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Signers of the Declaration
Biographical Sketches

Charles Carroll
Charles Carroll

As one of the wealthiest men in America, Charles Carroll III of Carrollton risked his fortune as well as his life when he joined the Revolutionaries. Possessing one of the most cultivated minds of any of the signers, he achieved remarkable success as planter, businessman, and politician. He was the only Roman Catholic signer, the last to survive, and the longest lived.

Of Irish descent, Carroll was born in 1737 at his father's townhouse, Carroll Mansion in Annapolis. Jesuits educated him until he reached about 11 years of age. He then voyaged to Europe and studied the liberal arts and civil law at various schools and universities in Paris, elsewhere in France, and in London.

Carroll sailed home in 1765 at the age of 28, and built a home at Carrollton Manor, a 10,000-acre estate in Frederick County newly deeded to him by his father. At that time, he added "of Carrollton" to his name to distinguish himself from relatives of the same name. For most of his life, however, he preferred for his country residence the family ancestral home, Doughoregan Manor, in Howard County; when in Annapolis, he usually resided at his birthplace. For almost a decade after his return from Europe, barred from public life by his religion, he lived quietly. During that time, in 1768, he married. His offspring numbered seven, three of whom lived to maturity.

In 1773 Carroll became a champion of the patriots through his newspaper attacks on the Proprietary Governor. The latter was opposing reforms in officers' fees and stipends for Anglican clergy that the lower house of the legislature had proposed. From then on, Carroll took a prominent part in provincial affairs. In the years 1774-76 he supported nonimportation measures, attended the first Maryland Revolutionary convention, and served on local and provincial committees of correspondence and the council of safety. In 1776 he and his cousin John, a priest—chosen because of their religion and knowledge of French—traveled to Canada with Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase on a congressionally appointed committee that sought but failed to obtain a union of Canada with the Colonies.

Carroll and Chase arrived back in Philadelphia on June 11 that same year, the day after Congress had postponed the vote on Richard Henry Lee's independence resolution (June 7) until July 1. Maryland had refused to commit herself. Carroll and Chase rushed to Annapolis, recruited William Paca's aid, and conducted a whirlwind campaign that persuaded the provincial convention to pass a unanimous independence resolution. It reached Congress just in time to put the colony in the affirmative column on July 1, the day of the first vote. Three days later, Carroll himself became a Delegate and functioned in that capacity until 1778.

Two years before, Carroll had also been elected to the State senate, a seat he retained until just after the turn of the century. Along with fellow signers Chase and Paca, he was a member of the committee that in 1776 drafted Maryland's constitution. Elected to but not attending the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he nevertheless allied himself with the Federalists and helped bring about his State's ratification of the Constitution. In the years 1789-92, while also in the State senate, he served as a U.S. Senator, one of Maryland's first two.

Not reelected to the State senate in 1804, the 67-year-old Carroll retired from public life and concentrated on managing his landholdings, consisting of about 80,000 acres in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, and his business interests. The latter included investments in the Patowmack (Potowmack) Company, which established a canal system in the Potomac and Shenandoah Valleys, and its successor the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. Carroll was also. a member of the first board of directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

In his final years, revered by the Nation as the last surviving signer of the Declaration, Carroll spent most of his time at Doughoregan Manor. But he passed the winters in the home of his youngest daughter and her husband in Baltimore. There, in 1832, he died at the age of 95. His body was interred in the family chapel at Doughoregan Manor.

Drawing: Oil, 1823, by Charles Willson Peale, after Rembrandt Peale, Independence National Historical Park.

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Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004