Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence, had Irish ancestry. His grandfather, Daniel Carroll was a native of Ireland who clerked in the office of Lord Powis during the reign of James II. Daniel immigrated to the Maryland Colony under the patronage of Lord Baltimore and gained a large plantation there. Daniel's son Charles was born in 1702. When Charles died at age 80, his large estate was inherited by his eldest child, Charles who was then 25 years old.
Charles, patriot during the Revolutionary period, was born on September 20, 1737, into a Roman Catholic family. When he was only eight years old, his father took him to France and enrolled him in the Jesuit College at St. Omer's where he stayed for the next six years. He then attended another Jesuit seminary at Rheims for a year before entering the College of Louis le Grand. He graduated at age 17 and began studying law at Bourges. After a year in Bourges, he moved to Paris. He moved to London in 1757 to continue his study of law and stayed there until 1765. He returned to Maryland as "a most finished scholar and well-bred gentleman."
Charles returned to America about the time that the Stamp Act was signed. This event grabbed his attention and caused him to become more interested in politics. He joined the cause of liberty of the American patriots and became associated with other patriots that included Samuel Chase, Thomas Stone, and William Paca. These patriots became "engaged in a newspaper war" with the British authorities in Maryland. Their writings were so powerful that their opponents hid behind the power of the royal governor. Charles wrote with such power that in 1771-1772 he became well known in other Colonies as a strong political writer.
In 1772 Charles wrote a series of essays about why the British government did not have the right to tax the Colonies without their consent. Even though the Secretary of the Colony opposed his essays, the people were grateful for his defense of their cause. Charles signed his essays "The First Citizen"; therefore, the people did not know the author's identity. The people instructed representatives in the Maryland Legislative Assembly to extend their gratitude to the unknown author, and this was done by William Paca and Matthew Hammond through public papers. When the people learned that Charles was the author of the essays, they went to him in great numbers to express their gratitude in person. In the eyes of the people, Charles "stood among the highest in popular confidence and favor."
An example of how much the people trusted Charles took place during the "tea excitement" of 1773-1774. A Mr. Stewart of Annapolis imported a ship load of tea. The people threatened to destroy the tea if it was unloaded from the ship. The Legislature appointed a committee to make sure that no tea was unloaded. The people were still not satisfied, and Stewart appealed to Charles to use his influence with the people. Charles told Stewart that the people were so concerned about the moral principle involved that he would not be able to influence them. He advised Stewart to allow his ship and cargo to be burned, and Stewart followed his advice.
Charles realized very early that the defense of American rights would come to war, and he fearlessly expressed his opinion. The people appreciated his good character, integrity and clear judgment so much that he was often called to solve problems such as that described above - and became more and more popular with the people. Charles was a member of the first Committee of Safety in Maryland and was elected a delegate to the Provincial Assembly in 1775.
Charles was not a delegate to the General Congress, probably because he was well known to be in favor of declaring independence and the Maryland Convention wanted to solve the problems with Great Britain. Even though he was not a delegate to the General Congress, he went to Philadelphia in 1776 to watch the proceedings in the Continental Congress. He was so favorably known by the delegates that he was sent on an important mission to Canada with Samuel Chase.
On his return to Philadelphia, Charles discovered that a motion was before Congress in favor of independence. He hurried back to Maryland and entreated the Legislature there to remove the restrictions on Maryland's delegates to the General Congress. He was successful in convincing the Legislature to remove the restrictions and was elected to be a delegate to the Continental Congress. Charles arrived in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776 - too late to vote for the Declaration of Independence but in time to sign the document.
Charles signed his name on the Declaration of Independence as "Charles Carroll of Carrollton" because another delegate told him that he had a cousin named Charles Carroll in Maryland. Charles added "of Carrollton" to his name in order that no one would mistake who actually signed the document.
Ten days after taking his seat in Congress, Charles was appointed to the Board of War, a position he held as long as he was in Congress. While serving in the General Congress, Charles continued being a member of the Maryland Assembly. When he was not in Philadelphia, he was serving Maryland. In 1776 he was part of a Convention that wrote the Constitution for Maryland as an independent State, and he later served in the State Senate under that Constitution.
Charles resigned his seat in Congress in 1788 in order to devote his time and energy to the State of Maryland. He was elected again to the State Senate in 1781 and continued in the office until the United States Constitution was adopted. He was elected to the office of Senator in the United States Senate in December, 1788, where he served for two years before being re-elected to the Maryland Senate in 1791. He served in the State Senate until 1801 when he was defeated for re-election.
Charles retired from public life at sixty-four years of life and spent his remaining days enjoying his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He has the distinction of being the last survivor of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. He died on November 14, 1832, in Baltimore at age 95.
"For a long term of years, Mr. Carroll was regarded by the people of this country with the greatest veneration, for, when Jefferson and Adams died, he was the last vestige that remained upon earth of that holy brotherhood, who stood sponsor at the baptism in blood of our infant Republic. The good and the great made pilgrimages to his dwelling, to behold, with their own eyes, the venerable political patriarch of America, and from the rich storehouse of his intellect, he freely contributed to the deficiencies of others. `His mind was highly cultivated. He was always a model of regularity of conduct, and sedateness of judgment. In natural sagacity, in refinement of taste and pleasures, in unaffected and habitual courtesy, in vigilant observation, vivacity of spirit, and true susceptibility of domestic and social happiness, in the best forms, he had but few equals during the greater part of his long and bright existence.'"
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 157-161.
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