Heroes, Drunkards and Royalty -- Captured in County Names

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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.

Montgomery County

It would have been hard for Richard Montgomery to visit every place in the United States named after him. First of all, there are a lot of them, at least 18 counties and towns. Second of all, he was dead.

If he hadn't have been dead, those places probably wouldn't have been named after him. Such are the harsh terms that fame extracts.

Born in Ireland in 1736, Montgomery served in the British Army, seeing ample action in the Americas. In 1772 he resigned his commission and moved to New York. There he married an American and, as the clouds of war gathered, joined the Continental Army as a brigadier general.

He was killed in a raging snowstorm on New Year's Eve 1775, while leading an assault on British-held Quebec. The grief was instantaneous and Montgomery, the highest ranking officer to be killed in the war, became one of the country's first national hero.

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.

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 only 13 years old 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.

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 Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore, was the first to have the pleasure of actually visiting Maryland. He arrived in 1661 at age 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 whom this Southern Maryland county was 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, visithttp://www.washingtonpost.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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