The Only Catholic to Sign the Declaration of Independence

1737 – Charles Carroll (d.1832), American patriot and legislator, was born. He was the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration and his signature read Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Charles […]
September 19, 2015

1737 – Charles Carroll (d.1832), American patriot and legislator, was born. He was the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration and his signature read Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton (September 19, 1737 – November 14, 1832) was a delegate to the Continental Congress and later United States Senator for Maryland. He was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was the longest lived signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress. He lived to age 95.

He was born on September 19, 1737 at Annapolis, Maryland, the son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis (1702–1800) (his grandfather was Irish Daniel Carroll) and Elizabeth (Brooke) Carroll. His reputed attendance at the Jesuit preparatory school at Bohemia in Cecil County cannot be confirmed from contemporary records, and he may have been schooled at home before departing for Europe, where he attended the College of St. Omer in France, and graduated from the College of Louis the Grand in 1755. He continued his studies in Europe, and read for the law in London before returning to Annapolis in 1765.

Carroll was a voice for independence in Maryland. In 1772 he engaged in a debate conducted through anonymous newspaper letters and maintained the right of the colonies to control their own taxation. As a Roman Catholic, he was barred from entering politics, practicing law, and voting. However, writing in the Maryland Gazette under the pseudonym “First Citizen,” he became a prominent spokesman against the governor’s proclamation increasing legal fees to state officers and Protestant clergy. Carroll served on various committees of correspondence.

From 1774 to 1776, Carroll was a member of the Annapolis Convention. He was commissioned with Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase and his cousin John Carroll in February 1774 to seek aid from Canada.

He was a member of Annapolis’ first Committee of Safety in 1775. In early 1776, while not yet a member, the Congress sent him on a mission to Canada. When Maryland decided to support the open revolution, he was elected to the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and remained a delegate until 1778. He arrived too late to vote in favor of it, but was able to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was the last living signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

Carroll returned to Maryland in 1778 to assist in the drafting of a constitution and forming a state government. Carroll was re-elected to the Continental Congress in 1780, but he declined. He was elected to the state senate in 1781 and served there continuously until 1800.

When the United States government was created, the Maryland legislature elected him to the first United States Senate. In 1792 Maryland passed a law that prohibited any man from serving in the State and national legislatures at the same time. Since he preferred to be in the Maryland Senate, he resigned from the U. S. Senate on November 30, 1792.

Carroll retired from public life in 1801. After Thomas Jefferson became president, he had great anxiety about political activity, and was not sympathetic to the War of 1812. After both Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826, he became the only surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. He came out of retirement to help create the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1827. His last public act, on July 4, 1828, was the laying of the cornerstone of the railroad.[2] In May of 1832, he was asked to appear at the first ever Democratic Convention but did not attend on account of poor health.[3] He died on November 14, 1832 in Baltimore, and is buried in his Doughoregan Manor Chapel at Ellicott City, Maryland.

Carroll funded the building of what is known today as Homewood House, a 140 acre (570,000 m²) estate in northern Baltimore, Maryland as a wedding gift to his son, Charles Jr. and Harriet Chew. Charles Jr. then oversaw the design and construction of the house, which began construction in 1801 and had mostly finished by 1808. Research shows that he incorporated suggestions from his wife. It took five years to build and cost $40,000, four times the budgeted expense. The house never fulfilled the family’s expectations, as it did nothing to cure Charles Jr.’s idleness and alcoholism, factors which led to the failure of the marriage by binding separation.

Homewood was donated to Johns Hopkins University in 1876 and later became its main campus. Today, Johns Hopkins operates Homewood House as a museum, and its Georgian architecture serves as the inspiration for the Hopkins’ architecture.

In the 1940s, newspaper journalist John Hix’s syndicated column “Strange As It Seems” published an interesting (though unverified) explanation for Charles Carroll’s distinctive signature on the Declaration of Independence. Every member of the Continental Congress who signed this document automatically became a criminal, guilty of sedition against King George III. Carroll, because of his wealth, had more to lose than most of his companions. Some of the signators, such as Caesar Rodney and Button Gwinnett, had unusual and distinctive names which would clearly identify them to the King; other signators, with more commonplace names, might hope to sign the Declaration without incriminating themselves.

According to Hix, when it was Carroll’s turn to sign the Declaration of Independence, he rose, went to John Hancock’s desk where the document rested, signed his name “Charles Carroll” and returned to his seat. At this point another member of the Continental Congress, who was prejudiced against Carroll because of his Catholicism, commented that Carroll risked nothing in signing the document, as there must be many men named Charles Carroll in the colonies, and so the King would be unlikely to order Carroll’s arrest without clear proof that he was the same Charles Carroll who had signed the Declaration. Carroll immediately returned to Hancock’s desk, seized the pen again, and added “of Carrollton” to his name.

However, some believe that Carroll was using the “of Carrollton” suffix signature at least as early as September 15, 1765, in a letter written to a friend in England.

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Kenny

Christian. American. Father. Husband. Friend. Brother. Son. Grandson. Uncle. Cubs Fan. Digital.

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