As early as 1858, New York militia regulations called for the coat of arms to appear on a white background as the state flag. In 1896, the legislature adopted a law changing the white to buff to match the facing color of the uniforms worn by the troops serving in the Continental Army. However, since the custom at the time was for regimental flags to display the coat of arms on a blue background, the New York state legislature adopted a blue background in 1901. On the coat of arms, which was adopted in 1788, are two goddesses supporting a shield with a sun rising over two ships sailing the Hudson River. On the left, Liberty is dressed in blue holding a staff with the cap of freedom on it and a discarded crown at her feet, symbolizing freedom from British control. The Goddess Justice, in gold, stands on the right wearing a blindfold and holding the scale of justice. Beneath them is the state motto “Excelsior,” Latin meaning “ever upward” on a white scroll. Above the shield is an American eagle perched on a globe showing the Western hemisphere.
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