Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James Calhoun (1743-1816)
MSA SC 3520-2987


Source:  Wilbur F. Coyle, The Mayors of Baltimore (Reprinted from The Baltimore Municipal Journal, 1919), 9-14.
James Calhoun, first Mayor of Baltimore, from 1797 to 1804, served three successive terms and part of a fourth.  His first term was shortened about three months by a change of the date of the election.

Under Mayor Calhoun was organized the machinery for governing the City, which, up to that time (1797), had been "Baltimore Town," with a Board of Commissioners.  The funds for the new born City, until taxes were due, were raised by lottery.

In Mayor Calhoun's first message to the City Council in 1797 was a plea for "Home Rule" for Baltimore.

"Whenever," said he, "a town has so increased in population as to require a variety of regulations for its internal police, it becomes, troublesome to the State as well as inconvenient to the inhabitants, to be under the necessity of making particular application to the Legislature for every law which may be wanted and, therefore, it has been the policy of most towns thus circumstanced to apply for competent powers to pass laws and ordinances for their own internal government."

The change from a town form of government to that of an incorporated City, of course, brought about many innovations in organization.  Some of these appear rather trivial when reviewed; yet, at the time they were made, were of considerable importance.  For instance, the night watch, which in the Baltimore Town era was under the jurisdiction of the Criminal Court, was taken over by the municipality.  Street lighting, which prior to 1797 had been done by contract under the Town Commissioners, was brought within control of the night watch in January, 1798.

Ordinances to preserve the health of the City and to prevent the introduction of pestilential and infectious diseases, and providing for the inspection of ships by health officers were adopted.

The paving of streets began at this time--whether of "pike," slabs cobblestones or other material is not clear.  The City Council first met February, 1797; a magazine for storing gunpowder was erected before February, 1800; water from nearby springs was brought into the City during this administration; a City Hall building was proposed, but the project was abandoned; the receipts for Baltimore city 1798, totaled $35,078.65.

Mayor Calhoun was chosen by "Electors," who had been elected by the people.  The term originally was for two years, but the first was curtailed by subsequent legislation.  The Electors voted for a Mayor on the third Monday in February, 1797, but instead of expiring in February, 1799, Mayor Calhoun's term was cut short; he being again chosen at a meeting of the Electors on November 5, 1798.  He was reelected in 1800 and 1802, and resigned in 1804, but later served as a member of the City Council.

The population of Baltimore City in 1800 was 26,514.

*   *   *   *   *   *

James Calhoun was born April 7th, 1743.  He came to Baltimore from Carlisle about 1771, at which time quite a number of other persons who later became prominent in the affairs of the City established themselves here.  He soon became one of the City's leading merchants and was actively identified with Baltimore Town before being chosen Mayor.  Mr. Calhoun married Miss Ann Gist, of Maryland, daughter of William Gist, November 18, 1766.

During the Revolution he took a patriotic American stand.  He is said to have been a friend of Washington and served on committees identified with the prosecution of the Revolutionary War.  He came into the Province about 1771, and as early as 1772 he was on a Baltimore committee which, in common with representatives of other maritime cities, fought the commercial restrictions placed upon the Colonies by England.  Great Britain at that time had closed many American ports because of the opposition to tea tax, etc., and the committee, upon which Mr. Calhoun served, endeavored to conduct trade and commerce between American ports in the face of the blockade.  During 1776 Mr. Calhoun and 17 others were authorized by Congress to "sign bills of credit" and he was also on the "Committee of Observation" during 1775.  About the same period he was appointed Deputy to the Commissary-General of Purchases for the Continental Army.  In 1778 Mr. Calhoun held a commission in the militia of the town, and in 1779 was a local magistrate.  This was the period of the riots, resulting from the publication of alleged anti-American articles in the Maryland Journal.  Mr. Calhoun was a member of the reception committee to General Washington, while the latter was in command of the Armies of the United States, during his visit in Baltimore, September 8, 1781.  The same year Mr. Calhoun contributed $272.50 to the fund being raised for the Continental Army then in bad straits.  Subscriptions for the army were made during one of Lafayette's visits to Baltimore.  Records show that Mr. Calhoun also served as foreman of the Grand Jury in 1787, and was Justice of the Orphans' Court in 1791.

The Act to erect Baltimore into a City provided for the dividing of the City into eight wards, and Mr. Calhoun was appointed one of the committee for making the division.  On June 16, 1797, he was elected Captain of "Property Men," a body formed to protect personal property saved at fires, which might be considered the forerunner of the Salvage Corps of today.

Mr. Calhoun's wife, Anna Calhoun, died March 4, 1799, and his demise occurred August 14, 1816.  His body rests in the graveyard of Westminister Presbyterian Church, Fayette and Greene streets.

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