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Art Callaham: The nitty-gritty of Maryland's state flag

March 25, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

Over the past few weeks, I have written columns about the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and our U.S. flag; in the spirit of equal time and space today’s column is about the Maryland state flag. Up front, you need to know that most of this column is taken directly from Maryland’s Web pages — simply Google Maryland state flag history for further research.

First, a little Maryland history, or everything you learned in school about your native state.  Where does Maryland get its name? The charter that Lord Baltimore received from King Charles I of England specified a name for the new colony.  It was to be called Maryland to honor King Charles’ wife, Queen Henrietta Maria (Queen Mary). Lord Baltimore’s name, title and coat of arms played heavily in what Maryland’s flag looks like.

What are Maryland’s nicknames? “The Old Line State” — this nickname is, according to some, a reference to the Maryland soldiers who fought courageously in the Revolutionary War, the Maryland Line. It is said that Gen. George Washington referred to these soldiers as “The Old Line.” Maryland was the only state that had regular troops “of the line” and these soldiers were ranked among the finest and best disciplined in the army.

And my favorite, “the Free State,” originated in an article written by Hamilton Owens, the editor of the Baltimore Sun. In 1923, a Georgia congressman, William D. Upshaw, attacked Maryland as a traitor to the union because it never passed a state enforcement act supporting Prohibition. Hamilton Owens’ article, “The Maryland Free State,” was a mocking response to Upshaw, suggesting that Maryland should secede from the Union before acting to prohibit the sale of liquor. This article was never published, but Owens referred to Maryland as “The Free State” in later editorials.

With that background about history and nicknames, here’s some specific information about our State flag. Most of the rules of etiquette contained in the U.S. Flag Code apply as well to Maryland’s flag. Never allow it to touch the ground; do not use for clothing; display on the flag’s right, in Maryland, in a place of honor, but never right of the U.S. flag; and more, all apply.

For purposes of display, consider the yellow and black quadrant, specifically the quadrant where the upper corner is a small black section, as the “flag’s union” (like the blue section with stars is the U.S. flag’s union). That quadrant is always up and to the flag’s right nearest the pole or halyard.

“The Maryland flag has been described as the perfect state flag — bold colors, interesting patterns and correct heraldry — a flag that fairly shouts ‘Maryland’. The design comes from the shield in the coat of arms of the Calvert family, the colonial proprietors of Maryland. George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore, adopted a coat of arms that included a shield with alternating quadrants featuring the yellow-and-black colors of his paternal family and the red-and-white colors of his maternal family, the Crosslands. When the General Assembly in 1904 adopted a banner of this design as the state flag, a link was forged between modern-day Maryland and the very earliest chapter of the proprietorship of the Calvert family.”

Prior to 1904, various banners were used to represent Maryland, although none was adopted officially as a state flag. By the Civil War, and until the 1900s, the most common Maryland flag design probably consisted of the great seal of the state on a blue background.

“During the Civil War period, because the yellow-and-black ‘Maryland colors’ were popularly identified with a state which, reluctantly or not, remained in the Union, Marylanders who sympathized with the South adopted the red-and-white of the Crossland arms as their colors. Following Lincoln’s election in 1861, red and white ‘secession colors’ appeared on everything from yarn stockings and cravats to children’s clothing. People displaying these red-and-white symbols of resistance to the Union and to Lincoln’s policies were vigorously prosecuted by Federal authorities.”

In 1945, a gold cross bottony was made the official ornament for a flagstaff carrying the Maryland flag.

“The Maryland flag, flown on a staff properly ornamented with a gold cross bottony, is therefore much more than a symbol of state sovereignty. The flag excels as a state banner because it commemorates the vision of the founders while it reminds us of the struggle to preserve the Union. It is a unique symbol of challenges met and loyalties restored; a flag of unity and reconciliation for all the state’s citizens.”


Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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