Entangled Histories: Slavery & UMD

The history of the University of Maryland and the institution of American slavery overlap and are deeply entwined. The following is a brief overview of our exploratory research into the University and its ties to slavery:

Slavery was legalized in Maryland in 1664. Although the state prohibited the import of slaves in 1783, slavery was still legal. The Maryland General Assembly declared that free black men could not vote in 1802, and in 1832 the legislature prohibited free blacks from entering the state. In 1857 the United States Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott decision, which denied African Americans citizenship status.

One year earlier, in March of 1856, a charter was issued for the Maryland Agricultural College, the forerunner of the University of Maryland, was issued. In 1858, Charles Benedict Calvert, a prominent (white) citizen of Maryland, agreed to sell 428 acres of his Riversdale plantation for use as the site of the new college. On October 5 of 1859, the new college opened and in 1862 the first degrees were awarded, the same year as the Morrill Land Grant Act.

Calvert was a slave owner. His accounting book records the names, ages, values, and sale prices of 330 enslaved persons who lived at his various farms, which no doubt included Riversdale, now part of the University of Maryland. According to the 1850 census “Schedule 2: Slave Inhabitants,” lists two entries for Calvert, with sixty-five and four slaves, respectively. In my research as part of this project, I found an entry for a Charles Calvert in Prince George’s county detailing some of his slaves as part of the 1850 Census. Further time and research could reveal more entries for Charles Calvert that shed more light on the number of enslaved people he owned.

An important report done by Professor Ira Berlin and his History 429 student sheds light on the relationship between the University of Maryland and slavery. Titled Knowing Our History: African American Slavery & the University of Maryland, it concludes that there is no evidence that enslaved African Americans were involved in constructing the buildings on campus, they likely were involved in the larger context of building or constructing – “If slaves didn’t lay the bricks, they made the bricks. If they didn’t make the bricks, they drove the wagon that brought the bricks. If they didn’t drive the wagon, they built the wagon wheels.” Certainly the labor of enslaved persons was inextricably intertwined with the University in complex ways. A pdf of the study is available at http://cdm16064.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p266901coll7/id/2614

University of Maryland, College Park, Archives.
United States Census. 1850. http://www.lib.umd.edu/binaries/content/gallery/public/special/collections/university/cbcresearchguide.pdf
Berlin, Ira, Knowing Our History: Slavery & The University of Maryland, p. 2, University of Maryland, 2009, accessed from The Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group, Legal Information Archive, http://cdm16064.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p266901coll7/id/2614

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