The American Catholic Almanac, co-written by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, is a daily reader of stories about fascinating — and sometimes unexpected — American Catholics. From before the American founding through the present day, the book follows saints and sinners, heroes, children, politicians, athletes, and artists who all have one thing in common: their Catholic faith. Get your copy here!
Every man who signed the Declaration of Independence had something to lose. In putting their name to the document, they committed treason. If their bid for independence went wrong, everything they had—their property, their livelihoods, their freedom—would disappear.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, however, had more to lose than most.
The only son of Maryland’s richest planter and cousin to the future Archbishop John Carroll, Charles Carroll was one of the wealthiest men in America at the time. But that didn’t stop him from signing the Declaration after the Congress passed it on July 4, 1776. When it came to revolution, fortune or no, he was all in.
Carroll had been all in for nearly a decade. Although he spent 16 years on the far side of the Atlantic studying in France and London, he began agitating for independence soon after he returned to Annapolis in 1765. In the pages of the Maryland Gazette (under the pseudonym “First Citizen”) and on various committees of correspondence, he championed American self-governance and railed against British taxation policies.
By the early 1770s, Carroll anticipated armed conflict, telling his friend Samuel Chase that it would ultimately require “the bayonet” to resolve the colonies’ dispute with the British. “Our arguments will only raise the feelings of the people to that pitch, when open war will be looked to as the arbiter of the dispute,” he predicted.
In 1776, Carroll became one of Maryland’s delegates to the Continental Congress. Although he wasn’t present to vote on Jefferson’s Declaration, he signed it gladly and proudly, giving the document its lone Catholic signature.
In later years, Carroll served as both a state senator and U.S. senator, advocated (unsuccessfully) for the gradual abolition of slavery in Maryland, and sought to resettle former slaves in Liberia.
When Carroll died on November 14, 1832, he was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence—an act that, in the end, cost him little and gained him much.