COUNTY — The history of Union County — and the best way in which to represent it — has become a matter of some debate among local residents in recent weeks, thanks to a new initiative by the Commissioner Board to update and modernize the county seal.
According to information provided by the county, the current seal, which depicts the murder of a Revolutionary War-era woman named Hannah Caldwell, has received a fair amount of negative attention in recent years due both to the violent nature of the image and some historical inaccuracies that can be found within its design.
Last month, after several years of discussion, the Commissioner Board launched an online poll asking residents to choose between two new designs — one, a circular image of the county courthouse, and the other, a four-paneled logo that depicts the courthouse, local transportation hubs, open space and a stenciled portrait of Mrs. Caldwell — that will be used to visually represent the county going forward.
The option to vote to keep the current seal presently is not on the table.
“On our current seal, there is an image that not only depicts a dramatization of [Mrs. Caldwell’s] murder, but she is not recognizable,” Commissioner Chairman Sergio Granados said via written communication to Union County HAWK.
“When you look at individuals like President Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. or President John F. Kennedy, for example, each one of them were leaders in their own right and all three were murdered. However, when we visit their monuments or view photos of them, we are often looking at the portraits of who they were in life and what significance they played in our history, and that is what we are looking to do with Hannah Caldwell’s image as well.”
And while both of the new images do pay homage to the past, some residents say the Commissioners have gone too far.
“The chief concern that we’re hearing is that the seal depicts an act of violence,” said Charles Shallcross, vice president of the Union County Historical Society (UCHS). “And that’s true, it does. But this woman’s murder was a major event which rallied the troops in this area and ultimately led to a victory in the Battle of Springfield. This seal — and the memory of the woman that it was created to honor — has been a part of our history since the county was first incorporated in 1857, and we can’t throw that away.”
According to information provided by the UCHS, Mrs. Caldwell was shot in her home by a British soldier following the Battle of Connecticut Farms in 1780, a conflict that erupted in and around modern-day Union County as a way to prevent British troops from advancing to Jockey Hollow (Morristown), where the principal Continental Army was camped.
“It was a turning point in the war,” Mr. Shallcross said. “When people realized that an innocent woman had been shot in her own home, the soldiers couldn’t take it. It lit a fire under people, and that fire helped us win the revolution.”
Last week, a group of concerned citizens launched an online petition in support of keeping the seal the way it is. As of the date of publication, the petition, which can be found on change.org, had garnered more than 1,600 signatures.
“While the seal may seem shocking to some, it’s an important reminder that Hannah’s murder inspired many more New Jerseyans to join the local militia and Continental Army in the fight against tyranny. Unfortunately, the Union County Board of County Commissioners is changing the Union County Seal,” wrote resident Kelly Komar, one of the creators of the petition. “If the seal is changed, it will remove Hannah and her influence from the public eye, virtually erasing her from the memories of Union County’s future residents and visitors. A vivid reminder of what spurred the great state of New Jersey to independence will sadly be forgotten.”
But, Chairman Granados said, even if the seal is changed, the Commissioners have no intention of erasing Mrs. Caldwell (who also has a school named after her in Union Township) from local memory.
“I, personally, am a supporter of the four-quadrant seal option, as it includes important highlights of Union County — and most importantly honors our history with a portrait of Hannah Caldwell,” Mr. Granados said.
The new seal, Mr. Granados said, not only eliminates the violent depiction, but also eradicates the idea that Mrs. Caldwell was shot outside of her home when that was not actually the case.
“As we have mentioned before, the current seal is not being erased. Any buildings, areas or façades that have the current seal embedded or engraved, such as doorknobs in the courthouse, will remain; they are not being replaced.
When it comes to cost of replacing materials with the new chosen seal, the county is not going to rush out and replace all of the seals at once. As new materials or items are ordered, we will roll them out with the new seal choice as things are needed. This will be a gradual rollout,” Chairman Granados said.
To cast a vote for the new Union County Seal, visit: ucnj.org/seal/.