The Lore and Lords Of County Names

Thursday, April 26, 2007

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

Howard County

It must be every army officer's secret desire to order a bayonet charge. Lt. Col. John Eager Howard got to do just that.

Born in 1752, Howard was the son of a wealthy Baltimore County planter. He rose through the ranks of the Continental Army. At the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1781, Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan's plan was to set up three lines of American soldiers to stop the advancing British. One line of militia volunteers would squeeze off a few shots then fall back, revealing a second line of militia. They would do the same, falling back to reveal the professional soldiers under Howard's command.

The British were stunned by the fusillade, though after a misunderstood command caused Howard to call on his men to make an orderly retreat, they thought they had bested the Americans and gave chase. But Howard simply had his men march to higher ground, turn and shoot, and then envelop the Redcoats in a bayonet charge. The enemy was routed.

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. He died in 1827.

Montgomery County

Killed in a raging snowstorm on New Year's Eve 1775, while leading an assault on British-held 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.

Anne Arundel County

Lady Anne Arundell (pronounced "aaron-dale," by the way) was only 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 around Route 50.

Frederick County

What can you say about a man accused of having his own 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 to his Epsom estate with the promise of work. Amazingly, Frederick was acquitted.

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 Calvert clan to snag a piece of the New World, when he was granted permission to start a colony by the British crown. He died before seeing the colony established in Maryland.

Charles County

Charles, the third Lord Baltimore, was the first to have the pleasure of actually visiting Maryland. He arrived in 1661 at the age of 24. Charles busied himself with his colony's infrastructure -- overseeing the construction of roads, courthouses, storage facilities for gunpowder and the like. It was under his watch that slavery was made legal.

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. Other sources suggest it was named after Queen Mary I, also known as Mary Tudor.

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 D.C. area counties are named for, visit

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