Eagle Archive: Strictly speaking, Carroll's predominant language was once German

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In October 1833, in the area we now know as Carroll County, a vote was taken as to whether or not we should form a new county in Maryland from portions of Baltimore and Frederick counties.

A bill authorizing the vote passed the General Assembly on March 2, 1833, according to "Carroll County Maryland, A History 1837-1976," by Nancy Warner, and "Advocates of the new county sprang into action" to help promote the vote.


They formed committees to write pamphlets containing arguments advocating a vote in favor of a new county. Several of my ancestors, the Warfields were members of this committee.

Some of the pamphlets were even printed in English — a special consideration, since the predominant language in Carroll County at the time was German.


Anecdotal accounts indicate that German was the predominant language in Carroll up to around the time of the Civil War, especially in the northern and western portions of the county.

There were a number of obstacles to forming a new county in 1833, including the issue of taxation and sectionalism. Much of the sectionalism involved the cultural and linguistic differences involving the predominant German population in Taneytown, Manchester and Hampstead.

Some of those folks were not really sure they wanted to form a new county — especially with a minority that spoke English and owned slaves, and well, perhaps were not as well educated or cultured as the German population.

There was a great deal of concern that the English speakers would never learn German — and thus would exploit the generosity of the German majority. Paying extra taxes to support the English speakers was also of great concern. To throw salt in the wound, the cost of the election was increased, because some of the ballots had to be printed in English for the non-German speakers.

Ultimately, the October 1833 referendum was defeated.

Political chaos ensued and fingers were pointed. It was not until Jan. 19, 1837, that an act creating Carroll County was passed in the General Assembly.

Before the Germans — and subsequently the immigrant English — settled in Carroll County, the very first "settlers" were the Algonquians, who arrived around 800 B.C. The original Algonquians divided into a number of distinct tribe-nations, which formed a multi-nation government under a constitution that dates to somewhere around August 1142. The original Carroll Countians spoke one of many dialects of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic family of North America.

Today it is a paradox that for 75 percent of Carroll County's history, we did not speak English.


A Carroll County commissioner has drafted legislation that would make English the county's official language — the commissioners will host a hearing on the matter on Oct. 30, 7 p.m., at the New Windsor Community Building, 1100 Green Valley Road.

The discussion with the commissioners on Oct. 30 needs to be respectful. After all, the worst thing that can happen to a community is that everybody thinks the same way all the time. It would be catastrophic if citizens and potential leaders feel unable to proffer a different point of view for fear of the politics of personal destruction.

As for myself, I grew up in the plant nursery farming and landscaping industry, and have worked with speakers of other languages — mainly Spanish-speaking folks — all my life. I recall those colleagues not by the language they spoke, but by their values of being hardworking and family-oriented. Today, I know Spanish-speaking workers are welcome in our community — and are critical to the labor pool for agriculture in Carroll County, and all of Maryland.

By actions, and not accents, I suppose I've come to realize those who speak various languages in our community have come to this country — just like us or our ancestors, at some point in time — to work hard and make a better life for their families.

I suppose that's a common dream in any language.

When he is not busy trying to learn Spanish, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at