April 28, 1788 – Maryland Joins the Union as the Seventh State

Maryland was the seventh state to ratify the United States Constitution and has two nicknames, the Old Line State and the Free State. It was named in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), the wife of Britain’s King Charles I. Its history as a border state has led it to exhibit characteristics of both the Northern and Southern regions of the United States.

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In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln issued a call for troops from the northern states to come defend the U.S. Capital. To reach Washington, troops initially sought to come by train through Baltimore. But the secessionist element in Maryland would have none of it. On April 19, the men of the Sixth Massachusetts, on their way to defend the nation’s capitol, had to change from one train station to another in Baltimore. Angry crowds attacked them, and at the end of the conflict nine soldiers were dead as well as twelve civilians. These were the first casualties of the war, aside from an accidental death during the bombardment of Ft. Sumter a week earlier.

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Fast forward to my childhood, growing up in the suburbs of D.C. in Maryland. In our elementary school, we all learned our state song, “Maryland My Maryland.” The song – set to the tune of “O Tannenbaum” – has been Maryland’s official state anthem for more than 75 years. The lyrics include:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore, Maryland My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore
And be the battle queen of yore, Maryland My Maryland!

I had no idea the tune came from a “secesh” (pronounced like “see-sesh”) poem written in 1861 that referenced that first Civil War clash, written by a Marylander teaching in Louisiana. (The “despot” referenced was Abraham Lincoln!) In fact, I had a Rebel hat and other Rebel accoutrements, thinking they represented my “team.” I didn’t know it was any different than rooting for the Washington Redskins, nor, unbelievably!, did my parents opt to enlighten me.

In 2009, a group of fourth graders protested to the Maryland State Legislature. (You can read about it here.) Subsequently, a state house delegate introduced a bill to change the lyrics of the state song to pay tribute to Maryland rather than express “Confederate sympathies.”

Various wags have come up with alternate lyrics. My favorite proposal is by Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post in this article:

We sing to thee, our fav’rite state
Maryland, my Maryland
You joined the North, tho’ pretty late,
Maryland, my Maryland

Your morals were a bit unkempt
Your ethics were beneath contempt,
When slaves were freed, you stayed exempt.
Maryland, my Maryland.

Thou gave the world the great Babe Ruth
Maryland, my Maryland
(Not to mention John Wilkes Booth)
Maryland, my Maryland

But thy greatest hero we salute
A gov named Spiro — what a hoot –
He stuffed his pants with wads of loot,
Maryland, my Maryland.

Thy landscapes are of mixed motifs
Maryland, my Maryland
Tho’ most of them have cloverleafs
Maryland, my Maryland

Thy chicken farms, near every day
Send chicken poop from brook to Bay
‘Tis why thy crabs now taste that way,
Maryland, my Maryland.

Like Ireland, which has no snakes
Maryland, my Maryland,
Thou art the state that has no lakes
Maryland, my Maryland

There is one way that first you rate
Income’s highest in your state
So you’re the one the rest can hate,
Maryland, my Maryland.

You can find some other humorous proposals here.

To this day, Maryland’s identity is a divided one. Generally, it is said that rural Western Maryland resembles West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania; the Southern and Eastern Shore regions of Maryland evince a “Southern” culture; and densely-populated Central Maryland — radiating outward from Baltimore and the Washington Beltway — exhibits characteristics of the Northeast. All this, in only a little over 12,400 square miles.

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The State Flag, toward which I still hold some irrational vestiges of affection, was officially adopted in 1904. It is the only US state flag based on British heraldry (the coats of arms of noble families). The flag’s design was based on the coat of arms adopted by George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore. The alternating yellow and black are from Lord Calvert’s family shield; the red and white design is either from Calvert’s maternal family, or his wife’s family.

The United States Naval Academy (also known as USNA, Annapolis, or simply Navy) is a four-year co-educational federal service academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the state capital. Established on October 10, 1845, under Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, it is the second oldest of the United States’ five service academies, and educates officers for commissioning primarily into the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps.

The Blue Angels perform over the Naval Academy on May 20, 2009.

The Blue Angels perform over the Naval Academy on May 20, 2009.

Some state symbols everyone may recognize:

State Bird: Baltimore Oriole
State Reptile: Diamondback Terrapin
State Crustacean: Maryland Blue Crab

Speaking of the blue crab, approximately 50 percent of the country’s blue crab harvest comes from Maryland waters, and crab feasts are a Maryland staple! And then there is “Smith Island Cake” – which, by the way, I have never had (amazingly enough). Traditionally, the cake consists of eight to ten layers of yellow cake with chocolate frosting between each layer and slathered over the whole. Effective October 1, 2008, the Smith Island Cake became the State Dessert of Maryland (Chapters 164 & 165, Acts of 2008; Code General Provisions Article, sec. 7-313).

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Finally, one would be remiss not to talk about the history of the state without a reference to the McCormick Spice Factory, which graced Baltimore with the smell of cinnamon for 125 years.

McCormick Factory in Baltimore – one of the last old buildings to get torn down in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The site is now a parking lot. Sad!

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One Response

  1. Good overview of Maryland, Jill. Spiro T. Agnew was a real character!

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