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John H. Alexander papers

 Collection 0013-MDHC

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, Native American tribes, real estate, and Alexander's family life. The collection consists of reports, pamphlets, essays, and correspondence.


  • 1824 - circa 1857
  • Majority of material found within 1835 -1850

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


0.75 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of 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, Native American tribes, Mississippi life, Alexander's family life, and real estate.


John H. (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 H. Alexander died on March 2, 1867.


The collection has been divided into three series.

Series 1
Series 2
Reports, Pamphlets and Newsclippings
Series 3

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries accessioned the John H. Alexander papers in 1972. In 1987 the University Libraries purchased additional letters to Mr. Alexander. The writings that comprise Series III were transferred from the Maryland Manuscripts collection.

Processing Information

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.

Guide to the John H. Alexander papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 1987-09: Addendum incorporated and guide revised by Cindy Bendroth.
  • 1990-10: Revised by Enid Occasion.
  • 2003-07: Additional revisions by Jennie Levine and Sarah Heim.
  • 2007-04-15: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Jennie A. Levine.
  • 2017-05-31: Finding aid checked and verified following ArchivesSpace migration by Nancy Harrison Gage.
  • 2018-02-24: Finding aid reviewed and minor edits made by Caitlin Rizzo.
  • 2021-05-18: Hannah Frisch made minor updates to language regarding ethnicity.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742