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Charles Carroll of Carrollton – Longest Living Signer of Declaration of Independence

Updated on July 4, 2012

Signing Took Courage

According legend, when his turn came to sign the document on that hot August day in Philadelphia in 1776, Charles Carroll stepped forward briskly, signed Charles Carroll.

As Carroll returned to his seat another delegate, who didn't like Carroll, taunted that because there were many men in Maryland named Charles Carroll, Carroll risked nothing because it would be difficult to identify him as the signer.

At this, Carroll abruptly returned to the document and, picking up the quill pen again, added of Carrollton, two words that would uniquely identify him as the signer.

While a good story, it is not true as Charles Carroll had been signing documents as Charles Carroll of Carrollton since at least 1765.

However, despite the fictitious nature of this little bit of historical fiction, it does expose the harsh truth about the life threatening risks each signer took as they signed their names.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Charles Carroll of Carrollton

By Signing the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll Committed Treason Against King George III and the British Empire

Like his fellow delegates to the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, signing his name to the document was an act of courage.

Today, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence as the beginning of our country as an independent nation.

However, if the fortunes of war had gone the other way and George Washington and his ill equipped Continental Army had lost, this document would have been a death warrant for Charles Carroll and the other fifty-five delegates who joined him in signing.

If the War of Independence had been lost, the actions of Charles Carroll and his fellow delegates would have been deemed an act of treason against king and country (country being Great Britain and the British Empire of which the American colonies were a part) rather than an act of patriotism as we view it today.

The penalty for treason was death and the penalty for prominent traitors, like Charles Carroll who was a wealthy and influential Maryland landowner, was more often than not, death by being hanged, drawn and quartered - the same fate that befell the Scottish patriot William Wallace some five hundred years before (and graphically depicted in the execution scene at the end of the movie Braveheart).

The addition of the title of Carrollton, was done by Carroll so that there could be no mistake as to which of the many Charles Carroll's had signed the Declaration of Independence. He took full responsibility for his action and left no escape in the event the Revolution failed.

Charles Carroll was by far the wealthiest person to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was also one of eight signers of Irish descent and the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration. Carroll's final distinction was that he was the longest surviving signer, living until 1832, over a half a century after that fateful August day in 1776.

Born into a Family Whose Irish Roots Were Transplanted to Lord Baltimor's Maryland Colony

Charles Carroll of Carrollton was born in Annapolis, Maryland on September 19,1737. Carroll's grandfather (more likely his great-grandfather), Daniel Carroll of Littemourna, Ireland was a clerk in the office of Lord Powis in London during the reign of King James II.

During this period he came to the attention of Lord Baltimore, an English nobleman who was a Roman Catholic in an era when it was illegal to practice the Roman Catholic faith in England.

At that time the laws against Catholicism were only sporadically enforced but discrimination against Catholics still existed and there was always the possibility that the laws would be strictly enforced.

Because of this threat of renewed Catholic persecution, Lord Baltimore was attempting to obtain a charter from King James II that would allow him to found a colony in the New World where Catholics could practice their faith freely.

Lord Baltimore was successful in obtaining his charter and induced Daniel Carroll to immigrate to the new colony in Maryland sometime around 1659. Being both an early settler as well as enjoying the patronage of Lord Baltimore, Daniel Carroll was able to acquire vast tracts of land in the colony which became the foundation of his and his descendant's wealth.

Charles Carroll's father, also, Charles Carroll was born in Maryland in 1702 and, like Daniel Carroll before him, and his son after him, Charles Carroll was a wealthy and prominent member of colonial Maryland society.

When Charles Carroll of Carrollton was eight years old his parents sent him to France along with his cousin, John Carroll, to be educated at the Jesuit College of St. Omar which, since the Catholic Church and its institutions were illegal in England, had been established in France to educate the children of English Catholics

Charles Carroll remained in Europe for twenty years and, having completed his studies in law in both Paris and London, he returned to Maryland in 1765.

His cousin John became a Jesuit priest and remained in Europe until shortly before the start of the American Revolution. Father John Carroll later became the first Roman Catholic Bishop in the United States (becoming Bishop of Baltimore in 1789) and first Roman Catholic Archbishop in the United States (Archbishop of Baltimore in 1808).

Debate Over Religion First Brought Carroll into Politics

Upon Charles Carroll's return, his father presented him with a gift of a 10,000 acre estate in Frederick County.

Following the receipt of the gift, Charles Carroll proceeded to build a manor house and named the estate Carrollton.

Three years after his return, Charles married Mary Darnell who bore him seven children before her death in 1782. Of the seven, four died in infancy and only Mary, Charles Jr, and Kitty survived to adulthood.

Charles Carroll first became actively involved with politics when, in 1771 the Governor of Maryland introduced a bill into the legislature seeking to increase taxes in order to provide pay increases for government officials and the Anglican clergy.

While Maryland had begun as a refuge for Catholics with a charter had that had called for religious tolerance for all faiths, it had over time enacted laws similar to those in the other colonies.

By 1771 the colony had made the Anglican Church the official church of the colony with taxpayer dollars paying its clergy and other expenses, and had also made it illegal for Catholics to vote, hold office or practice law.

Reacting to the governor's proposal, Carroll wrote a series of newspaper articles attacking this proposal and then he and some other prominent Catholics stood for election to the legislature and won. Despite the fact that they broke the law by running for election, the authorities backed down and allowed them to take their seats in the colonial legislature.

Failed Mission to Form an Alliance With Canada

Charles Carroll became a leading figure in Maryland political life and soon became active in the independence movement.

In the winter of 1776 he was appointed, along with his cousin Jesuit Father John Carroll, Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase, to a commission charged with traveling to Canada for the purpose of getting the Canadians to join in the Revolution.

The mission failed but upon his return he was elected to the Maryland convention which voted to support independence and elected Charles Carroll as a Maryland delegate to the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia.

Signing of the Declaration of Indpedence

Carroll's appointment came too late for him to be present when Congress met on July 4, 1776 to vote on the Declaration of Independence. While Congress voted to approve the declaration and declare our independence, only John Hancock, President of the Congress, signed the document that day.

Following the vote to accept the Declaration of Independence, the document was then sent to a printer for the official copies to be printed. Charles Carroll was present in Congress on August 2, 1776 when the time came to sign the Declaration and he boldly signed his name along with 55 of the other delegates.

Political and Private LIfe After American Revolution

Following the signing of the Declaration of Independence Carroll remained active in politics for a number of years.

In addition to being among the first to serve in the new Maryland Legislature he was also the choice of the Maryland Legislature to be one of first two United States Senators sent to represent Maryland in the first Congress that convened under the present U.S. Constitution (note - originally Senators were appointed by the state legislatures, rather than being elected to that office).

Following his service as a United States Senator, Carroll retired to private life so he could spend more time with his family.

Among his activities after retiring from public life was investing in and helping to start the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

In a ceremony on July 4, 1828 he laid the cornerstone for the new railroad.

Four years later, at the age of 95, on November 14, 1832 Charles Carroll died at the home of his daughter, Kitty and was buried in the family chapel at Doughoregan Manor in Maryland.

In addition to his many accomplishments, Charles Carroll of Carrollton has the distinction of being the last of the signers of the Declaration of Independence to die.


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    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      DrBill-WmL-Smith - I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed this Hub. Thanks for your comments.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Love to read stories about early Maryland from whence came one of my ancestral lines. Each hub I read, here, contributes to the Historical Fiction I love to write based in colonial Maryland. ;-) Thanks for sharing! ;-)

    • profile image

      sierra 6 years ago

      great work awesome

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      jEmSSnn01 6 years ago from NY

      I'm doing a research on US constitution for and discovered this hub. This is a very useful information for my research. Thanks.

    • profile image

      John Mackey 6 years ago

      I am related to Charles Carroll via my grandmother's 1st cousine Bridget Carroll. She was a Kane. My sister speaks with Phillip Carroll all of the time...

    • profile image

      6 years ago

      How do you prove your related to him? I am, and can't find any way to prove it.

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      Michele Osborne 6 years ago

      Charles Carroll came from my mothers fathers side of the family. We still have the Carroll name. My Grandpa was Forbes Carroll. So proud of my ancestor. : )

    • profile image

      Chloe 7 years ago

      My boyfriend is related to him and his marked resemblance to the man is quite amusing.

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      Cheri Carroll Reyes 7 years ago

      I am a realitive of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and I want to find out more about my family tree if anyone can tell me if you're in my family can you email me please i need to find out more about my history!

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Kitty Bee - try a Google Books search as this book may have been scanned by Google and, if it was Google will give you links to book stores where you can buy it. Depending upon the copyright status, the digital version may be available to either read online or download.

    • profile image

      Kitty Bee 8 years ago

      Just came across your hubpages because I am looking for a book, "History of Carrollton Manor," by Wm. Grove, hardcover published by Marken & Bielfeld. If anyone has one or knows of one, I am interested in acquiring it. I can be reached at

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      JNCIA - thank you for your comment and for being a loyal reader.


    • profile image

      JNCIA 8 years ago

      Great work . I am always watch hubpages only for your great Articles . Carry on hope for new


    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona


      I don't have any lineage information for Charles Carroll's family. I suggest you try some searches on some of which is free, some of which is private and not accessible and some of which frequently links to which requires a membership. will generally give you a 2 week free trial membership after which you have to join and pay - however, I think that they have different options with different prices. You can also check the genealogy section of your local library as they sometimes subscribe to and other membership sites which you can generally access without charge while in the Library. There are also genealogical libraries operated by the Morman Church (official name Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) which I believe are open to the public and usually have access to and genealogical sites.

      Once you have access to or similar sites check Census records beginning with the most recent ancestor you have information on and work backwards (the 1920 or 1930 Census may be the most recent one available). Once you have some general reference dates, names and addresses, begin looking for birth certificates, death certificates, land deeds, military records, city directories, etc. in order to get more specific information and more precise dates (the Census is only taken and published once every ten years).

      This is much like solving a mystry or putting a puzzle together, however, it can be an interesting challenge and, given the fame of Charles Carroll and the great interest of many people in trying to trace their ancestry back to him you might luck out and quickly locate your wife's grandfather, great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather on an existing family tree that goes straight back to Charles Carroll.

      Good luck.

    • profile image

      alanrossk 8 years ago


      My wife's surname is Carroll and their family claims they are direct descendents of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. I have been trying to trace the lineage, but I am at a loss to connect the current history I can obtain from the family to the lineage I found on-line from Charles Carroll himself.

      I'm hoping you can help me fill in the missing piece...

      According to my on-line research I found that Charles Carroll of Carrolton was actually Charles Carrol III. His son, Charles IV had a son Charles V. Charles V had four sons, but I could only find any descendents from one of them, John Lee, Born 1830. John Lee had nine children, one of them named Charles II, born 1865. That's as far as that goes.

      From the other end, My wife's father, James Anthony Carroll, Jr. was born in 1938 or 1939. His father was James Anthony Carroll Sr. and his father was named Charles. I am wondering if my wife's great grandfather was the son of Charles II, born 1865 or if Charles II was my wife's great grandfather.

      Do you have this information? There was a post to this hub by a Mr. Robert Becker about 3 months ago that said he had all the information and left a phone number. I tried that phone number, but it was out of service. I am hoping you can help me complete my wife's family tree.

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Judi - Thank you for visiting my Hub and for your comments.

      I have seen this article you referred to as I have some friends who automatically forward every email of this type to everyone in their address books.  My usual response is to hit my delete button on these emails while glancing at a few. 

      I did glance at one of the many copies that I received of this particular one and was intrigued enough to decide to check it in more depth - not so much to check its accuracy but to learn more about these men.  However, I lacked the time to do this but, being of Irish descent ( ), decided to research the Irish signers of the Declaration.  This Hub on Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the result of that project.

      Actually, if you read the original article as it appears at the beginning of the Snopes piece that you linked to, the statements in the article that circulated the web are not so much inaccurate as incomplete.  It is said that the most successful  lies are the ones that stick as close to the truth as possible and this is a propaganda trick that has been used by governments and their media allies very successfully.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is to keep your article short and use only facts that can be verified - AND ONLY FACTS THAT SUPPORT YOUR ARGUEMENT. 

      Snopes doesn't totally refute anything said in the original article, rather it adds additional facts and dates which put the statements in the original article in a different light.  In some cases where Snopes gives specific dates or correct spellings of names, as Snopes does with the date of John Hart's wife's death - she died on October 8th while the British didn't invade and occupy the area until later in November.  This could be a deliberate deception on the part of the anonymous author of the piece.  On the other hand it could have been an honest mistake on the part of earlier authors who didn't have the easy access to information which the Internet provides to us today and assumed that the death of Hart's wife was the result of the British occupation.  Hart himself may have blamed the British for his wife's death given his possible lack attention to her needs while, at the same time trying to figure out how to protect his property from the advancing British and also trying to decide whether the family should risk staying or flee.  The fact that his children were grown didn't lessen his love and concern for them and, as adults they wouldn't necessarily be living in the home with him which posed difficulties for warning them when it was time to flee.  Remember, this was the eighteenth century with no telephones with which to call the children to warn them, no TV with embedded reporters reporting the advance of the British Army (you learned of the arrival of the British Army either from refugees fleeing past your home or from the sounds of canon fire in the distance).

      Finally, even the best research is often incomplete.  Note the third comment, below what I wrote, by Sam Brainerd citing what he feels are inaccuracies in some of my dates and other facts.  I checked and cross checked, as I usually do when writing my Hubs, the facts I used and went with what I felt were the best.  While I haven't had time to check out the facts that Mr. Brainerd challenged I do appreciate his very informative comment and was happy to leave it visible so readers could see and judge it for themselves.

      In conclusion, there are two ways to look at the original article that circulated the web. 

      The first is to see it as a piece intended to encourage people to think and appreciate the sacrifices our forefathers made in order to create this nation.  No one can dispute the fact, as the Snopes piece makes clear, that the signers and all of the other participants in the Revolution took many risks in taking up arms against their King and country.  This was treason and the penalty in those days was death and confiscation of property - whether the British government, if it had won the war, would have carried out such vengeance against all (from George Washington and John Hancock, President of the Congress who wrote his name large enough so that "King George could read it without his glasses" to the lowest militiaman who fought in one small engagement) who took part in such treason or granted clemency is a point that can only be debated and never known.  What is known is that the risk to the lives and property of all who participated was real.  Further, the war was fought on American soil which meant that battles were fought in farmers' fields and large areas were placed under the control of the British Army and their Loyalist supporters who were often more than happy to use their position being allied with the occupation force settle personal grudges, often violently, with their neighbors.  In this type of writing the goal of the author is inspire and motivate the reader rather than prepare them for a history test.  In this case, if you agree with the author's point of view it is an interesting and informative piece of writing, while if you disagree with the author's point of view it is simply sloppy scholarship.

      The other way is to view it as a piece of sloppy scholarship by someone wishing to throw something together and publish it quickly without bothering to check the facts. 

      Regardless of which of the above two conclusions appeal to you, the article can always serve as a motivation to dig deeper and learn more about these and other men and women who participated in the Revolution, either as signers of the Declaration of Independence or in other capacities.  While none were perfect, their stories are both interesting and  enlightening.

      Thanks again for your comment.



    • profile image

      JudiBug 8 years ago


      I really like this hub and I'm wondering if you ever read a piece that goes around the internet called "Have you ever wondered what happened to those men who signed the Declaration of Independence?"

      I figured some of it could be off but after reading what Snopes had to say about it, I felt angry. I would really appreciate it if you would read what they said and see if Snopes got some points either wrong could not be determined. I just joined, so I don't know how this thing works, but hopefully you will be able to let me know if you check it out. The link to Snopes is:


    • profile image

      Marcie Harris 8 years ago

      My mom just became a member of the Oregon chapter for D.A.R. based on our great great....grandfather, William Carroll married to Joanna Wakefield. It is in our family history, as well as other published documents, that William Carroll was the nephew of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. I just got a copy of the will for William Carroll and he signs his name William Carrel. I can not find any information on William Carrolls' family tree (he was born 1745 in Ireland and died abt 1830 Mercer Co. Penn. No mention of his parents etc. Any one have in info?

    • profile image

      ROBERT BECKER 9 years ago




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      PT 9 years ago

      I'm Charles Carroll Of Carrollton's relatives I just wanted to see If There was a family tree of his and I was on It. I just thought it was really cool that I'm related to him! Thanks :->

    • profile image

      Mary Toews (Dunham) 9 years ago

      I have already figured out how I am connected to Barack Obama. He is my 7 th Cousin, twice removed. My 10 grandchildren and he, are 9th Cousins. Now I am working on Charles Carroll. Would any one know what kind of a family Charles had? I am starting back, with him, and working forward. My mother was a Carroll and my father was Dunham. Both born in Ontario, east & west of London. My mother's sister Leila Carroll (My Aunt) told me, when I was younger, that we are related. She never married and taught school for 35 or so years. She looked after my grandmother until she died at 94 years. Leila, herself died at 87.

    • profile image

      jen 9 years ago

      i may be related to charles carroll of carrollton. does anyone have a proprer family tree?

    • profile image

      Liz 9 years ago

      Hello, it's been long said in my family, on my grandmother's side, that I am also related to Charles Carroll. I'm not sure how factual this is. I do know that I once found a letter or a journaling of some kind by my grandmother in which she stated it, so I know it is not something my mother originated.

      My grandmother was Patricia Carter, she married a Mears. I'm not sure what her mother's name was. Durburrow is also a family name and is my mother's middle name, but I'm not sure if it came from my grandfather's side or my grandmother's. (I'm not even sure if I'm spelling it right.)

      Unfortunately my grandmother passed when I was a year old, so I cannot ask her directly.

      I'd be grateful if someone could contact me. Codababy at gmail dot com.


    • profile image

      Jerry 9 years ago

      My grandmother was Mary Roche O'Connor. Her great great grandfather was Charles Carroll. Does anyone have a proper family tree so I can trace/add to it?

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      Stacy 9 years ago

      Hello, My name is Stacy and last night I learned I was related to John and Daniel Carroll. Im not sure how though and would love to know. Its not much to go on but my Great Grandmothers name was Blanch Barton. Does any one have a family tree or listing of as many family members of John and Daniel Carroll so I could ask around my family and see if we can figure out how we are related. Thanks so much.


    • profile image

      nancy 9 years ago

      was Captain weilliam Carroll who married Joanna Wakefield, a descendant of Charles Carrollton?

    • profile image

      bill carroll 9 years ago

      I loved reading this post and all of the comments. I am a direct descendent of my father, William Carroll, Ellicott City, MD.

    • profile image

      Kaylee 9 years ago

      you no what

      im related to him so all ou need to keep doing all this stuff because most of it is rite but no all of it

    • profile image

      Elisabeth Carroll 9 years ago

      Dear d dodson, One cannot be a "direct descendant" of someone who is their "uncle". Elisabeth Carroll

    • profile image

      Barbara A. 10 years ago

      Response to Paul M asking if anyone was interested in a book he has and I know someone interested in purchasing said book. could you please let me know if you have sold it. Contact me at Thank you.

    • profile image

      Joe Flynn 10 years ago

      I am trying to confirm being a descendant of Charles Carroll of Carrolton. I've gone as far back as Peter Carroll, my great great grandfather, who with his wife Mary O'Gorman Carroll, lived in the mid - 1800's. Any assistance would be appreciated. My e-mail address is

    • profile image

      Paul M. 10 years ago

      I have a signed copy of " History of Carrollton Manor" by William Jarboe Grove, dated 1928. Let me know if anyone is interested in obtaining the book.

    • profile image

      Danny Sviltz 10 years ago

      Hey nice work, you had a good start but in the middle you kind of blew off the topic and went on about different things. And you had some puctuation marks wrong also...ok all im saying is...GOOD WORK!

    • profile image

      d dodson 10 years ago

      Thanks for the info. I am a direct descendant of Charles Carroll. He is my uncle. I have a book "The History of the Carroll Family in Boone County, Indiana" less than 200 copies, 1929

    • profile image

      Sam Brainerd 10 years ago

      Chuck, I'm sorry to say you have made quite a few errors in your mini-biography of Charles Carroll. (1) He first added "of Carrollton" to his name in 1765. The story that he signed the Declaration of Independence that way so as to make his responsibility clear is a hoary old myth with no basis in fact. (2) His great-grandfather's name was Daniel Carroll of Aghagurty and Litterluna, not Littemourna. (3) Daniel did not emigrate to Maryland around 1659; he never left Ireland. It was Daniel's son, Charles Carroll "the Settler" (Carrollton's grandfather) who emigrated, and the year was 1688. (4) Carrollton did not build his house on the manor of that name. In fact, he never lived on Carrollton Manor at all. Those 10,000 acres were leased to tenant farmers (see Mary C. Jeske, "Autonomy and Opportunity: Carrollton Manor Tenants, 1734-1790 (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 1999) for particulars. (5) Carrollton did not built a manor house anywhere: he inherited the manor house on Doughoragen Manor in present-day Howard County, but he usually lived there only in the summer months. It still exists and is the only home of a Signer still in the hands of direct descendants. (6) Charley certainly didn't "retire" from politics after serving in the U.S. Senate "to spend more time with his family." Maryland passed a law that no one could serve both in the state senate and the federal senate (as Carroll had been doing), so Charley gave up the federal post. Then, after he and many other Federalists were defeated in the state elections of 1800, he retired from public life, convinced that the Francophile Thomas Jefferson was going to drive the country to ruin.

      I won't go on any further but I do recommend that you read Ronald Hoffman's book Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2000) for accurate information on the Carroll family. As for my bona fides, I am one of the documentary editors on the ongoing Carroll Papers project.

    • jkizmo2007 profile image

      jkizmo2007 10 years ago from Tagbilaran, Bohol Philippines

      cool work

    • Mark Rollins profile image

      Mark Rollins 10 years ago

      The opening scene of National Treasure has a focus on this guy. It is, of course, fictionalized, but hey, at least I learned something.


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