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Samuel K. Dennis papers

Identifier: MS 1139


This collection contains the correspondence and legal case files of Samuel K. Dennis, District Attorney for Maryland and later Chief Judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, 1928-1944.


  • 1900-1952


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical / Historical

Samuel King Dennis was born in rural Worcester County, Maryland, in 1874 the son of Samuel King Dennis, Sr. and Sally (Crisfield) Dennis. The Crisfield and Dennis families had traditionally been active in Eastern Shore economic and political affairs. Samuel K. Dennis, Sr. was a prosperous lumber merchant, large landowner, and member of the House of Delegates. John M. Crisfield, the junior Dennis' grandfather, was a widely known Worcester County lawyer, congressman, and confidant of Abraham Lincoln. Attending a preparatory school during his middle teens, it was Dennis' ambition to enter Princeton University with the aspiration of continuing the family tradition of success. When his father died suddenly, the seventeen-year old Dennis was forced to alter his plans. Withdrawing from school, he took up the management of the 2,000 acre family farm. Eight years later, Dennis turned over the agricultural responsibilites to a younger brother when offered employment as personal secretary to Senator John Walter Smith.

Smith proved to be a significant influence upon Dennis. The senator's downhome conservatiove political style clearly rubbed off on his young assistant. Sensing the ambition and ability of Dennis, Smith encouraged him to attend law school. Dennis readily seized the opportunity and subsequently graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1903. Admitted to the bar the same year, he began to fomulated his own plans for a legal career.

In 1904, Dennis left his mentor's employ and successfully sought election to the House of Delegates from Worcester County. After serving one term, he returned to his home county and set up a private practice. The year 1915 saw Dennis secure an appointment as U.S. District Attorney for Maryland, an apparent reward for his active participation in county and state Democratic politics. He held this position for several years, whereupon he reassumed private practice. Always the loyal, useful, and well-connected party supporter, Dennis was named in 1928 to succeed James P. Gorter as Chief Judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore.

As a judge, Dennis acquired a reputation for being both honest and fair. His quick and often caustic homespun wit also gained notoriety. Working diligently, he served on the Administration of Criminal Justice Commission in 1933 and in the early 1940s energetically pushed for the reorganiztion of Baltimore's Juvenille Court. Claiming disenchantment with the bench, Dennis retired in 1944 to once again persue private practive.

Up to the year of his death, Dennis continued to practice law. His ability to judge legal issues with acumen and objectivity resulted in a frequent role as an arbitrator in management-labor disputes. A warm and extroverted man, Dennis late in life continued to manage an extensive correspondence with friends and acquaintances. Often referred to as one of the state's best know people, his death in 1952 was a newsworthy event.


8.13 Linear Feet (20 boxes (19 full Hollinger boxes; 1 half Hollinger box))

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The Samuel K. Dennis Papers span the years 1900-1952 with the bulk of the material falling into the period 1944-1952, the years between Dennis' retirement from the Supreme Bench of Baltimore and his death. Correspondence and legal papers relating to his business and personal activities constitute a majority of the items. Contained in the collection also are materials relating to all phases of his legal career, commencing around 1900.

The correspondence section of the collection is somewhat confusing. Mostly general in nature, the correspondence is also broken down by both correspondents and by topic. A large portion of Dennis' papers may have been separated from those appearing in the collection, thus probably explaining the gaps in dates and subjects. The existance of Miscellaneous L and T through Z correspondence may also substantiate the missing papers theory. Dennis preferred to group his correspondence into six groups: 1944-45; 1946-47; 1946-48; 1946-52; and 1950-52. Arrangement of this type creates overlapping correspondence and it is not known why Dennis chose this method. Materials relating to legal cases were mostly kept together. In his general correspondence files, however, can be found items referring to Dennis' legal case work and financial matters.

Correspondence concerns both business and personal matters. As Dennis was semi-retired during the creation of the majority of the items, the personal aspect tends to be rather well represented. Letters are generally to and from such family members as Alfred Dennis, John V. Dennis, Philip C. Dennis, Caroline M. Crisfield and Mrs. Mary Balloch. Friends such as Godfrey Child, D. Princeton Buckey, Dr. Alfred T. Gundry and Harry F. Ogden, among others, are represented in abundance. Letters of note written to Dennis are from Alfred Dennis serving in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in such places as Oslo, Norway (1947), Italy (1952), and Germany (1946); and letters written by soldiers fighting during World War II. Dennis' involvement in the University Club and the American Red Cross are also represented in the letters from 1946-47. Finally, some correspondence concerns the Maryland Historical Society and Dennis family genealogy.

Legal cases cover issues including divorce, claims for damages, arbitration, reinbursement of debt, and estate management. Dennis was involved in many arbitration cases from 1944-52, many of which were employee grievances:

Taxicab Drivers Union v. Yellow Cab Company, et al.

Freight Drives and Helpers Union. v. Baltimore Transfer

Adkins v. Coastal Tank Lines, Inc

Brewery and Yeast Workers, Soft Drink Worker, and Driver Salesmen Union v. Federal Yeast Company

Martin v. Davidson Transfer and Storage Company

Smith v. Mundy Motor Line

Cummings v. Mushroom Transportation Company, Inc.

Whistler v. Dramer Brother Freight Lines, Inc.

Safe Drivers Association, Inc. v. Belle Isle Cab Company

A significant amount of material exists relating to the Administration of Criminal Justice Commission on which Dennis served. The commission investigated several legal problems, Dennis being apparently most interested in the prevention of lynching in Maryland. Included also are items dealing with George L. Radcliffe's 1946 senatorial primary campaign of which Dennis was chairman.

Other materials contained in the collection relate to the Presbyterian Church, Juvenile Court reorganization, Fidelity Trust Company, as well as material associated with the 1932 controversy over whether or not Dennis was being ethical in serving as both a judge and a director of the Fidelity Trust Bank.

Guide to the Samuel K. Dennis papers
In Progress
Melinda K. Friend
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2019-09-27: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States