The flag of Maryland is probably the most polarizing of the U.S. state flags. Many (including myself) love the flag. The North American Vexillogical Association ranked it fourth best of all the U.S. state, territory, and Canadian providence flags and I placed it second in my own ranking of U.S. state flags. However, there are many who dislike the flag. This Thrillist article ranked it dead last (Really?! Just the fact that it is one of four state flags that doesn’t use any blue should get it at least in the top half). The haters often say that “it looks like a bunch of flags thrown together”. In a sense, they are right. But, as with most flags, there is a purpose and story behind this patchwork design.
The two main elements of the Maryland flag are derived from the coats of arms associated with George Calvert, Lord Baltimore and considered by many historians to be the founder of Maryland. He died five weeks before his charter for Maryland was approved, which was left to his son Cecil, but he did do the vast majority of legwork to make the colony a reality. The gold and black element is from the Calvert coat of arms, said to be given to Calvert family for attacking a fortification. The black bars are said to represent a palisade, a fortified wall usually made out of timber. The red and white element is from the coat of arms of George Calvert’s mother, Alice Crossland.
While the basic two-by-two design of the flag was incorporated into early versions of Maryland’s seal, the current design wouldn’t be used on a flag until the 19th century. In fact, Maryland didn’t have an official state flag until 1904. Since Maryland’s founding in 1632, any flag associated with Maryland was usually an ad-libbed design based on the gold and black Calvert coat of arms.
The Crossland coat of arms didn’t gain popularity until the Civil War. While Maryland officially sided with the Union, many Marylanders supported, and even fought for, the confederacy. Since the state’s de facto symbol was the Calvert coat of arms, Maryland secessionists represented themselves with Crossland coat of arm flags and metal crosses pinned to their uniforms. In response, Union soldiers from Maryland incorporated Calvert coat of arms symbols into their uniforms via pins and patches.
Once the Civil War ended and Marylanders from both sides returned home, work began on reconciling differences so that the two sides could live together once more. It is around this time that flags in the current Calvert/Crossland design began appearing, representing both factions of Marylanders. There are several accounts of when the flag was first made and who made it, but general consensus is that its first confirmed flying was on Oct. 11, 1880, during Baltimore‘s 150th anniversary celebrations. It would be 24 more years before the state would officially adopt the flag in 1904.
Like the other states and cities that I mention in my article about the benefits of a well-designed flag, Marylanders are very proud of their flag and incorporate it into just about everything. While notable examples are on the uniforms of the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, you can always find a good Maryland flag tattoo.