Plantation to Scholars: The Backdrop for a Revolution

The Maryland Agricultural College (MAC), known today as the University of Maryland, began with a group of Maryland plantation owners securing a charter in 1856. Some early investors included William N. Mercer, a tobacco planter who left Maryland to grow sugar cane in Louisiana and became the largest stockholder with 300 shares; Johns Hopkins, philanthropist and namesake for Johns Hopkins University; and James T. Earle, from the Eastern Shore. Charles Benedict Calvert was one of the more prominent names associated with the college's founding; he was a descendant of the Lords of Baltimore and the son of George Calvert, a wealthy planter, and Emily Stiers, who is described as part of the aristocracy. The Calvert family, who were tied to the slave economy, bequeathed approximately 120 enslaved individuals to C. B. Calvert after his father's death in 1838, two of whom were his half-siblings, along with sizable parcels of land. According to the 1850 census, C. B. Calvert still had 65 enslaved individuals six years before the MAC's founding. Approximately 400 acres of land from the northern lot of Riversdale Plantation, known as the Rossburg Farm, were sold by C. B. Calvert for more than $20,000 to serve as the location for the school.

As a land grant institution, the college envisioned an educational facility dedicated to agricultural experimentation and the elevation of the "ordinary farmer to prosperity and cultural refinement." Institutional records show that the MAC graduated all-white male classes for several generations. It was not until 1871 that the admittance of international students such as Pastor A. Cooke of Panama (1871-72), Pyon Su of Korea (1887-88), and the first known female students Elizabeth Hook and Charlotte Vaux, who officially matriculated at the Maryland State College of Agriculture in 1916, that the college began to break up its tradition of racial and gender homogeneity.

As the college turned lands that previously housed enslaved families and individuals into a place of scholarly endeavors, its beginnings would also launch generations of social movements that demanded acceptance of communities who historically existed in the margins.


  • 1848

    The Farmers Club, originally a group of planters in Baltimore with elitist attitudes catering to “intelligent farmers,” changed their name to Maryland State Agricultural Society and began to solicit planters who could support the development of the Maryland Agriculture College (MAC).

  • 1855

    A line drawing showing a vision of the MAC.

  • 1856

    Several planters and members from the Maryland State Agricultural Society secure a charter for the MAC. Many of the founders, such as William Tilghman Goldsborough, owned enslaved individuals.

  • 1859

    October 6, 1859, the MAC officially opens its doors to approximately 250 students.

  • 1887

    In 1887, Pyon Su, a Korean student, was admitted to the college and became the first Korean to receive a degree from any American college or university and assisted in breaking the homogeneity of the all-white male campus.