The Battle of Brooklyn in Five Objects: Number 5, The Old Line State Quarter

The last object in this five-day series is one that many readers have likely seen before: the Old Line State quarter.


The Maryland Old Line State quarter was released in March 2000, and was the seventh coin issued under the 50 States Commemorative Coin Program Act.  It features the Maryland State House, which was the nation’s first peacetime capital, and the location where the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. It also shows leaves from the White Oak, which is the state’s official tree.  Lastly, and most important to this series, it shows Maryland’s nickname: The Old Line State. [1]


Maryland State House

General George Washington is credited with the earliest reference to the nickname, apparently calling the Maryland soldiers the “old line.”  Each state’s troops were referred to as “lines.” Calling them “old” distinguished them from the new troops, honoring the Marylanders as soldiers who had shown discipline and bravery in battle.  Washington knew he could count on the Maryland Line to perform well and follow orders in battle, as they proved themselves in the Battles of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Stony Point, and throughout the Southern Campaign, even at defeats like Camden.  Some of the battles were losses for the American side, and some were major victories.  No matter the outcome, the Maryland Line proved time and time again that they had what it took to be a strong, effective force in battle. The Old Line State has been Maryland’s nickname for centuries, but how and where did it originate?  The exact origin is unclear and debated, but the commonly accepted theory is that the term is a tribute to the first Maryland Line of Revolutionary War soldiers, or the Maryland 400. This is the final item in the series because it represents the lasting legacy of the men of the Maryland Line and how their lives affect our culture still to this day. [2]

engraving of washington

His Excellency General Washington, Engraved by Charles Willson Peale Philadelphia, 1778

 During the Battle of Brooklyn, the Continental Army was faced with the decision to retreat or be crushed.  They chose to retreat, while the Maryland Line stayed on the field to guard the rest of the army’s escape. Washington observed the Marylanders’ actions and exclaimed to Israel Putman “good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose.”  Most of the men who survived the Battle of Brooklyn re-enlisted, and continued to serve throughout the war as the infrastructure of the successful Maryland Line.  Washington utilized the Maryland Line in the most vital battles and positions, and even included the Maryland men in his personal writings. [3]

The soldiers of the Maryland Line shared the feeling that they were a successful and cohesive group. As the war continued and many officer positions needed to be filled, Maryland soldiers wrote to Nathanael Greene expressing their concern that their reliability and reputation would be “diminished by being obliged to serve under them [newly appointed officers].”  Greene wrote back, responding “nothing would give me greater pleasure then to have it in my power to oblige a corps of officers whose service have been so important to their country, and so honorable to themselves.”  The Marylanders later became a key part of Greene’s southern army in the 1780s. [4]

After the war, officers from the Maryland Line continued the relationships they built with one another.  Towards the end of the war, the Society of Cincinnati established groups in each of the original thirteen states.  William Smallwood and Mordecai Gist became the first officers of the Maryland chapter, which met as long as there were survivors in order to foster relationships and share in their collective military history. [5]

old line construction company

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), August 1940.

As time went on and the men of the Maryland 400 were no longer around, the “Old Line” reference came to symbolize the whole state.  The use of the nickname can often be seen in the mid-1800s in circumstances such as poems, songs, conversations, and names of companies, like the Old Line Candy Company, the Old Line Real Estate Company, and the Old Line Construction Company.  Additionally, James Ryder Randall appealed to the memory of the Old Line in his ballad, “Maryland, My Maryland” with the lyrics “I hear the distant thunder-hum, Maryland, My Maryland! The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum, Maryland, My Maryland!”  Scholars and historians did not begin to use the name as a reference for the entire state until the twentieth century.  This suggests it gained its acceptance, popularity, and place in Maryland culture through informal means, and mostly by word of mouth.

canning season

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), September 1907.

 In 1940, the Maryland Writers Project published Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State, featuring driving tours and local history and lore. A revised version,  A New Guide to the Old Line State, was published by the Maryland State Archives in 1999. The books’ titles, like the state’s nickname, carries a tribute to the state’s Revolutionary War soldiers, whose history of bravery began 241 years ago.

If you want to see the other objects featured in this series, click here to view them all.  We really hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s blog posts in preparation for the anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27. 



[1] “Maryland State Quarter,” Coin Collecting Guide for Beginners, 21 August 2017.

[2] “The State of Maryland,” Netstate, 21 August 2017; “Men of the Old Line State: Maryland’s great contribution to independence,” The Bay Net, 21 August 2017; “Why is Maryland Called the ‘Old Line State?,’” Fox Hill, 21 August 2017; Ryan Polk, “The Origin of the ‘the Old Line State,’” Archives of Maryland Online, 2005.

[3] Polk.

[4] Polk.

[5] Polk.


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