Examining the Role of Slavery in the Early Days of the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland was founded in 1859 on land donated by slave owner Charles Benedict Calvert. Calvert owned 52 slaves, according to the 1860 Census.

A fire that ravaged the College Park campus a century ago destroyed many of the paper records of the university’s earliest days. As a result, there is no direct evidence that slaves participated in the construction of buildings on campus.

But a yearlong investigation of the university’s ties to slavery by students in an undergraduate history course led by Ira Berlin, one of the nation’s foremost scholars of the slavery era, concluded that slaves undoubtedly played some role. The students found no “smoking gun" evidence but they concluded that slavery was so intrinsic to the state’s economy in those days that it can be presumed that slaves were involved in the construction of the University of Maryland.