new seal. The Raleigh was built in Portsmouth in 1776, as one of the first 13 warships sponsored by the Continental Congress for a new American navy. The law declared the seal to be 2 inches in diameter bearing the new inscription, SEAL • OF • THE • STATE • OF • NEW HAMPSHIRE, replacing the Latin phrase Sigillum Republica Neo Hantoniensis. The law also declared that only a granite boulder could be shown in the foreground.
On July 1, 1774, the First Provincial Congress met for the first time in Exeter, and subsequently they discarded every "Royal," including the previous "George the III" seal.
In preparation of the 1776 state constitution, the First Provincial Congress designed a seal measuring 1½ inches in diameter and depicting an upright fish and pine tree on either side of a bundle of five arrows. The fish and pine represented the main trade of the colony and the five arrows represented each of the five counties. The seal bore the inscription: COLONY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE * VIS UNITA FORTIOR.
The motto "vis unita fortior" ("Strength United is
Stronger") was never officially proclaimed, but was used during the
Revolution until 1784. While no official document prescribing
the seal has been located, the first record of the seal is found on
commissions issued to military officers by the Provincial Congress
dated September 1, 1775. The last known use of the seal was on an
act of the General Assembly on July 5, 1775.
It is believed that the die used to affix the seal was designed during the summer of 1776. The first state seal was officially prescribed in an act passed September 12, 1776, two days after the resolution of statehood. The seal is still used by the General Court, though there is no current statute governing its design or use.
The size of the seal was increased to 1¾ inches, and comprised a pine tree and an upright fish, on each side of a bundle of five arrows. The design reflected the state's then two major economic resources, and the arrows symbolized the strength of unity among the then five counties. The seal bears the inscription (in Latin): SIGILL : REI - PUB : NEOHANTONI : * VIS UNITA FORTIOR*.