Liberty Hat

Among the Romans the cap of felt was the emblem of liberty. When a slave obtained his freedom he had his head shaved, and wore instead of his hair an undyed pileus. Servos ad pileum vocare is a summons to liberty. In late Republican Rome, the cap of freedmen served as a symbol of freedom from tyranny.

The Liberty Cap as an emblem of liberty was used by the Sons of Liberty as early as 1765. During the American Revolution, particularly in the early years, many of the soldiers who fought for the Patriot cause wore knitted stocking liberty caps of red, sometimes with the motto "Liberty" or "Liberty or Death" knitted into the band.

In addition, there are references of the erection of Liberty Poles, topped with such a cap and flying a Liberty Flag prior to the American Revolution. This was a very popular and powerful symbol in those days.

Liberty Cap Cent

From Coin LinkTM:

"The Liberty Cap design by Joseph Wright was derived from what today is likely one of the most popular early medals, the Libertas Americana medal by Augustin DuprĊ½. Sponsored by Benjamin Franklin, the Libertas Americana medal not only symbolized American victories in our Revolutionary War, but also represented the friendship between France and the new American nation. On the obverse of the cent Wright added a pole supporting a Phrygian cap, worn by freed slaves in Greece and Rome and adapted as a symbol of freedom by both America and France. He also softened and constrained Liberty’s wildly flowing locks, which had been criticized as being unduly savage or aboriginal in appearance. The reverse design was also simplified, though all of the design elements remained. Wright did not see any of the cents made with his design (other than, perhaps, a sample piece) because he died nearly a week before any of the 1793 pieces were delivered".

Pileus - Cap of Freedom

I was admiring a pileated woodpecker in my backyard today. It wears a red liberty cap or "pileus," makes a loud noise, and cleans out the dead wood.

Phrygian Cap: Origins

From Wikipedia:
"The Phrygian cap is a soft, red, conical cap with the top pulled forward, worn in antiquity by the inhabitants of Phrygia, a region of central Anatolia. In artistic representations it signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty — perhaps by a confusion with the pileus, the manumitted slave's felt cap of ancient Rome — and is sometimes called a liberty cap.

In Antiquity, the Phrygian cap had two connotations: for the Greeks as showing a distinctive Eastern influence of non-Greek "barbarism" (in the classical sense) and among the Romans as a badge of liberty. The Phrygian cap identifies Trojans such as Paris in vase-paintings and sculpture, and it is worn by the syncretic Hellenistic and Roman saviour god Mithras and by the Anatolian god Attis. The twins Castor and Pollux wear a superficially similar round cap called the pileus".

Rip Van Winkle

"Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes—all this was strange and incomprehensible. He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe; but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON".

Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (1783-1859)

Simon Jester

"Liberty Caps started appearing on Stilyagi and their girls; Simon Jester began wearing one between his horns. Bon Marche gave them away as premiums. Alvarez had painful talk with Warden in which Mort demanded to know if his fink boss felt that something should be done every time kids took up fad? Had Alvarez gone out of his mind?

I ran across Slim Lemke on Carver Causeway early May; he was wearing a Liberty Cap. He seemed pleased to see me and I thanked him for prompt payment (he had come in three days after Stu's trial and paid Sidris thirty Hong Kong, for gang) and bought him a cooler. While we were seated I asked why young people were wearing red hats? Why a hat? Hats were an earthworm custom, nyet?

He hesitated, then said was sort of lodge, like Elks. I changed subject."
-The Moon is Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.

Liberty Poles

Soon after the appearance of William Hogarth's 1763 print of John Wilkes holding a liberty pole topped with a liberty cap, American colonists embraced the symbols to represent their own views of political liberty. Liberty poles with various banners were raised in numerous towns to protest the Stamp Act of 1765 and to celebrate its repeal in 1766. In New York, British troops on at least four occasions destroyed the liberty pole erected by the Sons of Liberty, leading to a minor skirmish in January 1770. Soon the liberty pole became the public symbol of American opposition to king and Parliament; suspected Tories were sometimes forced to kiss the liberty pole, and tax collectors were hung in effigy from them. In response to such events, British troops purposefully cut down Concord's liberty pole before the battle began there in April 1775.

The enduring political importance of the symbol was reflected in the first design for the Great Seal of the United States in 1776, depicting the goddess of liberty holding a liberty pole and cap, and it also was represented on U.S. coins from 1793 until 1891. The icon is still found today on the state flag of New York and the state seals of New Jersey, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

After the American Revolution, the raising of liberty poles continued as a form of protest against policies of the new national government. Liberty poles were raised by insurgents during the Whiskey Rebellion and Fries' Rebellion against federal taxes and by Republicans protesting the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. As early as 1792, depictions of the liberty pole and cap also became associated with the critique of slavery. During the nineteenth century, the term "liberty pole" came to mean practically any flagpole, whether permanently erected in a community or raised to support particular issues.


Olson, Lester C. Emblems of American Community in the Revolutionary Era: A Study in Rhetorical Iconography. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1991.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. "Liberty Tree: A Genealogy." New England Quarterly 25 (1952): 435–457.

WWI Poster

WWI poster symbolizing America asleep.


Telegraph by Constantino Brumidi (1805 - 1880)

More from the U.S. Senate Art & History page.

Liberty Coinage

From the Antique Bottle & Glass Collector Magazine:

"On this side of the Atlantic, the Liberty Cap, or what we called the French Liberty Cap, became a well-known symbol. During and after the French Revolution, the Liberty Cap, represented as being held aloft on the end of a pole, symbolized not only freedom, but also the fight for that freedom. In the flask arena, GI-85, GI-86, and GI-87 have the Liberty Cap, on the end of a pole, on one side. The other side (and it should come as no surprise to anyone) contains a bust of a man, surmounted by the word "Lafayette".

But to the common man, probably the representation of Columbia (or Liberty) that was encountered most often was that which appeared on our currency from 1793 until the 1830s.

The version of Liberty used on the half-dime (1829 – 1837), dime (1809 – 1837), quarter (1815 – 1838), half dollar (1807 – 1839), quarter eagle (1808 – 1834), and half eagle (1807 – 1834), is very similar to the representation of Liberty that is on a majority of the historical flasks. It’s certainly quite likely that the images from the coins served as a model for the mold makers. The mold makers, realizing the popularity of the Liberty image, capitalized on this by making flasks that copied this idea. I follows then, that these flasks were made after 1807, and probably before 1840, when Liberty was highly modified on the United States coinage.

Lady Columbia

"Be Patriotic" poster by Paul Stahr, ca. 1917-18

1904 Postcard

Late 19th century Columbia Records phonograph cylinder case

Raising the Liberty Pole 1770

Raising the Liberty Pole in New York City, 1770 pen and ink drawing by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere depicting one of six liberty poles to be alternately raised and later removed over ten years in confrontations among the Sons of Liberty and British troops stationed in the city prior to the American Revolutionary War.

It's Too Late to Apologize

Liberty Tree

The Liberty Tree (1646-1775) was a famous elm tree that stood in Boston, near Boston Common, in the days before the American Revolution. The tree was a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of England over the American colonies. In the years that followed, almost every American town had its own Liberty Tree -- a living symbol of popular support for individual liberty and resistance to tyranny. In some locales, a Liberty Pole rather than a tree served the same political purpose.

Read more here.

Aside from the concrete tree, the term "Tree of Liberty" is associated with Thomas Jefferson's quotation, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants".

Department of the Army Seal

The Magi from the East

The Three Wise Men, named Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. From a late 6th century mosaic at the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy.

Byzantine art usually depicts the Magi in Persian clothing which includes breeches, capes, and Phrygian caps. Mosaic, ca. 565. Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy - restored above in 18th century.

Photo by Nina Aldin Thune.

Statue of Freedom

From the Architect of the Capitol:
"A monumental statue for the top of the national Capitol appeared in Architect Thomas U. Walter's original drawing for the new cast-iron dome, which was authorized in 1855. Walter's drawing showed the outline of a statue representing Liberty; Crawford proposed an allegorical figure of 'Freedom triumphant in War and Peace.' After Secretary of War Jefferson Davis objected to the sculptor's intention to include a liberty cap, the symbol of freed slaves, Crawford replaced it with a crested Roman helmet".
Original Model:


Flag of New York

Left: Liberty, with the Revolutionary imagery of a Phrygian cap raised on a pole. Her left foot treads upon a crown that represents freedom from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Flag of New Jersey

Dickinson College

From Dickinson College:

"Dickinson is the first college or university in the United States to have a symbol of liberty on its official seal—the liberty cap. Conceived by Dr. Rush and John Dickinson, the device on the seal includes a liberty cap over a telescope and an open bible. The college motto, Pietate et doctrina tuta libertas, which means “Religion and learning, the bulwark of liberty,” appears below the device. Around the circumference is written Sigillum Collegii Dickinsonii, meaning “Seal of Dickinson College.”

Flag of West Virginia

From the 2nd Century AD

From Wikimedia Commons:

Bust of Attis as a child, wearing the Phrygian cap. Parian marble, 2nd century AD, probably during the reign of Emperor Hadrian: the portraits bears ressemblance to those of Antinous.

Phrygian Cap

From the Fashion Encyclopedia:
"A hood-like hat with a pointed top, the Phrygian cap was introduced to ancient Greece around 500 B.C.E. from the nearby land of Phrygia, in what is now Turkey. The Phrygian people of the sixth and seventh centuries B.C.E. had many influences on ancient Greek culture, among them a tight-fitting cap with a pointed top which angled to the front. The Phrygian cap is brimless, but may have flaps over or in front of the ears, and also sometimes has a long flap in the back to protect the neck. The caps were sometimes made of stiffened fabric or leather, which made it sit up on the head like a helmet, with the pointed top curving towards the front of the head. Other Phrygian caps were made of soft felt, with the point either flattened onto the crown of the cap, hung to the side, or stood up softly".

Gorro Frigio

Coat of Arms of Argentina

Flag of Argentina around 1840

Flag of Paraguay

Coat of Arms of Columbia

Coat of Arms of Bolivia

A Red Night-Cap

"Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes—all this was strange and incomprehensible".

Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (1783–1859).

U.S. Senate Seal

The seal of the U.S. Senate includes a red liberty cap.