Of Seals and Sandwiches

Town of Sandwich Seal in wood and rope (Don Bayley photo)

The Name “Sandwich”

Sandwich, Massachusetts is named for the seaport of Sandwich, Kent, England. The name “Sandwich” comes from Old English (O.E.) Sandwic, and literally means “sand village,” “sandy place,” or “place on the sand.” The old English wic is a loan word from Latin vicus, which also gives us the word vicinity. The word “sandwich” as an item of food came into being centuries later (we’ll get to that in a bit) . The first recorded mention of Sandwich in the United kingdom was around 664 AD but there was probably some kind of settlement in Roman times as the site is very close to a Roman Fort (Rutupiae).

The Town Seal

By 1900 all towns in Massachusetts were required to establish a town seal. Sandwich historian Jonathan Shaw explains how the Sandwich seal was developed:

“My grandmother was a professional illustrator. Her maiden name was Melanie Elisabeth Norton (1868-1933) and this was the name she customarily used for her professional work. She conceived and drew the Town Seal of Sandwich, Massachusetts which she completed in 1901 [or possibly it was adopted by the Selectmen in 1901]. According to her son, Jonathan Norton Leonard, Science Editor of Time Magazine, in his 7 August 1971 letter to Channing Hoxie, Town Clerk of Sandwich, MA, ‘She was planning a trip to England so the Selectmen asked her to go to the old Town of Sandwich in Kent [England] to see if it had a seal that could be adapted for our use.’ Melanie Elisabeth Norton utilized the three ships on seal of the Town of Sandwich England substituting on the prow of each ship the head of American eagle for the British lion.

“The rope & wood Town Seal (shown above) has charm, but it is NOT an accurate depiction of the Town Seal as completed and adopted. The most glaring feature is the prows of the three ships. Melanie Elisabeth Norton replaced the British lions with American eagles, displaying the eye, beak and head of the American eagle. The rope & wood version of the eagles is incomprehensible and it is impossible even to guess what it represents.

Scan of jacket cover from the Lovell book.

“The most accurate copy of the original adopted by the Selectmen that I am aware of appears on the paper jacket cover of R. A. Lovell’s history of Sandwich: Sandwich, A Cape Cod Town [1996 edition]. Though the image is only about an inch across, it is possible to just see the beak and eye of each eagle.

“One wonders if the Town Archives might have a larger copy. Alternatively, since Massachusetts required each of its Towns to have a Town Seal by the 1900, there may be a copy of our Town Seal, and other Town Seals, in the archives of the Commonwealth, though my limited search on the internet turned up the seals of many many Massachusetts towns, but not the seal of our town.”

The Motto

Melanie Elisabeth Norton chose for the motto of Sandwich, Massachusetts the motto of the Earl of Sandwich:Post Tot Naufragia Portus.It translates to:Safe Harbor (or Haven) After Many a Shipwreck.” The motto can be seen in this picture of the Montague family Coat of Arms. (Click for larger view.)


John William Montague (1718-1792), was the 4th Earl of Sandwich. It is said that we get the name of the “sandwich” we eat from the 4th Earl. Legend has it that Montague was a hardened gambler and usually gambled for hours at a time at a restaurant, sometimes refusing to get up even for meals. He ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread so he didn’t need to bother with utensils to eat it. Because Montague was also known as the Earl of Sandwich, others began to order “the same as Sandwich!” And the name stuck.

An alternative explanation is that the Earl invented it to sustain himself at his desk, which seems plausible since there is ample evidence of the long hours he worked from an early start, in an age when dinner was the only substantial meal of the day, and the fashionable hour to dine was four o’clock.

Note however, the family of the Earls of Sandwich has no real connection to the English town itself, only the title. Apparently, the First Earl, Edward Montagu, originally intended to take the title of the Earl of Portsmouth—this might have been changed to honor the town of Sandwich, because the fleet he was commanding in 1660 was lying off the coast of Sandwich, before it sailed to bring Charles II back to England.

We can be thankful the name was changed, otherwise we’d be eating Peanut Butter Portsmouths!

–Don Bayley, Sandwich Historical Commission



Jonathan Shaw
Origin of Sandwich and The sandwich
OPEN SANDWICH: History of Sandwich Kent
Hexmaster’s Factoids