"Sacred Cod"

Representing a New England codfish

By unknown artist, ca. 1784

Pine, painted, 10 x 59 1/2 in.

Given by John Rowe, March 17, 1784.

The Cod was given by John Rowe, a prominent merchant and representative from Boston, and installed in the Old State House "as a memorial of the importance of the cod fishery to the welfare of this Commonwealth, as had been usual formerly." This is the second carving of a New England codfish to preside over the General Court—its predecessor presumably lost during the Revolution. By this time, the image was a familiar one, appearing on everything from corporate seals to weathervanes and stairwell decorations. New claims to fishing rights both coastal and on the high seas, however, strained negotiations with England for years, and undoubtedly fueled Rowe's desire to reinstall the simple yet potent emblem over the heads of his fellow legislators.

When the new State House was inaugurated in 1798, there seemed to be no question whether the simple carving would follow the General Court to Beacon Hill. Installed in the House (current Senate) Chamber, it continued to symbolize the importance of the sea, and the fishing industry in particular, to the survival and prosperity of the Commonwealth. The Cod was transferred to the gallery of the current House Chamber in 1895, where it continues, "riding serenely the sound waves of debate, unperturbed by the ebb and flow of enactment and repeal…"

historical object of "Sacred Cod"