Charles Cleveland was born on December 3, 1802 in Salem, Massachusetts. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1827. Three years later, he came to Dickinson College as professor of Greek and Latin. On his own initiative he added history and literature to his classes. From 1830 to 1832, Cleveland also served as librarian of the College. By all reports, he was well liked by the students, but not by the college president and other faculty members. His views on the method of instruction conflicted with those of his colleagues; the tensions that arose led to his resignation in 1832. Before leaving Carlisle, however, in 1831 Cleveland married Alison Nisbet McCoskry, the granddaughter of the College’s first president, Charles Nisbet.
Cleveland then moved to the University of New York as professor of Latin. From 1834 to 1861, he was principal of a young ladies’ school in Philadelphia. He served as United States Consul at Cardiff, Wales in 1861. Cleveland was a member of the American Philosophical Society, and was active in the causes of international peace and the abolition of slavery. In 1866, he was awarded and honorary doctorate from Dickinson College. Charles Dexter Cleveland died on August 18, 1869.