Prince George’s County History & Fascinating Facts
History & Heritage
The story of Prince George’s County begins in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—long before Maryland was ever established—with the discovery and exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and subsequent sailing up the Potomac River. Although the Spanish in the Caribbean knew of the bay, the English were the first to explore and chart it. What they found pleased them. Wrote Captain John Smith, the bay’s first explorer, “Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation…. Here are mountaines, tails, plaines, valleyes, rivers, and brookes, all running more pleasantly into a faire bay, compassed but for the mouth, with fruitful and delightsome land.”
Located in the state of Maryland, Prince George’s County is directly adjacent to Washington, DC. It was established by the 1695 Maryland General Assembly to be effective on St. George’s Day, April 23, 1696, from parts of Calvert and Charles Counties. It was named for Prince George of Denmark, husband of England’s Queen Anne.
In 1748, a portion of Prince George’s County was allocated to form Frederick County. Frederick County was subsequently divided to form what are currently Allegany, Garrett, Montgomery, and Washington counties. In 1791, a portion of Prince George’s County was ceded to form the District of Columbia, Washington, DC. The county seat is Upper Marlboro, MD. The county is part of the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan corridor.
For additional information on Prince George’s County’s rich heritage, visit the former Prince George’s County Tricentennial Commission web page, currently hosted by the Prince George’s County Historical Society.
Also, check our FASCINATING FACTS below for interesting historical tidbits about Prince George’s County.
Prince George’s County has over 300 years of fascinating history, significant “firsts,” and tall tales. Did you know that Jim Henson, creator of the world-famous Muppets, moved to Prince George’s County while in fifth grade, attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, and the University of Maryland in College Park? Our Fascinating Facts page is your introduction to interesting and unique trivia about Prince George’s County.
Prince George’s County is home to: National Harbor, the Gaylord National Resort, MGM National Harbor, The Capital Wheel, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, FedEx Field and the Washington Commanders, Joint Base Andrews & the President’s Air Force One aircraft, the University of Maryland, Bowie State University, Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, National Agricultural Library, National Archives at College Park, Rosecroft Raceway, USDA’s Agricultural Research Center, Six Flags America, and College Park Aviation Museum.
What’s in a name: Prince George’s County was named for Prince George of Denmark. He was the husband of Queen Anne of England (1702-1714).
A game fit for a Queen: On October 19, 1957, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited the University of Maryland as part of a tour of the United States and Canada. In addition to attending a football game, the couple also toured the Giant supermarket located in nearby Chillum, preceding a visit to the White House.
A star is born: Prince George’s County was officially founded on April 23, 1696.
County Flag: On August 17, 1695, Prince George’s County was granted colors for horse and foot soldiers, and a County flag consisting of St. George’s Cross on a white field. The county seal in the flag’s upper left quadrant did not become an official part of the flag until 1963.
County Seal: The County Seal consists of a coat of arms symbolizing Queen Anne, France & England in the first and fourth quarters; Scotland in the second quarter and Ireland in the third quarter. It was designed in 1696.
County Seat: In 1706, the town of Marlborough was founded and it became the County seat in 1721. The name and spelling were changed to “Upper Marlboro” around 1793.
County Song: “Hail Prince George’s”
County Motto: “Semper Eadem” which means “Ever the Same”
County Bird: Eastern Bluebird
County Flower: Daffodil
County Tree: Willow Oak
County Shrub: Glenn Dale Azaleas
County Herb: Beebalm
More Fascinating Facts
Famous Inhabitants: Here are some of the folks who called Prince George’s County home:
- Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets (University Park)
- Mya Harrison, R&B/Pop singer (Glenn Dale)
- Sugar Ray Leonard, Hall of Fame boxer (Palmer Park)
- JC Chasez, former member of ‘N Sync (Bowie)
- Brad Schumacher, former Olympic gold medalist (Bowie)
- Kathie Lee Gifford (Bowie)
- Biz Markie, well-known NYC rap artist (Laurel)
- Kevin Durant, NBA’s Brooklyn Nets (Seat Pleasant)
- Michael Beasley, NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers (Ft. Washington)
- Shawne Merriman, former NFL player (Upper Marlboro)
- Julian Peterson, former NFL player (Temple Hills)
- G. Gordon Liddy, former Presidential aide, Watergate conspirator (Ft. Washington)
- Brian Westbrook, former NFL player (Ft. Washington)
- Martin Lawrence, actor, comedian (Landover)
- Laura Wright, soap opera actress (Clinton)
- Tank, R&B singer (Clinton)
- Marcia Gay Harden, Academy award-winning actress (Clinton)
- Donnie Neuenberger, NASCAR driver (Brandywine)
- Ginuwine, R&B singer (Brandywine)
- Frank Cho, comic book writer/illustrator (Beltsville)
- Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google (Adelphi)
- S. Epatha Merkerson, star of original “Law & Order” (longtime South County resident before relocating to NYC)
- Roger Easton, Sr. Naval scientist and chief inventor of GPS (Oxon Hill)
- Goldie Hawn, actress (Takoma Park, when it was part of Prince George’s)
- Taraji P. Henson, actress (attended Oxon Hill HS)
- Gregory “Sugar Bear” Eliot, member of groundbreaking Go-Go group EU (Upper Marlboro)
- Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Bowie)
- Roger Easton, Sr., Naval scientist, National Medal of Technology recipient, chief inventor of GPS (Oxon Hill)
- Isis King, first transgender contestant on Tyra Bank’s “America’s Next Top Model”
- Wale, hip-hop artist (Largo)
- Cameron Wake, NFL’s Tennessee Titans (Beltsville)
- NaVorro Bowman, NFL former player (District Heights)
- Eva Cassidy, late singer/songwriter (Oxon Hill & Bowie)
- Debbi Morgan, television, screen and stage actor (now lives in PGC)
- Kevin Plank, CEO & founder of Under Armour, Inc (attended the University of Maryland)
- Jeff Kinney, cartoonist, actor, author children’s books including the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series (Fort Washington)
- Scott Van Pelt, ESPN anchor/radio host (attended the University of Maryland)
- Connie Chung, news anchor/reporter (attended the University of Maryland)
- Michael Steele, former MD Lieutenant Governor/former RNC Chairperson (born at AAFB)
- Toni Braxton, R&B Diva (attended Bowie State University)
- Len Bias, drafted by NBA’s Boston Celtics, tragically died before ever playing a game (Landover)
- Thurl Bailey, former NBA player/NC State 1983 NCAA Championship (Bladensburg)
- Danny Ferry, former GM of Atlanta Hawks/former NBA player (Hyattsville)
- Iyanla Vanzant, Spiritual Life Coach (Upper Marlboro)
- Zane (Kristina Roberts), best-selling author of erotic fiction, publisher (Upper Marlboro)
- Chris Haley, actor, filmmaker, nephew of the famed author of “Roots” Alex Haley (Landover)
- Kyle Arrington, former NFL player (Accokeek)
- Ty Lawson, former NBA player (Clinton)
- Joshua Cribbs, NFL Player (Upper Marlboro)
- Jarrett Jack, former NBA player (Ft. Washington)
- Victor Oladipo, NBA’s Indiana Pacers (Upper Marlboro)
- Jeff Green, former NBA player (Cheverly)
- Nolan Smith, former NBA Player (Upper Marlboro)
- Sam Young, former NBA player (Ft. Washington)
- Jermaine Fowler, actor, comedian, writer, producer (Hyattsville)
- Gary Russell Jr., professional boxer, title-holder (Capitol Heights)
- Susan O’Malley, 1st female President of an NBA franchise, Washington Wizards (Clinton)
- Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland (Landover)
- Quinn Cook, NBA’s Golden Los Angeles Lakers (attended DeMatha Catholic)
- Raheem DeVaughn, R&B/Neo-Soul Singer (Hyattsville)
- Grenique, R&B/Neo-Soul Singer (Landover)
- Cathy Lanier, NFL Senior VP of Security (Tuxedo)
- Wayna, Grammy-Nominated R&B Singer & Songwriter (Bowie)
- Jacori Hayes, Major League Soccer Player, Minnesota United FC (Bowie)
- Joseph Haden, NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers (Ft. Washington)
- Francis Tiafoe, ATP professional Tennis player (Hyattsville)
At its peak: The highest elevation in Prince George’s County is 443 feet. The “high point” is located at Riding Stable Road in Laurel, near the Montgomery County Line; 1.2 miles NW of the junction of I-95 and MD Route 198. By comparison, the highest point in Maryland (at 3,360 ft.) is Hoye Crest on Backbone Mountain, which is at the southwest corner of Garrett County.
Bombs away: The first testing of a bomb dropping from an airplane occurred in 1911 at the College Park Airfield (Airport).
Turtle mania: The Diamondback Terrapin (turtle) was made the State reptile and official mascot of Prince George’s County’s University of Maryland College Park in 1994. However, the mascot, known as Testudo, has been affiliated with the University athletic program since 1933.
Rapid-fire air defense: The first testing of a machine gun from an airplane occurred in 1912 at the College Park Airfield (Airport).
Scandal, Watergate & the Nixon tapes: The National Archives at College Park is best known as the current home of former President Richard Nixon’s infamous Watergate tapes. This state-of-the-art facility houses an extensive collection of important and historical documents, tapes and film.
Ladies first: The first woman passenger to fly in an airplane occurred in 1909 at the College Park Airfield (Airport).
The Presidential Airport: Since 1961, Andrews Air Force Base (in Prince George’s County) has been home to the official presidential aircraft “Air Force One.” It is also the main port of entry for foreign military and government officials en route to Washington and the United States.
AAFB, by any other name: Andrews Air Force Base was originally known as Camp Springs Army Air Base. It was renamed Andrews Field in 1945 after Frank Maxwell Andrews, a pivotal figure in the development of the US Air Force.
Busy in business: Prince George’s County has over 14,500 businesses. Over 400 businesses employ 100 or more workers.
We’re high on education: Prince George’s County has a 2-year college (Prince George’s Community College) and five 4-year colleges/universities (including the University of Maryland and Bowie State University).
Land as far as you can see: The land area of Prince George’s County is 495.5 square miles.
Bigger than a breadbox: If Prince George’s County were a city, it would be the 13th largest city in the United States. That’s larger than San Francisco, Atlanta or Boston.
Stately appeal: If Prince George’s County were a state, it would be more populated than Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Wyoming or Alaska.
Colonial heritage: Prince George’s County has within its borders more than 260 historic sites and more 18th-century homes than Williamsburg.
First communication: Prince George’s County is the site of Samuel Morse’s first experimental telegraph message and the country’s first telegraph line.
First in postal service: Prince George’s County is the site of the country’s first U.S. Postal Air Mail Service.
First in flight: Prince George’s County was the home of the nation’s first African-American-owned and operated airport. The Columbia Air Center was established in 1941 by John W. Greene.
First in emergency service: Prince George’s County became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to implement the “911” Emergency Reporting System in 1973.
Home to a historic airfield: Prince George’s County is the home to the world’s oldest continuously operating airport, College Park Airport. The Wright Brothers taught flying lessons here in 1909.
Army’s first flying school: Prince George’s County was home to the first Army Aviation School, established at College Park Airfield (Airport) in 1911 with five planes and four hangars.
Goddard Center takes flight: In 1959, the Goddard Space Flight Center was established as NASA’s first space flight center.
Most challenging mission: Prince George’s County was the base for one of the most challenging missions ever conducted by NASA. In December 1993, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center managed the highly successful first servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Clean as a whistle: The world’s largest cleanroom is in Prince George’s County at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The Hubble Clean Room is an 86,000 square-foot (7989.4 square meters) building used to integrate and test space equipment and hardware. How clean is it? 1,000 times cleaner than a hospital operating room.
The nation’s first chopper flight: The Nation’s first recognized, controlled helicopter flight occurred in Prince George’s County. It happened in a demonstration to the Navy in 1924 at College Park Airfield (Airport).
A plane like no other: Prince George’s County was the birthplace of the famous Ercoupe. The Ercoupe was a small, general airplane designed for anyone to fly. The Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO) of Riverdale began the production of this unique aircraft in 1939. It was the “Ford Escort” of airplanes.
Pistol effect: The world-renowned Italian maker of firearms used worldwide by civilian, military, and police has a home in Prince George’s County. Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta’s Beretta USA factory is located in Accokeek.
At our border: Prince George’s County is bordered by Washington, DC, Montgomery County, Howard County, Anne Arundel County, Calvert County, Charles County and Northern Virginia just across the Potomac River.
Bringing home the gold: Prince George’s County alumnae who brought home Olympic Gold include Bowie native Brad Schumacher (gold medalist, swimming, 1992); Fort Washington native Mark Henderson (gold medalist, swimming, 1996); and Palmer Park native Sugar Ray Leonard (gold medalist, boxing, 1976).
A championship season: Fear the turtle. 2002 marked an exciting year for the University of Maryland – located in Prince George’s County. The Terps were crowned 2002 NCAA National Champions in Men’s Basketball.
Ring of Champions: Prince George’s County was home to two World Championship boxers: Sugar Ray Leonard and Riddick Bowe.
The area’s only NBA Champion: The area’s only NBA Championship team was from Prince George’s County. The Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) won their only championship in 1978. They played at the famous Capital Centre in Landover before moving to Verizon Center in Washington, DC.
The Triple Crown: Prince George’s County was home to two Triple Crown Winners: Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935.
Land of Dinosaurs: The official Maryland State Dinosaur is the Astrodon Johnstoni. It lived between 130 million and 95 million years ago. Teeth from the Astrodon Johnstoni were first discovered in Prince George’s County in 1858.
Men of Spirit: John Carroll, born in Prince George’s County, was the first Bishop and the first Archbishop of the Catholic Church in North America. Thomas John Claggett, also born in Prince George’s County, was the first Episcopal Bishop in the United States.
Land to share: The original territory of Prince George’s County included what is now the District of Columbia, Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Alleghany and Garrett Counties.
Birth of Washington, DC: In 1791, Prince George’s County provided land to create the greater part of our Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C.
World’s largest book bin: The National Agricultural Library in Prince George’s County is the largest library of its type (agriculture) in the world.
Cell phone first: Prince George’s County is considered the home to the world’s first independent cellular phone system, Cellular One.
Full of hot air: America’s first unmanned hot air balloon ascension took place in Bladensburg in 1784.
Battle for the Nation’s Capital: On August 24, 1814, one of the nation’s most historic military engagements against the British, the Battle of Bladensburg, occurred during the War of 1812. By the end of the day, American forces were ordered to fall back. The British would continue on to set the White House ablaze. They also burned the U.S. Capitol and other government buildings before abandoning the city the next day.
The biggest stadium in the NFL: Landover’s FedEx Field, home of the Washington Commanders football team, was once the largest capacity stadium in the National Football League. Up until the 2011 season, it could seat over 93,000 fans. Seating capacity has been reduced to make way for a proposed “fan” decks.
The beginning of the Muppets: The creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson, grew up in University Park and was a graduate of the University of Maryland. There is a special statue on the campus grounds commemorating his achievements.
Historic Greentown: Greenbelt is a planned community that was designed and built by the federal government during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Greenbelt was the first of three federal “greentowns” — with one in Wisconsin and Ohio. In 1997, Greenbelt became a National Historic Landmark.
Down with the ship: During the War of 1812, Commodore Joshua Barney sank his flotilla at Bladensburg rather than have it captured by the British as they stormed the capital.
Sir, I challenge you to a duel: The Dueling Grounds in Colmar Manor was the site of over 50 duels between 1808-1868. One of the most famous disputes occurred between Commodore Stephen Decatur and James Barron on March 22, 1820. Decatur was fatally wounded during the exchange of gunfire. Among others to lose their lives at the Dueling Grounds, General Armistead Mason and Daniel Key, the son of Francis Scott Key.
A wildlife haven: Nine kinds of turtles live here. And, 317 types of birds have been officially observed in Prince George’s County.
Flight of an assassin leads to the first US execution of a woman: Built in 1852, the Surratt House in Clinton was a farmhouse, tavern, hostelry, post office, and polling place. It was also a Confederate safe house. On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, stopped at Surratt on his flight out of Washington, DC. As a result, Mary Surratt was convicted in a military court of conspiracy to assassinate the President. On July 7, 1865, she became the first woman to be executed by the federal government.
Daughter of Booker T. Washington resided here: The daughter of Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, once lived in Prince George’s County from 1907-1913. Portia Washington Pittman and her husband, William Pittman, lived on Eastern Avenue in Fairmont Heights before moving to Dallas, Texas in 1913. William Pittman was one of the country’s prominent, early black architects and built the house in Fairmont Heights that still stands today.
Enslaved African Americans help build a county: In the early 1800s at least half of the population of Prince George’s County, Maryland, was enslaved African Americans.
Plantation site joins the underground: In 2005, Oxon Cove Park was accepted as a member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom for the discovery of the Jacob Shaw story. Jacob Shaw was enslaved on the Berry Plantation, which today comprises the southernmost part of the park. Seventeen enslaved people lived on the property in the 1800s.
Civil War Vets birth an African-American town: North Brentwood was the first African-American town to be incorporated in Prince George’s County. It was settled by African-American veterans of the Civil War. Beginning in 1887, these veterans began purchasing lots from their former commander, Captain Wallace A. Bartlett.
Defending our Nation’s Capital: Fort Washington, on the bank of the Potomac River, is the only permanent fortification built to defend the river approach to the Nation’s Capital, Washington, DC.
Native Americans Longest Walk: In 2008, the Greenbelt Park campground hosted the Native Americans Longest Walk II. Over 800 walkers traveled the 8,200 miles from Alcatraz Island to Washington, DC. It covered 24 states, 35 reservations and raised awareness about sacred sites' protection, cultural survival, youth empowerment, and Native American rights. The 2008 Longest Walk marked the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk of 1978 which resulted in historic changes for Native America.
Tornado touchdown: On Sept. 24, 2001, a multiple-vortex “F3” tornado roared through Prince George’s County. The tornado’s peak intensity was through the University of Maryland campus in College Park. The storm then moved parallel to I-95 through Laurel area covering a path measuring 17.5 miles in length. The tornado caused two fatalities, 55 injuries and over $101 million in property damage.
Prince George’s honors those lost on 9/11: The 9/11 Memorial Park, dedicated on September 11, 2006 and located at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park, has a brick sidewalk lined with 25 white Crepe Myrtle trees for each of the residents who died in the attacks. There is also a granite memorial with the inscription, ‘‘Prince George’s County honors those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. We will always remember them.”