History of the Maryland State Flag

As the only state in the United States to feature a design that incorporates both British and American symbols, the Maryland state flag is undeniably unique. With its striking red, white, black, and gold colors arranged in an intricate pattern, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the flag’s history and meaning. How did this unusual combination come to be? What events and influences shaped the Maryland state flag’s design? In this article, we’ll take a journey through time, exploring the colonial era, the American Revolution and beyond, and the flag’s modern usage and controversy. Let’s dive into the fascinating history of the Maryland state flag and discover the story behind its distinctive appearance.

The Colonial Era

The Colonial Era
During the colonial era, Maryland was one of the original thirteen British colonies in North America. As such, it was heavily influenced by British heraldry and tradition. The Maryland colony had its own heraldic system, featuring elements such as the fleur-de-lis, the cross bottony, and the crescent. However, the colony also maintained close ties with England and often incorporated British symbols and motifs into its own heraldry. This interplay between Maryland’s heraldic tradition and its English connection would play a significant role in the design of the state flag. To learn more about the history of state flags, check out the story behind Tennessee’s flag.

Maryland’s Heraldic Tradition

Maryland’s heraldic tradition dates back to the early colonial era when Maryland was granted a royal charter by King Charles I of England in 1632. The charter granted Maryland the right to create a coat of arms and other insignia, signaling the importance of heraldry in the colony’s official identity.

The coat of arms depicted a shield with a series of designs that symbolized various aspects of Maryland’s history and geography. In the center of the shield was a lion representing the Calvert family, the founders of Maryland. The lion was flanked by an anchor representing Lord Baltimore’s role as a naval officer and a farmer’s plow representing the colony’s strong agricultural tradition. The bottom of the shield featured a cross that represents Maryland’s status as a colony founded by Catholics, with the red and white cross taken from the coat of arms of the Crossland family, who were relatives of Lord Baltimore.

Over time, the coat of arms and its symbols became more refined and were used on official documents and buildings throughout the colony. The heraldic tradition continued even after the American Revolution, with Maryland adopting a state seal that featured a more elaborate version of the coat of arms.

Maryland’s heraldic tradition is unique in its blend of British and American symbolism. While many other state flags and seals draw heavily from Native American symbolism or include patriotic elements such as stars and stripes, Maryland’s coat of arms reflects a more nuanced history. This tradition is shared by other states, for example New York and Texas, which also have histories rooted in British colonialism and have incorporated heraldic symbols into their official state emblems.

The English Connection

During the early years of the Maryland colony, the English connection played a significant role in shaping the state’s identity and symbolism. The Maryland colony was founded in 1632 as a proprietary colony by the 2nd Baron Baltimore, Cecilius Calvert. The Calvert family was one of the most prominent and wealthy families in England, and their influence was reflected in the Maryland colony’s official symbolism.

One of the most significant examples of this English connection is the use of heraldic symbols in Maryland’s official seal and coat of arms. The Calvert family’s coat of arms featured a field of black and gold, with a diagonal bend and a cross botany in the upper left corner. When Cecilius Calvert founded the Maryland colony, he adapted this coat of arms, replacing the cross botany with pales and incorporating elements of the state’s agricultural and natural resources. This design was then used as the basis for the Maryland colonial seal, which was first adopted in 1648.

Some notable elements of Maryland’s coat of arms include:

1 The three pales, which represent Palatinate (an area of Germany) and symbolize the Calvert family’s role as the first Lord Proprietors of Maryland. They also represent the idea of strength, and Maryland’s commitment to being a strong and vibrant state.
2 The black and gold field, which represents the Calvert family and pays homage to the English connection that influenced Maryland’s early years. The colors also represent a blend of Maryland’s soil and mineral resources, namely iron ore and coal.
3 The two supporters, which represent the state’s agricultural and natural resources. On the left is a farmer, holding a hoe and a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. On the right is a fisherman, holding a fishing net and a spear.
4 The banner at the bottom of the coat of arms features the Latin motto “Fatti maschii, parole femine” which translates to “Manly deeds, womanly words.”

As Maryland became more established as a colony, its connection to England became even more pronounced. For instance, in 1692, following the Glorious Revolution, the English monarchs William and Mary awarded Maryland a new version of its coat of arms, which included additional symbols such as the rose and the crown. These symbols reflected the state’s continued connection to England and its loyalty to the English crown.

The English connection played a significant role in shaping Maryland’s symbolism and identity, and can still be seen in its coat of arms and state flag.

Maryland’s Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms is a significant and intricate aspect of Maryland’s history, culture, and identity. It was first adopted in 1648, signifying the state’s colonial era, and later featured on the state flag. The Coat of Arms includes colors and symbols that represent Maryland’s heritage and values.

The heraldic shield is divided into quarters, each containing a symbol. The first and fourth quarters feature the Calvert family emblem, a black and gold design with six vertical bars. The second and third quarters feature the Crossland family emblem, a red and white design with diagonal stripes. These symbols represent Maryland’s founder, Cecil Calvert, Second Baron Baltimore, and his mother’s family, respectively.

Above the shield, there is an earl’s coronet, commemorating the Calvert family’s title, and a helmet with a gold and red crest. The crest is an eagle with its wings spread, holding a fish in its talons. The fish represents the abundance of Maryland’s waters, while the eagle represents courage and strength.

Beneath the shield, there is a red and white banner with the state motto, “Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine,” which translates to “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words.” The banner is held up by two supporters, an English heraldic tradition. On the left stands a farmer with a shovel and on the right stands a fisherman with a net. These supporters represent Maryland’s two main industries: agriculture and fishing.

The Maryland Coat of Arms has undergone several changes throughout the years, but each iteration continues to honor the state’s rich history and culture. If you want to learn more about other US state flags, check out our article about the history of the Florida state flag with a red saltire cross.

The American Revolution and Beyond

The American Revolution marked a turning point in Maryland’s history, as well as the history of the United States as a whole. After the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Maryland played an important role in the war effort, contributing troops and resources to the cause. The state’s commitment to the fight for independence is reflected in the design of its flag, which incorporates both British and American symbols. The red and white patterns are reminiscent of the English Crosslands banner, while the yellow and black checks were borrowed from the Calvert family, who were closely associated with the founding of the Maryland colony. The state seal, which features a farmer and a fisherman, was also revised during this time to include the motto “Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine,” which translates to “Manly deeds, womanly words.” The flag served as a rallying symbol for Maryland troops during the Revolutionary War and continues to be an important symbol of the state’s history and heritage.

Symbols of Independence

During the American Revolution, Maryland was one of the thirteen colonies that sought independence from British rule. As such, the colony sought to develop symbols that represented its commitment to the cause. One of the most prominent symbols of the revolution was the “rebel flag,” which was composed of thirteen horizontal stripes of red and white, representing the thirteen colonies. However, the flag was deemed too similar to the British East India Company’s flag and was eventually replaced with the stars and stripes of the United States flag.

Maryland also played an important role in the revolution as the birthplace of the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” During the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, an oversized American flag was flown over Fort McHenry, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem that would become the anthem.

Internal link: To learn more about the evolution of the California State Flag, check out our article on the California flag timeline.

The Birth of the State Flag

During the Civil War, Maryland was a slave state that remained loyal to the Union, and many of its citizens joined the Union Army. To support the troops, the Maryland General Assembly adopted a new state seal in 1864, depicting a diagonal cross with the arms of Calvert and Crossland, as well as various emblems of agriculture, commerce, and industry. The motto “Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine” or “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words” was also featured.

A few years later, in 1889, a group of Maryland National Guard soldiers, known as the Fifth Regiment, wanted a distinctive flag to display during military events and parades. They sought the advice of state’s attorney general, who recommended using the design from the state seal as a basis. It was decided to swap the positions of the Calvert and Crossland arms, and to have them emblazoned on a field of black and gold checks, which were the colors of the Calvert family’s heraldic banner.

The soldiers arranged for the flag to be made by a Baltimore silk maker named E.C. Weber and raised it over their headquarters on October 11, 1889. The banner was well-received and became popular among other Maryland units and civilians. In 1904, it was officially named the state flag by the Maryland General Assembly.

The flag’s design is unique among state flags, as it combines elements of both American and British heraldry. The Calvert arms, a yellow and black design featuring a crescent and a six-pointed star, were used by the first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, who founded the colony of Maryland in 1634. The Crossland arms, a red and white design with a cross bottony, were used by Calvert’s maternal ancestors, the Crosslands. Together, they symbolize Maryland’s colonial origins and the role of the Calvert family in the colony’s development.

The black and gold checks, or “chevronny” pattern, also have a Maryland connection. They were derived from the coat of arms of the Crosslands, which featured gold and black vertical stripes. The pattern was used on the uniforms of Maryland soldiers during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and was later adopted by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Maryland state flag is a unique and striking symbol that reflects the state’s colonial history, military heritage, and civic pride. Despite some controversy over its symbolism and modern usage, it remains a beloved and recognizable icon of Maryland identity and culture.

The Civil War and the Flag’s Demise

During the Civil War, the Maryland state flag was no longer recognized as the official state flag of Maryland. This was because Maryland was a border state during the war, meaning it was both a slave state and a state that remained in the Union. As a result, Maryland troops fought on both sides of the war, and the state was placed under martial law to prevent it from seceding.

Confederate sympathizers in Maryland adopted their own flag, which they called the “Maryland flag,” and it featured the red and white cross of Saint Andrew on a blue background. This flag became popular among Confederate soldiers from Maryland, and it was flown as a symbol of their allegiance during the war.

After the war, the Confederate flag was no longer recognized in Maryland, and the state flag was reinstated as the official flag of Maryland. However, the red and white cross of Saint Andrew remained a popular symbol in Maryland, and it was eventually incorporated into the design of the state flag in 1904.

The Civil War represented a challenging time for the state of Maryland, and the flag’s temporary demise reflects the political turmoil of the era. Today, the Maryland state flag continues to be a symbol of the state’s unique history and heritage, and it is proudly flown by Marylanders all over the world.

Rediscovery and Reinstatement

During the Civil War, the original State flag was hidden to prevent it from falling into the hands of Confederate soldiers. It wasn’t until 1880 that a woman named Jennie Lea Knights rediscovered the flag that had been hidden away. The flag was slightly altered, with the ornamental design being replaced with a “seal of Maryland” taken from the state’s colonial-era flags. The design was then officially adopted in 1904 as the official flag of Maryland. Today, the flag is seen flying proudly across the state, representing Maryland’s unique mix of British and American heritage. While there has been controversy about the flag in recent years, its significance and historical importance cannot be ignored.

The Flag’s Resurgence

After almost a half-century absence, the Maryland State Flag made a comeback in the early 20th century. The flag’s return is associated with the movement to remember the state’s colonial heritage and its contributions to the nation’s founding.

The resurgence of the flag began in the 1920s when it was noticed that it was missing from the Maryland Statehouse where it had flown during the colonial era. A campaign was launched to restore the flag and the Maryland Historical Society began to include the flag’s red and white colors in its publications.

In 1945, the Maryland State Legislature finally took notice of the movement and passed a resolution making the banner the official state flag. The state’s political leaders praised the design and its historical significance.

The flag’s resurgence continued into the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, Maryland’s flag was prominently displayed in many government buildings and used in parades and other events. This resurgence came to a climax in 1965 when the state’s Governor proclaimed that the flag would be raised over the capital every day.

Today, the flag has earned its place as one of the most recognizable and prominent symbols of Maryland’s history and identity. It appears on everything from license plates to clothing to coffee mugs. Its unique and striking design continues to attract people from all over the world.

Many historians and flag enthusiasts commend Maryland’s efforts to reclaim its colonial history and the flag’s role in that history. Indeed, the flag stands as a testament to the state’s rich past and its ongoing identity.

Internal link: To know more about the history of other state flags, such as Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, click here.

Modern Usage and Controversy

Modern Usage and Controversy: The Maryland State Flag has become increasingly popular in recent years, as many Marylanders have shown pride in their state’s unique history and culture by displaying the flag on clothing, vehicles, and other items. However, the flag has also been the subject of controversy, mainly due to its similarity to the flag of the Confederacy. Some have criticized the flag’s use in contexts that could be seen as promoting or glorifying the Confederacy or its symbols. As a result, there have been calls to remove the flag or modify its design.

The controversy has also brought attention to the flag’s history and symbolism, with some arguing that the flag represents Maryland’s complex heritage and diverse population, while others see it as a relic of a time when Marylanders owned slaves and fought on the side of the Confederacy. The debate highlights the challenges of interpreting historical symbols in a contemporary context, and raises important questions about the role of flags and other symbols in shaping collective identity and memory.

Despite the controversy, the Maryland State Flag continues to be widely used and recognized as a symbol of Maryland’s history and culture. It has been featured in various contexts, from sports teams to government buildings, and has been the subject of numerous artistic and commercial interpretations. The flag’s popularity is a testament to its enduring significance as a symbol of Maryland’s past and present, and to the resilience of Marylanders in celebrating their diverse heritage.

If you’re interested in learning more about other state flags in the US, check out our articles on the Arizona State Flag timeline, the Virginia State Flag Seal and Symbolism, and South Carolina State Flag facts.


In conclusion, the history of the Maryland State Flag is steeped in symbolism and heritage. The flag’s unique design blends together elements from the state’s colonial English heritage and its role in America’s struggle for independence.

Despite facing criticism and controversy at various points in its history, the flag has remained an enduring symbol of pride for Marylanders. Its recent rediscovery and resurgence in popularity prove that the flag still holds a special place in the hearts of many.

As with any symbol, the Maryland State Flag’s meaning to each individual is ultimately subjective. However, one thing is certain – the flag’s complex history and powerful symbolism have made it a distinct and unforgettable representation of Maryland’s culture and history.

Whether displayed at sporting events, flown proudly from homes and businesses, or adorning state buildings, the Maryland State Flag is a constant reminder of the state’s unique past and its role in shaping the history of the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history behind the Maryland state flag?

The Maryland state flag has a rich history that combines elements of Maryland’s colonial heritage, its connection to England, and its role in the American Revolution.

What is the meaning behind the Maryland state flag’s design?

The Maryland state flag features a unique design that blends together the colors and symbols of both England and the United States, symbolizing Maryland’s unique historical and cultural identity.

What is Maryland’s heraldic tradition?

Maryland’s heraldic tradition dates back to the colonial era, when families of wealth and influence would use complex coats of arms to distinguish themselves.

How did the English influence the design of the Maryland state flag?

The Maryland state flag features elements of the English flag, which reflects Maryland’s status as a colony of England and its ties to British culture and traditions.

What is Maryland’s coat of arms?

Maryland’s coat of arms features a series of intricate symbols that reflect the state’s history and culture, including a shield with a chevron and a crown, a banner with the state’s motto and the Calvert family’s colors, and a scroll with the state’s founding date.

What are some symbols of independence that are incorporated into the Maryland state flag?

The Maryland state flag features a variety of symbols that reflect Maryland’s role in the American Revolution, such as the chevron, which represents the concept of equality, as well as the gold and black colors, which symbolize the state’s leadership and strength.

When was the Maryland state flag first created?

The Maryland state flag was first created during the American Civil War, when it was adopted as a symbol of Maryland’s loyalty to the Union and opposition to slavery.

What happened to the Maryland state flag during the Civil War?

During the Civil War, the Maryland state flag was removed from public display by Confederate sympathizers, who saw the flag as a symbol of Maryland’s support for the Union cause and emancipation.

When was the Maryland state flag rediscovered and reinstated?

The Maryland state flag was rediscovered and reinstated in the early 20th century, after members of the Maryland Daughters of the American Revolution discovered the original design and launched a campaign to restore the flag to its rightful place as a symbol of the state’s history and culture.

What controversies have surrounded the use of the Maryland state flag in recent years?

The Maryland state flag has been the subject of controversy in recent years due to its use by white supremacist groups, who have appropriated the flag’s design as a symbol of their own beliefs and values.


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