This is a record of those coats of arms only that have been in use (some of them from the earliest Colonial times) within the bounds of the present United States. Readers whose chief interest is in "authentic" arms or the right to bear arms must look elsewhere.
Heraldry, as we know it, can be traced back to about 1164, and by the time of the third crusade (1189) it was a recognized art. The Stewart arms -- or a fess chequy azure and argent -- appeared at this period. For centuries to follow, leaders of men assumed coats. Not infrequently brothers had different arms, just as Jewish brothers today assume different surnames, and a husband sometimes appropriated a wife's coat. There was then, as now, a disposition to resent the use by one person of arms long associated with another's family, as we find inHewlett delightful heraldic romance, The Forest Lovers, but it was not often the tragic affair that our learned pundits of today would have us believe. The Scropes, to be sure, objected in 1385 to the use of azure a bend or by the Grosvenors, producing a hundred or more witnesses to assert that these arms went with the name Scrope. On the other side, the Grosvenors produced an equal number of good men to swear the contrary.
In 1483 the College of Arms was chartered, although grants of arms from great nobles and the Crown began much earlier. The attitude of ancient families toward this College has not always been friendly, since descendants of men who won or assumed arms at the time of service on historic mediaeval battlefields will never look with favor upon arms granted by authority on payment of a fee.
One of the greatest of English authorities on this subject, Mr. Oswald Barron, in the Introduction to "Hertfordshire Families" (London, 1907) has this to say;-- and I have italicized one significant sentence: "In considering the qualification of the families admitted by us we have put away all question of their right to armorial bearings. With the quaint fancies of certain popular writers that the bearing of officially authorized arms is a condition of nobility we are unconcerned. Armorial bearings, at best an accident of nobility, are in England no true proof of nobility, and the assertion that nobility derives itself from the bearing of them has fled before the first scouting party of inquirers. Indeed we have but to open one of such writers' books to find the newest of new men flaunting his newly acquired coat and exalted as its . . .