FLAGS ACROSS MARYLAND: MONTGOMERY COUNTY
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The design of the county flag comes from the family coat of arms of Richard Montgomery. It was adopted in 1976 and features a fleur-de-lis, alluding to the family’s French ancestry and a gold ring, which signifies “royal favor and protection.” According to the county history, the red and blue of the flag must be the same shades as those used in United States flag, and the gold must match the one used in the Maryland state flag.
Pre-Colonial and Colonial Period:
Indigenous people have lived in what is now Montgomery County for about 10,000 years. The Piscataway Confederacy included land in what is now St. Mary’s, Baltimore, Montgomery, and Anne Arundel counties. They established hunting camps, settled agricultural villages, and engaged in trade, including fur trade with Europeans. John Smith was the first European to map the region in 1608. He and his crew travelled up the Potomac, stopping at Little Falls, where the river became difficult to navigate. Despite forced migration due to colonization, some members remained in the area. The Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway Indian Nation are federally recognized tribes active in Maryland today.
In 1695, the land that is now Montgomery, Frederick, and Prince George’s Counties were part of Prince George’s County. It wasn’t until 1748 that the western portion of this area became Frederick County, and in 1776, this western area was divided into Montgomery Washington, and Frederick Counties. Washington and Montgomery Counties were the first counties in the United States to be named after prominent Americans, as opposed to European figures. Montgomery County was named for Richard Montgomery, a major general in the Revolutionary War who led the invasion of Quebec in 1775.
The Revolution, War of 1812, and Civil War in Montgomery County:
Montgomery county is home to a number of sites significant to the events of the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. In 1774, men from the county met a Hungerford’s Tavern, located in what is now Rockville, and signed the Hungerford Resolves. The Resolves protested British tax acts, declared support for the city of Boston following the Boston Tea Party, and proclaimed that “the most effectual means for the securing of American Freedom will be to break off all Commerce with Great Britain.”
During the War of 1812, the town of Brookville became the United States Capital for a day, when President James Madison and his cabinet members retreated there during the British attack on D.C. and burning of the White House in 1814. In 2017 Brookeville received a Heritage Fund grant to help them tell this important history.
Like the rest of Maryland, the Civil War divided Montgomery County. While there were no major battles in the area, the county saw a number of small skirmishes due to its proximity to other major battle sites. Armies crossed through the region on their way to major battles including Antietam, Gettysburg, and Monocacy.
Black History of Montgomery County:
Enslaved labor was critical to the development of Montgomery County’s economy, especially with regards to the production of tobacco. The enslaved population declined following shift to diversified crop and dairy farming. The life and narrative of Josiah Henson, an enslaved man who lived and worked on a farm in Bethesda, inspired the influential abolitionist work Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe. In 1830 Henson escaped with his family to freedom in Canada, where he established Black community and served in the Canadian army. In Montgomery County, approximately 40 communities of freed slaves were established in the 19th century.
Following the Civil War, the county allocated funds for African American schools. However, Montgomery County’s schools were not desegregated until after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. The County was also the site of Civil Rights activism. Inspired by the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, a group of Black and white college students protested outside the segregated amusement park, Glen Echo. They persisted for the entirety of the 1960 season, which led to the integration of the park the following year.
Economic and Infrastructure History:
Between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the county economy and infrastructure expanded. By 1840, years of tobacco production had depleted county soil. As a result, farmers suffered and began to move away. However, Quakers in Sandy Spring introduced new techniques such as crop rotation and fertilization that led to renewed farm prosperity by 1860. Goods were transported along the C & O Canal. Constructed between 1828 and 1850, it spanned 184 miles between Washington, D.C. and Cumberland, Maryland. It was among the most efficient modes of transport along the Potomac, especially given the difficulty of navigating Great Falls. However, the B & O Railroad, completed in 1873, quickly super-ceded the canal. The B & O also brought passenger trains into the county for the first time, increasing the importance of the region’s proximity to D.C. Suburbs grew, trolleys were built, and the value of real estate doubled between 1866 and 1900. Today the lockhouses are part of the C & O Canal Trust’s Canal Quarters program, where visitors can book a stay in a restored lockhouse along the canal. One such site, Swains Lockhouse, near Potomac, MD, was the recipient of a Heritage Fund grant at the beginning of its restoration project. It opened to visitors in 2019.
The county became increasingly suburban throughout the 20th century. The agricultural economy shrank, farmers sold land to developers, and residents increasingly depended on government employment in D.C. In fact, an influx of federal jobseekers from all over the county is one reason for the county’s population growth during the 20th century. Today Montgomery County is home to a 93,000-acre agricultural reserve, established in 1980, which protects farmland from further suburban development and preserves the county’s rich agricultural history.
We are excited to continue our Maryland History Series in partnership with Preservation Maryland!