By Anne O'Connor
GROTON -- A citizens' petition to create a town seal committee raised the hackles of residents in this old town.
"When we look at the seal, we are looking at distant, past history," said resident Don Black. "The words and the images on the seal itself were all pertinent and germane to that time in history."
The round seal, shows a book with the words "HOLY BIBLE," a plow and the words FAITH and LABOR. This is surrounded by a circle with the words Groton Massachusetts 1655.
Some question including the words "faith" and "holy bible" on a secular representation of the town.
"It seemed there was some need for some ways the town could move toward a vision of being more welcoming to all," said Greg Fishbone, who wrote a petition signed by 10 voters. The signatures were enough to require an article on the warrant for the Town Meeting that begins on April 24.
If passed, the article would require the selectmen to appoint a five-member committee tasked with getting public input for a new town seal design and selecting the best to bring to a future Town Meeting.
Also on the warrant is an article to support the installation of privately-funded "All Are Welcome" stone markers for one or more of the major roads. The article was recommended for inclusion on the warrant by four selectmen; Anna Eliot abstained.
For Fishbone, the two articles are a natural pair. There has been a lively debate on what "welcome to all" means, he said.
For others, any talk of changing the town seal is met with horror.
The seal was designed by a "tremendous historian," said Earl Carter. The owner of a trucking company, he described himself as a history nut.
Samuel Green, an 1847 Lawrence Academy graduate, was a surgeon in the Civil War, mayor of Boston and librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He also designed the seal.
Green explains it all in his book, Carter said.
An 1898 letter from Green included in his book "Facts Relating to Groton, Massachusetts," explains the symbols.
"The design is a simple one, and is intended to typify the character of its inhabitants.
"The Bible represents the faith of the early settlers of the town, who went into the wilderness and suffered innumerable privations in their daily life as well as danger from savage foes. Throughout Christendom to-day it is the corner-stone of religion and morality. The Plough is significant of the general occupation of the people. By it the early settlers broke up the land and earned their livelihood; and ever since it has been an invaluable help in the tillage of the soil."
An attempt to change the seal for any reason is not right, Carter said. He and other residents gathered to discuss a plan of attack to oppose a change, he said.
Fishbone sees the petition as a way to start a discussion. There may be a better way to portray the town while respecting its history, he said.
Neither the Bible nor the plow is specific to Groton, he said. Perhaps a geographical feature would better reflect the community.
"I'm gobsmacked at the negativity this seems to have brought out," said Fishbone, a lawyer, web designer and children's book author.
"There's very clearly some issues that should be addressed," he said. "I'm putting this forward to enable the town to choose something more inclusive."
Town Meeting would be a good place to do that, he said. He is also willing to talk with anyone opposed to forming the committee.
"Having this article at Town Meeting is a very good thing," said Jeff Wallens, a business analyst for a large actuarial consulting firm. He was an organizer of the meeting held by those objecting to any change in the seal.
"I know this issue has been kind of kicking around for a while," he said. "Town Meeting is actually very good at handling controversial issues."
Both sides will be able to give their sides, settle it and go home, he said.
If the seal is changed, there would be considerable cost to the town, said Town Manager Mark Haddad. He put the price of changing uniforms, plaques, truck decals and more at almost $77,000.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.