How Connecticut Transplants
Concerned citizens have been asking why Connecticut Green Burial Grounds’ intriguing, attractive T-shirts and tote bags bear the motto of Connecticut: Qui Transtulit Sustinet.
It’s a good question. It isn’t just to make the wearers of the shirt and bearers of the bag look look like they know Latin. It’s also because Connecticut’s a pretty good state—a state with a motto that happens to jibe with the philosophy behind CGBG.
Or at least it seems to. No one is really sure what the motto means. And not because it’s in Latin.
To properly interpret the deep and deceptively simple three-word sentence, we need to go back in history. The motto arrived on a seal brought from England in 1639. No, not the kind of seal that can balance a ball on its snout whilst clapping its flippers. It’s the other kind, the official insignia of a corporate entity. It was originally meant to be the seal of the Saybrook Colony, but when the Connecticut Colony bought Saybrook Point for a fort, the seal was part of the deal.
That original seal bore the motto “Sustinet qui transtulit” and images of several grape vines. It served its purpose until Edmund Andros, former Bailiff of Guernsey, arrived in the capacity of Governor of New York. In his opinion, the land between the Hudson and the Connecticut, including Hartford, belonged to New York. He sailed to Saybrook to press the issue, but after a brief conversation on the beach with the commander of the aforementioned fort, Andros sailed back home.
Apparently he took hard feelings with him. When he was named Governor of the Dominion of New England in 1686, he took a rather authoritarian stance. He demanded that Connecticut surrender its charter. After the Connecticut general assembly failed to cough it up, Andros and a bunch of henchmen traveled from Boston to Hartford to get it. During a transfer ceremony, the charter was laid upon a table for all to see. Speeches continued until well after dark, at which point someone opened a window to let the hot air out. Suddenly a gust of wind blew out all the candles. By the time they got one lit, the charter had disappeared. As miffed as he was bereft, His Excellency gave up on the charter but took the colony’s seal instead. The charter turned up in the hollow of an old oak tree—the famous Charter Oak—but the seal disappeared into history, never to be seen again.
Twenty-two years later, with uncharacteristic celerity, Connecticut had another seal made. The new one bore the same motto but with the words in a different order. Now it was “Qui transtulit sustinet.” And a lot of the grape vines were gone. Now there were only three. Around the outside of the oval seal were the words “Sigillum Coloniae Connecticutensis”—Seal of the Colony of Connecticut. In 1784, those words were changed to Sigillum Republicae Connecticutensis—Seal of the Republic (!) of Connecticut. It was and still is the only oval state seal in the country, though if Guam ever becomes a state, Connecticut will lose that singular distinction. (Guam has two mottos—“Tanó I’ Man Chamorrow,” which is not a translation of the other, “Where America’s Day Begins.” Neither motto appears on the oval seal, which bears just one word: “Guam.”)
But we digress.
What does “Qui sustinet transtulit” mean?
The common interpretation is “He (or, for that matter, she) who transplanted sustains.” But what does that mean?
Some understand it to mean that a person transplanted to Connecticut will thrive regardless of the budgetary situation.
Others say it means that if a person transplants something to Connecticut—grape vines, for example—the plants will sustain either themselves or people.
Or maybe the motto means that the transplanters will sustain the vine. In 1889, State Librarian Charles J. Hoadly published an article linking the motto to the 80th Psalm, which says “Thou has brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.” In other words, he or she who brought the vine from Europe continues to take care of it.
In 2019, to clarify the confusion, Connecticut Green Burial Grounds issued a limited number of T-shirts and matching black totes. They bear the state platitude and the image of a robin (state bird) on a background of white oak (CGBG symbol) and mountain laurel (state flower).
The decision to inscribe “Qui transtulit sustinet” on the organizational swag was based on statistical evidence that the residents of Connecticut will continue to sustain themselves, but not forever. In fact, they will all die.
But not really forever. The act of transplantation is a defiance of death. It is the removal of a living thing from one medium to another. It is a re-planting, a new rooting—a new life. And for people who understand the cycle of life, a green burial is really a transplantation. The life once thriving in the human body is transplanted to a new medium—the Earth that had sustained the body for so many years. The life is transplanted to grow anew, to continue to sustain itself and other forms of life.
Ego veritas: Qui transtulit sustinet.