The history of the state seal of Mississippi goes back to the 18th century. The image that would become the official seal was first chosen in 1798, when it was adopted as the seal of the Mississippi Territory. The territorial seal officially became the state seal of Mississippi when Mississippi gained statehood in 1817 and has kept the same design since that time. The imagery of the seal is even older and was likely influenced by sources predating the existence of the state of Mississippi and the United States of America itself by centuries.
The state seal of Mississippi depicts a gold bald eagle on a white background. The eagle holds arrows in one of its talons and an olive branch in the other, representing war and peace. On the eagle's chest is a shield, with a group of white stars on a blue field in the upper area of the shield and a series of vertical red and white stripes below it. The eagle is surrounded by a blue circle, with the words “The Great Seal of the State of Mississippi” wrapped around it in gold letters and surrounded by a second, larger blue circle.
The seal's history actually extends beyond the state of Mississippi as it exists today. At the time of the seal's original adoption as the seal of the Mississippi Territory, that territory's boundaries encompassed not only the modern state of Mississippi, but Alabama as well. When Mississippi became a state in 1817, the territorial seal was adopted by the newly established state of Mississippi while the remainder of what had been the Mississippi Territory was re-designated by Congress as the Alabama Territory until the state of Alabama was admitted to the Union in 1819.
The principal feature of the image, the bald eagle holding arrows and an olive branch in its claws and bearing a red, white, and blue shield on its chest, is based on the similar eagle eagle depicted on the Great Seal of the United States. The US seal, in which the eagle holds an olive branch and 13 arrows to represent the original 13 states, was adopted by Congress in 1782 after a series of committees spent six years considering various designs. Bald eagles clutching arrows also appear on the seals of the states of New Mexico and Utah, and the seals of Illinois and Pennsylvania also depict an eagle supporting a shield.
The image of an eagle bearing a shield, or of an eagle or some other animal holding or located near a group of arrows or an olive branch, goes back even further. An eagle supporting a shield appears in some heraldry and coins from continental Europe, though the use of a bald eagle, a species native to North America, was an innovation. The coat of arms of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, commonly known simply as the Dutch Republic, depicted a lion holding a sword in its front right paw and seven arrows, one for each of the seven provinces. The Dutch Republic was the world's foremost example of a republican government formed through a confederation of individual states at the time the US seal was adopted, and the Dutch constitution was an influence on the political thought of many of America's founders. Thus, this image may also have been an inspiration for the Great Seal of the United States and consequently the state seal of Mississippi.