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Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

CHARLES CARROLL was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1737. Carroll was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. He added "of Carrollton" to his signature to separate himself from the other Charleses in his sprawling family including his father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis. Charles was diminutive in physical stature, he was graceful in his movements and an accomplished horseman, and he had fine, regular features. Charles was often described as the richest man in the country, educated in his early years by Jesuits. He spent many years in school in Europe. He had studied law in Paris and London and was an unusually cultivated young man.  


At the age of thirty-one he married his cousin, Mary Darnall, known in the family as Molly, and he lived the life of a landed gentlemen on Carrollton Manor, a ten thousand acre plantation in Frederick County, Maryland which he had received from his father. Not until he was thirty-six in 1773, did he become a public man. He was instrumental in asking Canada to help America in the Revolutionary War. He was elected to Maryland's first state senate in 1777. From 1776 to 1778 he was a member of the Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence. He was a U.S. Senator from Maryland between 1789 and 1792. He retired from politics in 1800 but lived until 1832, being the only surviving Signer when he died at the age of ninety-four. Four years before his death, he officially opened the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Thus, he was the only Signer who ever saw a steam locomotive. Still regarded as the richest man in the country, he had long been a legendary figure. He was buried at Doughoregan Manor, near Ellicott City. 


Autographed letter signed "Ch. Carroll of Carrollton" to William Gibbons. Discusses his tenant farmers and the bad weather for the crops, though still a good profit was made, and a mutual friend facing prosecution on a debt. Dated April 29, 1822. 

Source: Centennial Book of Signers

Charles Carroll - A Stan Klos Company

His grandfather, Charles Carroll, emigrated from England to Maryland because of the persecution of Catholics, 1 October 1688. He obtained considerable grants of land and was made attorney-general under the third Lord Baltimore. The year he arrived in America, Lord Baltimore was deprived of his rights, and Maryland was made a royal province. As Carroll was in favor with the Baltimores, he enjoyed important political positions in the colony before and after the restoration of their rights in 1715. Charles Carroll of Annapolis, the father of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was born in 1703, and died in 1783. He was a wealthy landowner and bitterly opposed the political disabilities under which the Catholics of Maryland suffered. The mother of Charles Carroll of Carrollton was Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of Clement Brooke and Jane Sewall, and was a near relation of her husband. Charles Carroll's biographer, Rowland, divides his life into three periods of about thirty years each; the first was a period of preparation, the second a period of public service, and the third a period of retirement, with scholarly observation of public events. At ten years of age Carles Carroll was sent to school at the Jesuits at Bohemia on Harmon's Manor in Maryland, where one of his fellow students was his cousin, John Carroll, afterwards Archbishop of Baltimore. The following year, 1748, they both crossed the ocean to the Jesuit college at St-Omer in French Flanders, where Charles remained six years. After a year at the college of the Jesuits at Reims he entered the College Louis le Grand at Paris. In 1753 Carroll went to Bourges to study civil law. He remained there for a year and then returned to Paris until 1757. In this year he took apartments in the Temple, London, where he studied law for several years. In later days he spoke in highest praise of the training he received at St-Omer and the College Louis le Grand. To the former he owed his deep conviction of religious truth, and to the latter his critical ability, his literary style, and the basis for the breadth of knowledge which made him an invaluable citizen.

Upon his return to America, in 1765, the estate of Carrollton in Frederick County, Maryland, was given him and later he became known as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, to distinguish him from his father Charles Carroll of Annapolis. In the difficulties with the mother country, Carroll aggressively defended the position taken by the colonies. In 1770, by a proclamation Governor Eden imposed certain fees upon the colonists. As fees were treated as taxes this was vigorously opposed as violating the right of the people to tax themselves. The jurist Daniel Dulaney defended the position of the Government in a series of articles in the "Maryland Gazette" under the signature Antillon. Carroll took up the debate as a champion of popular rights, maintaining the thesis that fees were taxes and that taxes should not be levied upon the people except by the consent of their representatives. He wrote four articles and the popular sentiment was decidedly with him. This controversy established Carroll's reputation as a debater and a scholar.

In 1774, Carroll was elected with six others by the citizens of Anne Arundel County and of Annapolis, with full power to represent them in the provincial convention. Catholics had been disfranchised and declared ineligible to a seat in the Assembly, but by this act the prejudice against them was swept away. Carroll was from this time for a period of twenty-seven years called to important public service in behalf of the colony and for the general government. In December of this year he was appointed a member of a Provincial Committee of Correspondence. He was a member of the Maryland Convention of 1775 which adopted the "Association of the Freemen of Maryland" which became the charter of the colony until the adoption of the Maryland constitution in 1776. The Association was pledged to an armed resistance to Great Britain. He was appointed by the convention one of a committee of nine to "consider the ways and means to put this province in the best state of defense". On 12 September, 1775, the citizens of Anne Arundel County and the city of Annapolis appointed a Committee of Observation for the town and county of which Carroll was a member. At this meeting he was elected one of the deputies to represent the county in the State Convention for one year, and he was selected with six others to license suits in the county for the same period. The Colonial Convention on the 13th of October appointed Charles Carroll chairman of a committee of five "to devise ways and means to promote the manufacture of saltpetre". On the 11th of January 1776, he Maryland Convention instructed the Maryland delegates to the Continental Congress, "to disavow in the most solemn manner, all design in the colonies for independence". This position was strenuously opposed by Carroll, who at this time advocated independence. In February, 1776, the Continental congress appointed Carroll one of a committee of three to visit Canada to secure the alliance of the Canadians in the struggle for independence. Franklin and Samuel Chase were the other members of the committee, and Father John, afterwards Archbishop, Carroll accompanied them. The committee was clothed with almost absolute power over military affairs in that country, and their failure to accomplish their object was not due either to their want of zeal or lack of ability. On the 28th of June, 1776, the Maryland Convention withdrew the instructions given on previous occasions to its delegates to Congress, and authorized them "to vote in declaring the United States free and independent states". Principally responsible for this change of attitude by Maryland was Charles Carroll, who was afterwards rewarded in being elected a delegate to the Continental Congress on the 4th of July. He took his seat on the 18th of July and signed the Declaration of Independence on the 2nd of August, when the copy engrossed on parchment was presented for signature. Of all the signers he risked the most. He was the wealthiest man in the colonies at the beginning of the Revolution, his wealth being estimated at $2,000,000. On the 19th of July Carroll was appointed on the Board of War, a very important appointment, as this board had charge of all the executive duties of the military department, subject to the direction of Congress. In the fall of 1777 the Board of War was enlarged and some of Washington" enemies were made members. Out of this new membership the Conway Cabal developed, the objects of which were defeated by Carroll, Morris, and Duer.

Charles Carroll was appointed one of two delegates from Annapolis to the Colonial Convention which was to adopt a constitution for Maryland. It met 14 August. Carroll was selected as one of the seven to draw up a constitution. He was responsible for the distinctive part of the constitution, the method of choosing senators. The senate was to be composed of fifteen members, who were to be selected by a body of forty electors, two from each county, and one each from Baltimore and Annapolis. In the fall of 1778, Carroll resigned his seat in Congress and returned to Maryland to become a member of its senate. He was placed on all its important committees. He was re-elected to Congress in 1780, but promptly resigned from his seat. He was elected president of the Maryland Senate, 23 May, 1783, and a second time on 23 December. Carroll was in the Maryland Senate from 17877 to 1789, when the constitution was adopted, and became a leader of the Federalists. He was elected to the U. S. Senate from Maryland and took his seat in 1789. On the 19th of May, Carroll was appointed one of a committee of three to revise the journal of the Senate for publication. As a Federalist Carroll favored the tariff, Hamilton's funding measures, and the strengthening of the national government. He and Lee of Virginia were the chief advocates of placing the capital at Philadelphia for ten years, thence to be removed to the Potomac. As a democrat he opposed all distinctions and titles. Although favoring a centralized government he preferred to serve his state, for when Congress at its session in 1792 passed a law making it ineligible for a person to hold office in Congress and in a State legislature, Carroll resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate to retain his place in the Maryland Senate. In this capacity he served the State of Maryland till 1801. In 1799 he served on the committee to settle the boundary disputes between Maryland and Virginia.

After the election of Jefferson to the presidency in 1800, Carroll viewed public events with anxiety and fear. He was out of sympathy with the prosecution of a second war with Great Britain. In later years he became more hopeful of his nation's future. His last public act was the laying of the corner-stone of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad on the 4th of July, 1828. After the death of Adams and Jefferson on the 4th of July, 1826, he was the only surviving Signer of the Declaration of Independence.

On the 5th of June, 1786, Charles Carroll married his cousin Mary Darnall, who died in 1782. They had seven children, four of whom died in youth. One of his daughters married Richard Caton, an Englishman, and another married the distinguished statesman from South Carolina, Robert Goodloe Harper. He outlived by several years his only son, Charles Carroll, Jr.

Copyright 1908 by Robert Appleton Company and 2002

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