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John H. Alexander papers


John H. Alexander papers
Alexander, John Henry
Collection number:
0.75 linear feet
Bulk dates:
Inclusive dates:
Collection Area:
State of Maryland and Historical Collections
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

John H. Alexander (1812-1867) had a varied career as a lawyer, civil engineer, surveyor, geologist, and teacher at the universities of Pennsylvania and Maryland. As Chief Engineer of Maryland, he surveyed the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. He also conducted a coast survey for the federal government, and, as Maryland's first geologist, he mapped coal deposits in the state. Important subjects documented in the collection include the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, slack water navigation, canal legislation, surveys, contracts, railroads, Indian tribes, real estate, and Alexander's family life. The collection consists of reports, pamphlets, essays, and correspondence.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

John H. Alexander papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

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Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

John Henry Alexander was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1812, the youngest child of William and Mary (Harwood Stockett) Alexander. He attended St. John's College in Annapolis, graduating in 1827 when he was only fifteen. He spent the next four years reading law privately, but apparently he did not take the bar exam, choosing instead to begin working for the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. Alexander also attended medical lectures in Baltimore, though he did not receive a degree in Medicine.

As part of his work for the railroad, Alexander performed surveys and made maps of the line. This experience, combined with his academic achievements, led to Alexander's 1833 appointment as the Chief Engineer of Maryland with a charge to create a complete map of Maryland. While carrying out his research for this task, Alexander mapped the richest coal deposits in the state. He joined with a friend, P.T. Tyson, Esq., to found the George Creek Iron and Coal Company. By the time Alexander resigned his position in 1837, the company's success had made him financially secure.

Alexander held a wide variety of professional appointments over his lifetime. He served as Chief Engineer of Maryland, geologist of Maryland, and in 1857 was appointed Commissioner to England to work on creating an international system of weights and measures. Alexander also was professor of civil engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and professor of physics at the University of Maryland.

He published a number of works including a treatise on international coinage of Great Britain and the United States (1857) and an opinion on the location of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Wheeling, Virginia (1850). He edited a treatise on leveling (1838) and Sims' treatise on mathematical instruments, used in surveying, and leveling, astronomy (1835). He was a fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and a member of the Geographical and Statistical Society and the Maryland and Pennsylvania Historical Societies. In 1847, he was elected an honorable member of the Belle Lettres Society at the College of St. James in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Alexander married Margaret Hammer on June 4, 1836, in Baltimore. They had at least two sons, the second one born in Baltimore in October 1838. Throughout his life Alexander maintained close ties with his older brothers, William (born circa 1803) and Thomas Stockett (born 1801.) The brothers shared a deep devotion to the Whig party, and William often sent Alexander detailed accounts of the actions of the House of Delegates in Annapolis.

Alexander was active in the congregation of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Baltimore, and wrote a concordance to the Book of Common Prayer as well as two volumes of religious poetry.

John Henry Alexander died on March 2, 1867.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The John H. Alexander Papers consist of material covering the years 1824 to 1857. The majority of material falls within the years of 1835-1850. The collection consists of reports, an essay, pamphlets, a newspaper clipping and correspondence to and from Alexander.

Important subjects include: the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, slack water navigation, state politics, canal legislation, surveys, George's Creek Coal and Iron Company, stocks and arbitration, the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, state lines, Indian tribes, Mississippi life, Alexander's family life, and real estate.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland College Park Libraries accessioned the John H. Alexander Papers in 1972. In 1987 the Historical Manuscripts and Archives Department purchased additional letters to Mr. Alexander. The writings that comprise Series III were transferred from the Maryland Manuscripts collection.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed: April 1973. Addendum incorporated and guide revised by Cindy Bendroth, September 1987; Enid Occasion, October 1990. Additional revisions by Jennie Levine and Sarah Heim, July 2003.

Processing note:

The collection was rehoused in acid-free folders and put into acid-free boxes. An addendum of correspondence was added in 1987, at which time two series were established. The pamphlets, reports, and news clipping were separated from the correspondence, and a revised guide was prepared. The third series was established when the writings were transferred from the Maryland Manuscripts collection.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Sarah Heim and Henry Allen.

Arrangement of Collection

The collection has been divided into three series.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Correspondence, 1831-1848 (0.25 linear feet)

Contains correspondence to and from J. H. Alexander. Correspondents include: William Gibbs McNeill, Duff Greon, J. J. Albert, Robert Ghislen, J. H. Eaton, J. B. Corvan, W. Macomb, M. Dickerson, William Alexander, Thomas Alexander, William Harwood, G. W. Whistler, J. Miller and the College of St. James. The letters are arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Correspondence, 1831-1848 series 1box 1folder 1
Correspondence, 1831-1848 series 1box 1folder 2
Correspondence, 1831-1848 series 1box 1folder 3
Correspondence, 1831-1848 series 1box 1folder 4

Series 2: Reports, Pamphlets and Newsclippings, 1824-1850 (0.50 linear feet)

Materials on legislation and annual reports of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal are included in this series, arranged chronologically.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
"Acts of the First Session of the Eighteenth Congress", 1824 series 2box 1folder 5
Supplement of the National Intelligencer, August 31, 1841 series 2box 1folder 6
"Communication from the President and Director of the C & O Canal Co.", 1842 series 2box 1folder 7
"Communication from the C & O Canal Co.", January 18, 1843- March 5, 1846 series 2box 1folder 8
"Fourteenth Annual Report of the President and Directors of the C & O Canal Co.", 1843 series 2box 1folder 9
"Communication from the President and Director of the C & O Canal Co.", December 2, 1845 series 2box 1folder 10
"Communication from the State Agents of Maryland", February 7, 1846 series 2box 1folder 11
"Acts and Resolutions Passed at the Second Session of the Twenty-Ninth Congress of the United States", 1847 series 2box 1folder 12
"A Counter Statement of John Van Lear, Jr., State's Agent", February 28, 1848 series 2box 1folder 13
"Communication from Tench Tilghman and Samuel Sprigg", March 6, 1848 series 2box 1folder 14
"Report of the Board of States Agents", January 19, 1850 series 2box 1folder 15
"Report of the Progress of the Surveys of the Sounds", 1820 series 2box 1folder 16

Series 3: Writings, 1857 (1 item)

This series consists of a 17-page essay in which Alexander discusses his views on slavery.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Essay, c. 1857 series 3box 1folder 17

Related Material

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