Monday, May 16, 2011

Against The County Judge, They Held A Grudge, But Not Forevermore

In order to have something named after you, usually it takes you having done something that someone finds worthy. Unless you name stuff after yourself. Hi, Donald Trump. Hi. Robert Byrd. Or unless someone does it as an insult. Hi. Dave Barry. But we're getting away from the point. Generally, if you have something named for you, it's an honor.

And the bigger the thing named after you, the more of an honor it is. There are plenty of buildings to go around, plenty of streets to go around. After that, though, scarcity starts to take hold, and for cities and up, not only are there only so many places, it gets progressively more difficult to rename something. So when you get up into counties, states, and especially countries, you want to be very careful in who you choose to honor.

States and countries are too easy to look up. So we'll do counties.

Plenty of counties have been named for Presidents. 24 Presidents have counties; the leader is George Washington with 31, followed by Thomas Jefferson with 24 (one of them encompassing the bulk of my hometown), and Andrew Jackson with 21. Why only 24? Note once again the difficulty and inertia in renaming something this large. The most recent President to carry a county name is Warren Harding. That means nothing for Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 or Obama.

Here are three of the others...


Bremer County, county seat Waverly, is named for Swedish novelist Fredrika Bremer. She was raised to be a member of the Swedish aristocracy; however, she found this too patronizing and too unfair to women that were not as fortunate. This actually included herself; for all the money that surrounded her, the only money she controlled was the money she made from her writing. One of her books, Hertha (an excerpt here), written in 1856, was so highlighting of the lack of women's rights, including her own lack of control over money, that it caused a debate on the floor of parliament, and served as such a sparkplug to a Swedish feminist movement that the Swedish women's movement named its journal Hertha.


Forrest County, county seat Hattiesburg, is named for Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, which is just about the last guy an American county ought to be named after, seeing as he was, among other things including the previous, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

I should not have to go any further about him, his history as a slave trader, or his actions at the Fort Pillow Massacre, because we already did that here last year. Suffice to say, Hattiesburg and the state of Mississippi ought to be embarrassed.


Charles County, county seat La Plata, is named For Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore. The now-defunct title refers to Baltimore Manor in Ireland. The 2nd Baron, Cecilius, is where the city of Baltimore got its name; the manor is deeply entrenched in Maryland etymology and a descendant, Charles Benedict Calvert, was elected to one term in the House of Representatives. But we're here for the 5th Baron, Charles.

State pride being what it is, though, you wonder why Maryland is here for him. For a short time from 1732-1733, he took charge of the then-colony, which was then undergoing a border dispute with Pennsylvania. William Penn had made a surveying error in 1682 that, among other things, put Philadelphia in Maryland. Philadelphia was too valuable to shrug off, and hostilities commenced largely due to the instigation of Thomas Cresap, dispatched by Maryland in 1730 to settle in the disputed region and prevent Pennsylvania from doing the same. The dispute would take his name, Cresap's War. In 1732, using a map which was, to not mince words, a piece of garbage, with measurements that were missing and wrong anyway, Charles reached a settlement with Pennsylvania. The settlement was in Pennsylvania's favor, with Maryland ceding 1,000 square miles of territory including Philadelphia. And, while we're at it, Gettysburg. The rest of Maryland would try to invalidate his blunder in court, but to no avail. An English court ruled that Charles' agreement counted, and the border was set in 1867 upon the completion of the work of two English surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. (Hence the name, Mason-Dixon Line.)

The man that single-handedly lost Philadelphia for Maryland has a county named for him by Maryland. Go figure.

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