Historical Item Analysis: Mercer Literary Society Minutes

calvert
Charles Benedict Calvert, 1808-1864

When Charles Benedict Calvert died on May 12, 1864, the Maryland Agricultural College (MAC) lost its founder and one of its strongest supporters. As an advocate for the college, Calvert played a key role in obtaining MAC’s charter from the Maryland General Assembly, canvassing in support of the institution and fundraising to launch it. As a result, his death shook the MAC community.

Upon his death, the Mercer Literary Society, one of the college’s earliest student groups, honored him at its regular meeting. The meeting minutes pictured below show the society’s Resolution on the Death of Charles Benedict Calvert, dated May 14, 1864. The society expresses “warmest feelings of respect and sympathy to his bereaved family” and writes that Calvert was a “neighbor, benefactor and friend.” The meeting then adjourned immediately out of respect for Calvert and his family. These minutes offer a unique perspective into how the student body reacted to Calvert’s death.

To learn more about the Mercer Literary Society or Charles Benedict Calvert, visit the websites below, or stop by the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to see these historical items for yourself.

http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1658

https://umdarchives.wordpress.com/tag/charles-benedict-calvert/

This is the tenth and last entry in a series of blog posts prepared by students in the current HIST 429F: History of the University of Maryland class taught by University Archivist Anne Turkos and Assistant University Archivist Jason Speck. Each of the students was assigned an historical item to analyze by responding to a series of six questions. They were also required to submit a brief blog post as the concluding portion of their assignment. We will be featuring some of these blog posts and the items the students reviewed for the remainder of the semester, so check back frequently for more of the HIST 429F student projects.

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ABC’s of UMD: Letter C

C is for CHARLES BENEDICT CALVERT

Charles Benedict Calvert
Charles Benedict Calvert, photograph by Matthew Brady, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a00240

Charles Benedict Calvert (1808-1864) is considered to be the founder of the Maryland Agricultural College (MAC). Calvert worked vigorously to obtain the charter for the MAC from the Maryland General Assembly, canvassing farmers, planters, and businessmen across the state to raise funds for the institution he sought to establish. He led the committee that planned the first buildings, laid the cornerstone for the “Barracks,” and held the second largest number of stock subscriptions to charter the college. When the MAC opened its doors in 1859, he served as the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees and became president of the college when the first president, Benjamin Hallowell, had to resign. Calvert also underwrote college expenses when there was no money to pay salaries. When he died in 1864, the MAC lost one of its strongest advocates

In this letter in the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives, Calvert outlines his vision for the MAC, stating that the college would “teach everything that is taught in the best Universities.” He outlines the coursework the students will take as well as their daily activities, setting the tone for the school that would become today’s internationally renowned University of Maryland.

Charles Benedict Calvert letterCalvert, letter 2 1858

If you would like to learn more information about Calvert you can read his full bio here and check out the list of resources we’ve found about him in this guide.

This is the third post in our series on Terrapin Tales called ABC’s of UMD! Posts will come out twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, throughout the semester. If you want to learn more about campus history, check back weekly to see what we’ve picked to highlight, and you can also visit our encyclopedia University of Maryland A to Z: MAC to Millennium for more UMD facts.

Do you have other ABC’s about campus? Let us know in the comments below!

Up next is the Letter D!

Happy Birthday UMD!

On this day,159 years ago, the Maryland General Assembly granted a charter to the Maryland Agricultural College, now known as the University of Maryland. Charles Benedict Calvert, a descendant of the first Lord Baltimore, and a group of prominent Maryland planters led the effort to establish the college which was to focus on instruction in scientific agriculture and training its students “for all the duties of a man and a citizen.” You can read the original charter for the MAC here.

So Happy Birthday, University of Maryland!!

Founder’s 205th birthday

Today, August 23, 2013, marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of Charles Benedict Calvert, founder of the Maryland Agricultural College, which became the University of Maryland. 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. Calvert was also 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.

Calvert also left an impression far beyond the campus of the Maryland Agricultural College. He served three terms in the Maryland House of Delegates and one term in the U.S. Congress. 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. A major proponent of scientific agriculture, he also held leadership positions in local, state, and national agricultural societies. 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.

A close up of Calvert's tomb stone
A close up of Calvert’s tomb stone

You can find a more detailed biography of Calvert and a list of resources about his life and accomplishments at http://www.lib.umd.edu/special/projects/cbc/home.

Charles Benedict Calvert is buried about three miles south of the university in a family plot in Riverdale Park.

A Visit to Riversdale

On July 12, the University Archives staff took a trip to the Riversdale House Museum, the historic home of Charles Benedict Calvert, a direct descendant of the Lords Baltimore and the founder of the Maryland Agricultural College, the original name for the University of Maryland.

(left)Tableau in the Civil War exhibit. Charles Benedict Calvert’s portrait hangs at left on the wall. (right) Original stable, now a meeting room.

Riversdale, built in the early 1800s, has been restored to reflect the years between 1801 and 1838 when Charles Benedict Calvert’s father George and his wife Rosalie lived in the home. We discovered there are many interesting things for visitors to see at Riversdale, including a great new Civil War exhibit based on original Calvert family letters from the time period. One of our favorite things about the house, though, was the elaborate style and decoration of the rooms. We also enjoyed learning about the members of the Calvert family and their daily routines around the house. Riversdale even has a dairy and a wine cellar complete with bottles of wine under the front stairs.

(left) Portion of salon looking into the dining room. Rosalie Calvert grew lemon trees here in the winter, which were moved onto the front porch for the summer months. (right) Wine cellar in the basement.

You can learn more about the construction of the house from Margaret Callcott’s book, Mistress of Riversdale, the collected letters of Rosalie Calvert to her family members.

If you find yourself in the Riverdale Park/College Park/Hyattsville area, Riversdale is a great place for anyone interested in Maryland or 19th-century history. The house also hosts a variety of events for families and people of all ages. You can read more about the history of Riversdale and check out their events calendar using this link:  http://history.pgparks.com/sites_and_museums/Riversdale_House_Museum.htm#events

Charles Benedict Calvert

Happy birthday, Charles Benedict Calvert!

Charles Benedict Calvert
Charles Benedict Calvert. Photo by Matthew Brady. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-cwpbh-03464

August 23, 2012, is the 204th anniversary of the birth of Charles Benedict Calvert.[1] Calvert, a descendant of the first Lord Baltimore, is generally considered the primary force behind the founding of the Maryland Agricultural College, known today as the University of Maryland. For over twenty-five years, Calvert articulated a strong vision of agricultural education throughout the state of 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, 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, and chaired a committee to plan the first buildings. He also 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.

Charles Benedict Calvert letterCalvert also had a very strong vision for the Maryland Agricultural College, which he described in a September 29, 1858, letter to Baltimore businessman J. C. Nicholson nearly one year before the college opened. He tells Nicholson, “We expect to teach everything that is taught in the best Universities and in addition to those branches we shall require every student to learn Scientific and practical agriculture and mechanics which of course will require him to engage at certain hours in all the outdoor operations of the farm and work shops.” In addition to outlining the courses the students will be required to take, Calvert sets very high expectations for the young college: “We desire to have an Institution superior to any other and we shall have such a one if the farmers are only true to themselves and give us sufficient means to erect the buildings and fairly start the Institution.” He also encourages Nicholson to enroll his son in the college, and one year later, when classes begin in October 1859, Jacob E. Nicholson is indeed a member of the MAC’s first entering class.

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.

So let’s all wish a very happy birthday to our founder (leave a comment if you’d like!). We hope you will eat a piece of cake in his honor![2]

P.S. – Look for a Terp on this site and find a special treat!

1. Find out more about Charles Benedict Calvert here.
2. We believe any reason to celebrate is cause for cake – and this is certainly an excellent reason!