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Charles Carroll of Carrollton
by John T. Marck
 

 
 
 

 
 
 

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

He was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1737, and was the only Roman Catholic and the last surviving Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Noting his signature, one can see that it was written in a bold, crisp, rather prosperous manner, suitable for the man who was probably the wealthiest of the 56 signers.

He had added the "of Carrollton," to his signature to separate himself from the others named Charles in the large Carroll family. Although diminutive in physical structure, everything else about him was colossal; his brilliant mind, his determination, and his wealth. At this time he was the richest man in America.

Charles processed a fine education, having been sent alone to France when only ten years of age to study at Jesuit schools. He stayed in Europe until he was 26, having studied poetry at Rheims, and presented a thesis on universal philosophy at the College Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Additionally, he studied law in Bourges and Paris, and read the law for five more years at the Inns of the Court in London, England. Well versed, he could converse on a variety of subjects, including music, art, politics, history, philosophy, to name only a few.

In spite of his education, being a catholic, he was prohibited from holding office, serving in the militia, practicing law, or even voting in colonial Maryland. These anti-Catholic Penal Laws of England continued to be enforced in colonial Maryland. Although Catholics were permitted to own land they did live with the fear that the colonial government may take away this rights at any moment. With this in mind, a Catholic could easily loss the right to any and all land ownership, and thus could be dispossessed.

Just before the start of the American Revolution, Charles Carroll of Carrollton's father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, had as cousin named Dr. Charles Carroll, who was one of the advocates in the Maryland legislature who favored anti-Catholic laws. Earlier Dr. Carroll was a business partner who had converted to the Anglican Church. A bitter feud ensued over a will that echoed similar battles for supremacy of the ancestral O'Carroll family in Ireland.

During the Revolution in 1774, Charles became actively involved with his election to the provincial convention. Some months before the start of the war, he had predicted a victory should the war come to America. He had told a friend in England, "your armies will evacuate our soil, and your country retire, an enormous loser from this contest...though much blood may be spilt, we have no doubt of our ultimate success."

On July 4, 1776, Carroll was selected by the Maryland convention to join the delegates in Congress. Taking his seat on July 18, he was elected to the Board of War and Ordinance. Two weeks later, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, at the age of thirty-nine, signed the Declaration. Charles died on a Wednesday morning just before dawn on Novenber15,1832, at the age of ninety-five, in a house that still stands today on Lombard Street off President Street. He had outlived all other signers, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826.

Three days following his death, on that Saturday morning, November 17, the bells in Baltimore City tolled and cannons fired as his cortege traveled from his Lombard Street house to the Roman Catholic Basilica. The cortege was followed by many dignitaries, foreign ministers and many citizens and soldiers of the Revolution. President Andrew Jackson was unable to attend, but sent his regrets. Following the Mass for the Dead, Carroll's body was carried home to Doughoregan Manor, which was the Howard County mansion built by his father about one hundred years earlier. Here, Charles Carroll was interred in the manor's chapel, where he remains today.

In 1828, four years before his death, he officially opened the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Consequently, he was the only Signer who ever saw a steam locomotive.

In a book by Ronald Hoffman titled, "Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland," Hoffman and his chief collaborator Sally Mason read hundreds of letters written by the Carroll family. Having read these letters, Ms. Mason concluded that Carroll of Carrollton was "a very smart man, very rational, and not particularly warm." They site that they believe Carroll had a completely different personality than his father who was more personable. According to Hoffman and Mason, these many letters were address "Dear Papa, and Dear Charley." Mason said further that "Nobody else, as far as I know, called the Signer 'Charley' (Charles of Carrollton), and one letter from his wife was addressed, "My Dear Mr. Carroll."

Hoffman also sited that Charles Carroll of Carrollton's grandfather, Charles Carroll the Settler, had been dispossessed of his lands through the English anti-Catholic Penal Laws in Ireland, and who then came to Maryland believing he would be able to establish the foundations for a new, secure dynasty, because in Maryland, Catholics could at least own land. However, upon the "Settler's" arrival in Maryland, all the laws that had been used to take land from those in Ireland were starting to be enacted in Maryland. Therefore, his son, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, decided to shield his family by amassing land and wealth. Still, in the back of his mind was the thought that he still could lose everything, if the law was changed.

It is believed by Hoffman in his book that Carroll of Annapolis decided to allow his son, Carroll of Carrollton, to be born out of wedlock to test the threats of the English Penal Laws. It would not be until Carrollton was nearly 21 years old that his father married his mother, Elizabeth Brooke. Like their Irish forebears, Carrollton would have to prove himself worthy before he could head the Carroll dynasty. When the head of the O'Carroll family died in Ireland, a bloody struggle ensued for succession, a survival of the fittest.

The Carroll family could have solved all their problems if they would have converted to the established church. By doing so, their land, wealth and fortune would have been secure. It is believed that they did not do so because if would have been dishonorable, against their fundamental beliefs, which was their driving force.

Consequently, Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a avid supporter of the American Revolutionary War, but in doing so was a political revolutionist, not an economic one. A powerful writer, Carroll of Carrollton wrote against fees paid to colonial officers, was a member of the revolutionary Committee of Correspondence for Anne Arundel County; was sent to Canada by the Continental Congress to gain support for the Revolution; and was elected to Congress.

Fifty years after he signed the Declaration of Independence, he said, "that as a Roman Catholic, he struck a blow not only for our independence of England, but for the toleration of all sects professing the Christian religion and communicating to them equal rights."

The Carroll Mansion on Lombard Street was open to the public, then it closed as a result of the demise of the City Life Museums in 1997. Hopefully, the City Life Museums, and/or those historic houses it contains will resume their operation. The Carroll Mansion is to be opened as an adjunct to a Bed and Breakfast.

Today the Doughoregan Manor is home to one of Carroll's ancestors. Sadly, the graveyard near Annapolis where Charles Carroll the Settler, Charles Carroll of Annapolis and his wife Elizabeth were buried is, a far as anyone can tell, under a shopping center in Parole, Maryland.

Copyright© John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. From Maryland The Seventh State A History, by John T. Marck. Copyright © John T. Marck, All Rights Reserved.

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