Friday, April 2, 2010


By Mike Jones

The Louisiana state flag and seal, the pelican feeding its young, with the motto "Union, Justice, Confidence," have long been familiar symbols of the "Pelican State." The pelican feeding her young also has ancient Christian roots. It was adopted by early Christians as a symbol of "Jesus the Redeemer." An old legend held that a pelican would wound herself to feed her young with her own blood, which reminded early Christians of Jesus' act of sacrificial love in dying for them on the cross in remission for their sins. Saint Thomas Aquinas in his hymn, Adoro te devote, wrote, "Like what tender tales tell of the pelican, bathe me, Jesus Lord, in what Thy bosom ran, blood that but one drop of has the pow'r to win all the world forgiveness of its world of sin." It is also a reminder to Catholics that Jesus feeds us still today with the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The pelican feeding its young is still seen in many Catholic churches.

In 1812 when Louisiana became the 18th state in the union, unofficial flags began appearing throughout the state with the pelican feeding its young on it. Then in  1813, Gov. W.C.C. Claiborne and the Louisiana legislature adopted the pelican feeding its young as the state's official seal. H.L.Favrot, a member of the legislature, is said to have found the pelican symbol in an old Catholic prayer book.

Gov. Henry Watkins Allen
(A.D.Lytle, LSU Special Collections)
During the War for Southern Independence the pelican flag was still a popular representation of Louisiana and some Louisiana soldiers were referred to as pelicans. The flag was briefly the Louisiana Confederate flag before a colorful striped flag was adopted as the national flag of Confederate Louisiana. Some Confederate military units adopted a pelican flag as their regimental flags. Also Louisiana Confederate governor Henry Watkins Allen changed the state motto from "Union, Justice, Confidence," to "Justice, Union, Confidence," in a symbolic sign of Louisiana's wartime fervor. The emblem also appeared on Louisiana catridge boxes and cross belts. In 1870, the carpetbag Louisiana governor, Madison Wells, changed the motto back to "Union, Justice, Confidence."

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