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Charles Benedict Calvert Resource Guide

This resource guide identifies known primary sources of information about Charles Benedict Calvert, the University of Maryland's founder. Included are university records and publications, government documents, farm journals, newspapers, and manuscripts, with a particular emphasis on materials available at the University of Maryland campus. Explore the full list of resources, a timeline, biography and additional resources. 

Timeline

Biography

Charles Benedict Calvert, descendant of the first Lord Baltimore, is generally considered the primary force behind the founding of the Maryland Agricultural College. Chartered in 1856, the College was the forerunner of today’s University of Maryland. For over 25 years, Calvert articulated a strong vision of agricultural education throughout Maryland and acted in innumerable ways to make his vision a reality. He and his brother, George H. Calvert, sold the land that formed the core of the College Park campus for $20,000, half its original cost, and lent the college half of the purchase price.

He was elected as the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees, held the second largest number of subscriptions to charter the college, chaired a committee to plan the first buildings, laid the cornerstone for the "Barracks," stepped in to serve as president of the college when the first president had to resign, and underwrote college expenses when there was no money to pay salaries.

Born on August 23, 1808, Charles Benedict was the fifth child of George Calvert and Rosalie Stier Calvert. He was educated at Bladensburg Academy, attended boarding school in Philadelphia, and spent two years in study at the University of Virginia. He took an early and active interest in the workings of Riversdale, his family estate, located a short distance from the College Park campus, and took over its operation upon the death of his father in 1838. In 1839, he married Charlotte Augusta Norris of Baltimore, and together they had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood.

Calvert left an impression far beyond the campus of the Maryland Agricultural College. He served three terms in the Maryland House of Delegates. His agricultural leadership began with his tenure as president of the Prince George’s County Agricultural Society, then expanded to the state and national level. He was a founding member of the Maryland Agricultural Society and served as its president in its formative years, 1848-1854. Later, he served as a vice president of the United States Agricultural Society. His association with agricultural societies provided a platform from which he could advocate another of his cherished goals—representation of farming interests at the highest level of executive government. Calvert represented the 6th District of Maryland in the 37th Congress from 1861 to 1863. The pinnacle of his service was the passage of a bill to create a separate bureau of agriculture, signed by Abraham Lincoln on May 15, 1862. The bureau was elevated to a cabinet department in 1889. He was also known in Congress as a proponent of slave owners’ property rights. At once a staunch unionist, a beneficiary of the planter’s way of life, and a citizen of a state more divided than any other, his life was a microcosm of the Civil War conflict.

However, Calvert must first and foremost be described as a farmer. He worked at and discussed cattle breeding, guano, farm buildings, machinery, and irrigation as easily as he discoursed on loftier and broader themes. He experimented widely and broadly to improve agricultural productivity.

No large cache of Calvert’s personal papers is available for examination, but he did regularly speak and write in public forums, and his ideas inspired comment from others. From his own words, we know that he was a man of strongly held views and plain but well-crafted language. He questioned the status quo in many arenas while holding fast to traditional ways in others. He was known as a generous man and, with his wife, Charlotte, he entertained graciously at Riversdale and at the National Hotel in Washington, in which he held an ownership interest passed down from his father. His untimely death in 1864 robbed the Maryland Agricultural College of years of valuable stewardship and the world of an accomplished man.

Additional resources

Additional primary source material may be available in papers of other significant figures of the day with whom he corresponded, and more accounts of his activities may be documented in the large selection of Maryland and Washington, DC newspapers.

The preparation of the Charles Benedict Calvert Resource Guide was made possible by assistance of numerous individuals.

At the Riversdale Historic House Museum, Edward Day, Director, and Jill St. John, Registrar, shared their enthusiasm and materials on Charles Benedict Calvert.

Thomas Mann, Reference Librarian at the Library of Congress, provided an excellent introduction to its vast holdings and mapped out a plan for my work at LOC.

Anne Southwell, Manuscripts Cataloger in the Special Collections Department of the University of Virginia Library, provided copies of documents relevant to Calvert’s study there and background information on the early history of that institution. James Cross, Special Collections Librarian at Clemson University, not only identified and sent copies of previously undiscovered letters from Charlotte Calvert; he helped decipher them as well.

Susan Pearl, Historian, made significant contributions to complete the document. It would have been a much lesser work without her help.

At the National Agricultural Library, Rebecca Mazur, Reference Librarian, escorted me into the stacks and enjoyed the agricultural journal hunt as much as I did. Sara Lee, Librarian, Special Collections, also provided assistance.

Pat McMillan, Maryland State Archives, saved me hours of time with quick and sure answers. Robert Barnes showed me the ropes there.

On my numerous visits to the Enoch Pratt Free Library Maryland Room in Baltimore, Jeff Korman and his staff were helpful and thorough — as they always are.

Beatriz Hardy, Director of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society, provided an orientation to its holdings and Elisabeth Proffen, Special Collections librarian, aided my research.

On the College Park campus, Whitman H. Ridgway, Associate Professor, pointed me in the direction of the Freedmen & Southern Society Project, and Leslie S. Rowland allowed me to review the project’s index of materials from the National Archives.

Dr. George H. Callcott, Professor Emeritus, provided me with many fruits of his previous research labor on Calvert and identified several important directions for future research.

Leigh Ryan, Director of the Writing Project, graciously shared her work and resources on many aspects of Riversdale history.

At the University of Maryland Archives & Manuscripts Department, Jennifer Evans got me started nearly two years ago. Elizabeth McAllister kept her eye open for treasures in the archives. The editing team of Ruth Alvarez, Jennie Levine, and Suzanne Linebaugh kept me honest and consistent. Ann Hudak helped me figure out where we might put some of the documents; Doug McElrath straightened out the newspapers. And Ann Hanlon gracefully met the challenge of preparing the document for the web.

Most of all, I’d like to thank Anne Turkos, University Archivist, who guided and encouraged me even as she wielded her mighty red pen. Her love for the University of Maryland is truly infectious! I am grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution to the recognition of the university's 150th Anniversary and of Charles Benedict Calvert’s role in its history.

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Malissa Ruffner
June 2005

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