At information gathering session, Westborough residents disagree over whether to change town seal

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Town seal featuring cotton gin and town hall over yellow map of Westborough. "Westborough Massachusetts, established 1717" written around the perimeter of the circle.
The current Westborough town seal sits emblazoned on the side of a vehicle. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

WESTBOROUGH – Though many speakers at a Nov. 15 information-gathering session held by the Westborough Town Seal Review Committee supported changing the town seal, some argued for its preservation in their comments.

The seal, which includes a depiction of the cotton gin, has become the topic of a debate particularly over the past two years as many have expressed concern about role in the industrialization of American slavery. Many others have argued the seal should remain unchanged as it honors the Westborough roots of the cotton gin’s inventor, Eli Whitney.

Arguments for and against a change

Residents spoke in person or submitted comments, which committee members read out loud, Nov. 15.

“I think it is important, as we look at our seal, to keep in mind that it is an outward representation of what we value as a town,” wrote Jessica Vigliotti in one such comment. “The cotton gin has undeniably been tied to the continuations of and increase in slavery in our country’s history.”

Vigliotti urged residents of Westborough to support changing the town seal, writing that a tool that resulted in increased enslavement of African-Americans should not be used as a symbol of Westborough.

Steve Buttiglieri, meanwhile, spoke in favor of keeping the cotton gin on the town seal, saying that it represents the town’s values of hard work, innovation that improves people’s lives, and American excellence. He added that the town seal honors the legacy of Whitney, who was born in Westborough.

“It’s a shining example of American ingenuity and innovation and deserves to be celebrated rather than being another example in our community of vilifying, undermining and trying to eliminate references to American exceptionalism and other pillars of American society,” Buttiglieri said.

Buttiglieri said that the intent of Whitney in creating the cotton gin was to create a more efficient way to process cotton, saying that it had nothing to do with slavery. Buttiglieri said that the cotton gin provided lower-cost cotton clothes to consumers and made it much easier for people, including slaves, to process cotton.

Another resident, Dominic Caprioli, said that the cotton gin should not be on the town seal because Whitney himself did not feel an affinity for Westborough, and he did not return to the town after he left it as an adult.

“There is an Eli Whitney Museum in Connecticut,” Caprioli said. “It isn’t in Westborough.” Caprioli said that the town seal should instead include depictions of children and dogs, representing the town’s love for pets and the value it places on education.

Suggestions for a new seal

Other residents suggested images that should be included on the town seal if the current one is replaced. 

Former Select Board member Leigh Emory said that the town’s Native American history should be included on the seal.

“Recognizing the 5,000 years of Native American history in our area is the most important aspect of symbolism that has been missing and should be included in our seal,” Emory said.

Select Board member Shelby Marshall, who said the seal should be changed, suggested that symbols of Westborough’s value for open space, historic role as a crossroads, historic Native American population and current resident diversity could be featured on a new seal.

Process continues

The process of reviewing Westborough’s town seal is ongoing as the Review Committee continues to meet following a Town Meeting vote to authorize its creation earlier this year. 

Members had heard from Westborough Public Library historian Anthony Vaver in a presentation about the cotton gin, Whitney and his life prior to this information-gathering session. 

Members now plan to continue public outreach. 

To that end, committee members recently told the Community Advocate that they anticipate a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 2 will feature discussion on ways to reach individuals who might not have been able to make their voices heard at this Nov. 15 meeting.

“We definitely need to take stock of the pulse in this town of what people are actually thinking about changing the seal,” Committee Co-Chair Alla Baranovsky said earlier this month. “It’s important for people to be heard.”

The Review Committee will eventually issue a recommendation to either keep or replace the seal. If they do recommend replacement, they’ll be further tasked with outline a possible process to develop that new seal.

The Review Committee’s recommendation will then go back before Town Meeting for a vote.

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