Telling the Story of Calvert’s Early Schools

     A good book is a treasure. Thanks to author Mary Rockefeller, a new treasure that tells the story of Calvert County schools now adorns book shelves.

      Early Schools of Calvert County Maryland, Rockefeller’s first book, details the history of schools from the era of one-room schoolhouses to a century after the Civil War.

     “I found there was very little information available on our early schools,” Rockefeller says. “In many cases, the locations and names of the schools were not even known.”

      Rockefeller put her experience as a volunteer at the Calvert County Historical Society to work seeking out the schools’ unique stories. The Society helps visitors research their family backgrounds or the history of the county free of charge at historic Linden House.  

      “Mary has organized binders of information for us on many topics of interest, including churches and cemeteries,” says Chris Banks, past president of the Calvert County Historical Society. “She set up our files and helps visitors use our archives at Linden.”

      Rockefeller’s dedication to archiving and researching came in handy while working on her book.

     “Locating the school sites was probably the most difficult aspect of the book,” Rockefeller notes. “Finding the research material was the second.”

      Part of the difficulty came from the fact that land records and legal documents for Calvert County were lost in the courthouse fire of 1882. 

      “That included school board minutes and deeds,” Rockefeller says. “My husband, Pete, used the current Calvert County maps and drew the school locations based on historical maps,” Rockefeller says. “Almost all roads have been changed. And we needed to understand how the old roads ran to determine where the schools were located.”

       It took Rockefeller four and a half years to complete the book.

      “My best source of information was the Freedmen’s Bureau records,” Rockefeller notes. 

      The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, a government agency established in 1865, directed issues such as provisions, clothing, fuel and the needs of refugees and freedmen.

      “The Bureau provided lumber and an agent to assist African American citizens. Seven or eight schools were built with assistance from the Freedmen’s Bureau.”

      Documenting the history of the Bureau brought to light the efforts of John Henry Butler, who Rockefeller counts as a hero of the early Calvert County school system.

      “Butler was a free African American from Baltimore who worked on establishing schools in that city,” Rockefeller says. “Just after the Civil War in 1867, he negotiated with white landowners to buy land and arranged for shipment and delivery of the lumber. He coordinated building the schools and encouraged the citizens to raise money since they were responsible for building the schools. He also settled disputes and arranged for the placement of teachers.”

      Rockefeller will discuss her book—and sign copies—at February’s Brown Bag Lunch at Linden Feb. 20, noon-1pm. To attend, call the Historical Society at 410-535-2452. 

      Early Schools of Calvert County Maryland is available for purchase at the Calvert Historical Society (70 Church St., Prince Frederick, $40).