Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Flemish Origins of Baltimore

Tonight was the 47th Superbowl (American football championship) game here in the U.S. The competing teams were the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. While I supported San Francisco, I really should have supported Baltimore. For with Baltimore we have the strongest claim to a Flemish origin.

The city of Baltimore is named after the Founder and Proprietor of the Colony of Maryland, Baron, Lord Baltimore. Lord Baltimore began life with a simpler name: George Calvert.  Although born in Yorkshire, Calvert was keenly aware of his Flemish roots. In 1622, when King James I made Calvert a Baron, the official announcement read:

"we have seen an exact collection [of documents] made by Mr. Richard Verstegan an Antiquarie [=historian] in Antwerp sent over this last March 1622 by which it appears that the said Sir George is descended of a noble and ancient family of that surname in the Earldom of Flanders where they have lived long in great honor, and have had great possessions, their principal and ancient seat being in Wervik in the said province." [source: John W. Jordan, Colonial and Revolutionary Familes of Pennsylvania, Vol.2, p.1107 - spelling modified to conform to modern usage].

Given his Flemish roots, it is no surprise that Lord Baltimore's family flag was yellow and black (please see above). In fact, historians now believe that this was the first flag to be carried aloft by soldiers under the command of George Washington. More importantly, today's City of Baltimore flag is almost identical (please see below).

So, when you think of the City of Baltimore in the future - whether because of the Superbowl or some other timely reference - remember also the modest town of Wervik in West Flanders from which his family hailed. Yet another instance of an unacknowledged contribution of the Flemish diaspora to the discovery and settlement of America.

Copyright 2013 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted without my explicit written consent.