John Kelly's Washington

In the Name of the Lords

By John Kelly
Thursday, April 26, 2007

How do you get a county named after you? Well, it helps if you're a noble. That's what I discovered when I looked into where our local names came from. I discovered a lot of other things, too.

Calvert County

The Sopranos have their waste-disposal business. The Calverts had their colony-running business.

George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (and a Catholic, to boot), was the first of the clan to snag a piece of the New World. An adviser to James I, Calvert was granted permission to start a colony in Newfoundland. Too cold, he decided, so he sailed back to England and asked for something a little warmer. This time, he got some acreage north of Virginia, which he dubbed "Maryland," after Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of James I's son, Charles I.

George died in 1632 without ever visiting Maryland, but his descendants would rule the colony for generations to come.

Charles County

Charles, the third Lord Baltimore, was the first to have the pleasure of actually visiting Maryland. He arrived in 1661 at age 24. He immigrated with a friend named Henry Sewall, who had the misfortune of dying four years later. But on the bright side, Charles married Sewall's widow, Jane.

Charles had all sorts of things to deal with in Maryland: religious strife (his family was Catholic, but most of the his colonists weren't), understandably unfriendly natives, unfriendly Quakers. You wouldn't think those peace-loving Quakers would cause trouble, but Charles Calvert and William Penn squabbled over the borders of their respective settlements. The conflict got so heated that in 1684 Charles was called back to England to deal with it. He never came back to Maryland, for in 1689 the Catholic King James II was deposed and the Protestant William and Mary took over -- both England and, nominally, Maryland.

Charles seems to have been interested in his colony's infrastructure -- overseeing the construction of roads, courthouses, storage facilities for gunpowder and the like -- but he has been described as "arbitrary." It was under his watch that slavery was made legal, with slaves forced to serve for life.

St. Mary's County

We can't say for sure who this Southern Maryland county is named after. Since Maryland began as a colony friendly to Catholics, most experts think it was named after the mother of Jesus, making it the county named after the most ancient historical personage. Other sources suggest it was named after Queen Mary I, also known as Mary Tudor.

Montgomery County

Killed in a raging snowstorm on New Year's Eve, 1775, while leading an assault on the British-held city of Quebec, the Irish-born Richard Montgomery became the country's first national hero. At least 18 U.S. counties and towns are named for him.

Prince George's County

An overweight, alcoholic asthmatic who never shed his thick Scandinavian accent, Prince George of Denmark didn't make much of an impression on those who met him. But he was extremely loyal to his wife, Britain's Queen Anne. "I am her majesty's subject," he once said modestly.

Howard County

Lt. Col. John Eager Howard was the son of a wealthy Baltimore County planter who rose through the ranks of the Continental Army. At the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1781, he ordered his men to make a bayonet charge that routed the enemy. His bravery earned Howard a silver medal from Congress. He went on to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress, governor of Maryland and U.S. senator.

Anne Arundel County

Lady Anne Arundell (pronounced "aaron-dale," by the way) was 13 when she married Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore and the fellow who founded the Colony of Maryland. It's unclear what happened to the last "l" in her name. It probably got lost somewhere along Route 50.

Frederick County

What can you say about a man accused of having his own private harem, and who was the central character in a notorious London rape case? Why, you can say that Frederick County is named after him. Frederick Calvert was the sixth and, as it turned out, last Lord Baltimore. In 1768, he was accused of "feloniously ravishing" a milliner named Sarah Woodcock, after luring her with the promise of work. Amazingly, Frederick was acquitted.

Washington, D.C.

That's an easy one. The capital is named after our first president, George Washington, a onetime surveyor, a successful planter, a slave owner and the young nation's consummate soldier-politician. As for the "District of Columbia" portion, that's named after the Italian who "discovered" the New World: Christopher Columbus, who, it is said, sunburned easily.

Julia Feldmeier helped research this essay. "John Kelly's Washington" appears Sunday through Thursday in the Metro Section. To learn about whom other Washington area counties are named for, visit

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