News & Politics

Maryland’s Flag Has a Subtle Symbol of Confederate Sympathy

Photograph by Filip Bjorkman/Shutterstock

The national conversation about the Confederate battle flag focused, in part, on states whose flags evoke its stars and bars or, in the case of Mississippi, incorporate it outright. But closer to home, a subtle symbol of Confederate affinity hides in plain sight on the Maryland state flag.

Maryland stayed with the union during the Civil War, but it was a border state with split loyalties. Its current flag represents an effort by the state to heal divisions between Marylanders who supported the Union and those who supported, or fought for, the Confederacy.

The flag, with its distinctive (some might say eyeball-searing) bold colors, incorporates both the yellow-and-black colors of the state’s founding Calvert family and the “cross bottany” that symbolized the Crossland family on George Calvert’s matrilineal side.

That design became imbued with new meaning as the United States began to splinter in the 19th century, as the website for Maryland’s secretary of state explains:

Probably because the yellow-and-black “Maryland colors” were popularly identified with a state which, reluctantly or not, remained in the Union, Marylanders who sympathized with the South adopted the red-and-white of the Crossland arms as their colors. Following Lincoln’s election in 1861, red and white “secession colors” appeared on everything from yarn stockings and cravats to children’s clothing.

Confederate soldiers from Maryland used the red and white “as a unique way of identifying their place of birth,” the website says. The colors “became so closely associated with the rebellion that federal authorities garrisoned at Baltimore outlawed displaying them in the city, a hotbed of Southern sympathizers,” Jon Morgan reported for the Baltimore Sun in 1997. Anyone flying them could be jailed.

The juxtaposition of the red-and-white cross and yellow-and-black hashes goes back to George Calvert’s coat of arms. Maryland adopted them for its flag in 1904, with the combined symbols representing reconciliation, as Matt Johnson wrote for Greater Greater Washington earlier this year. Today, the Crossland banner still flies on the Maryland flag, and a gold cross bottany can be found atop it on many flagpoles as its official ornament, the symbol’s association with the Confederacy all but invisible.

Photograph by Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock
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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.