Stephen Bachiler's Coat of Arms

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by Peter Hutchinson, Phippsburg, Maine

September 2006

Descendants of Stephen Bachiler and New England historians have long been fascinated by the attribution of a coat of arms to the redoubtable minister and founder of Hampton, NH. The coat of arms is real, even if not granted by the College of Heraldry or any other authority. It was included in a 1661 work on the origins of heraldry by Sylvanus Morgan– a four-volume The Sphere of Gentry; deduced from the principles of nature; an historical and genealogical work of arms and blazon. In heraldic terms, the Bachiler coat of arms is described as Vert, a plow in fess; in base the sun rising, or, meaning that the field (face of the shield) was green in color, with a plow aligned across its center portion and the image of a sun (in gold) rising from its base. In the symbolic language of heraldry the color green is associated with hope, joy, and loyalty in love; the color gold, with generosity. The sun, as one might expect, stands for glory and splendor. The "fess" of heraldic arms is ordinarily a horizontal band across the field, considered "a girdle of honor", but in fess simply puts the primary device, or symbol, in a central position. Bachiler's "device" is only the image of a humble plow, but Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), a poet and essayist of the era, wrote, "We may talk what we please of lilies, and lions rampant, and spread eagles, in fields d`or or d`argent; but, if heraldry were guided by reason, a plough in a field arable would be the most noble and ancient arms." From this, the field of green has even greater significance as the color of things growing.

Morgan ascribed this coat of arms to "Stephen Bachiler, the first Pastor of the church of Lygonia in New England, the plough to signify his ploughing up the fallow ground of their hearts, and the sun in allusion to his motto Sol Justitiae Exoritur." But its meaning goes beyond that. The motto is translated as "The sun rises equally over all," and the plow and rising sun together perfectly describe the hopes and aspirations of Bachiler's Company of Husbandmen, those would-be farmers who in 1630 obtained a 1,600 square mile grant of land on the coast of Maine but never settled upon it.

While some have cited this coat of arms as evidence of Bachiler's "gentle blood", he never claimed noble or even "old family" ancestry, nor did any of his contemporaries ever refer to such. His forebears remain unknown, and both his parents must have died when Bachiler was quite young–possibly from the plague that was endemic in England during the year of his birth in 1561. Bachiler's education at St. John's, Oxford may have been sponsored by neighbor Sir William West, lst Baron de la Warr, who seems to have been his patron in giving him a "living" upon graduation as Vicar of Wherwell in County Hants (Hampshire). We are left with a remarkable man, "a Man of Fame in his Day" and "a Gentleman of Learning and Ingenuity" (Prince, Annals of New England), but– somewhat unusual for a well-known person– without a visible pedigree.

Why, and what then, the coat of arms? Morgan's The Sphere of Gentry was more a treatise on the origins of heraldry than on lineage itself. One aspect of Morgan's thinking seems to have been that "arms and blazon" were derived early on from biblical sources: he alludes to Joseph, with his coat of many colors, as "a publick person, conferring honours by Nobility Dative ["famous for distinguishing oneself"] to his brethren." It is an easy stretch from this to the coats of arms that during the 17th century embellished the pedigrees of the English merchant class, and the seals and maps of the trading companies which were busily creating the British empire. The design of Bachiler's arms is therefore seen as reference not to our man's antecedents or even his achievements, but to his close association with the Plough Company of which he was both a financial sponsor and its ordained minister.

Morgan's book of arms was published a few years after Stephen Bachiler's death in London (he was buried on 31 October 1656 at Allhallows Staining.) When Morgan was compiling his book in London, he may well have taken the opportunity to interview the returned nonagenarian minister regarding his adventures in the New World. Bachiler connections with England's rising merchant class would not have been lost on him: the minister's oldest son Nathaniel (c.1590- 1645) had married into that world through his wife Hester Mercer [LeMercier] and her cousins within the large and wealthy Pryaulx family, and Nathaniel's daughter Anna married merchant Daniel du Cornet. Stephen Bachiler's real– if thwarted– role as a colonizer must have piqued Morgan's imagination, even as the Sphere of Gentry project may have found subscribers among those members of England's new "mercantile nobility" who could claim relation to him.

Although Nathaniel Bachiler lived all his life in England, his son Nathaniel (1630-1709) came to New England with his grandfather in 1632; Stephen Bachiler's daughter Theodate, married to Christopher Hussey, soon followed him; daughter Deborah, widow of John Wing, and her children were in New England by the end of the decade; and the three sons of his daughter Ann, widow of John Samborn, were in Bachiler's new town of Hampton by 1639. They had left behind the England of emblazoned nobility and mercantile wealth but carved out prosperous farms, and their descendants today share the wonderful legacy of the plough and the rising sun.

Bachiler historians have had a try at replicating the coat of arms as described by Sylvanus Morgan, who didn't provide an illustration. In 1898, Frederick Clifton Pierce included a tentative drawing in his 1898 Batchelder, Batcheller Genealoogy.(page 24). He used what must be an archaic depiction of a plow and would have it colored gold, which is against a basic rule of heraldry: colors may not be superimposed on colors, so as not to confuse participants in a battle. His image of a rising sun has a face, which is a 19th century idea and, at the least, not Stephen Bachiler's style.

The following year, Victor C. Sanborn in his Genealogy of the Family of Samborne or Sanborn in England and America made another stab at the coat of arms. His depiction has a nice plow image, but included an unnecessary fess band across the field. Sanborn's sun, with its face, looks more like an Indian head-dress than a symbol of hope. He includes diagonal lines, perhaps to indicate a field color, but confusing the whole, and the shape is that of a shield, as used in battle, rather than the more benign coat of arms.

Following are some modern interpretations by the author of this piece. The first two use a plow image that appeared in The English Husbandman of 1631; the third has a more obvious plow image, from Northamptonshire in 18th century England.  More stylized versions of a "rising sun" are used.   No particular shade of green is specified in heraldry, so either the bright and cheerful, or more somber and formal shade might be used. Each would have suited facets of our minister's personality, and as for the coat of arms itself, Stephen Bachiler might have shrugged with a smile, "Well, after all, the sun does rise over us all..."

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