Maryland's "First Citizen": The Maryland Senate Issues a "First Citizen" Award Every Year as a Well Deserved Tribute to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Wealthiest Signer of the Declaration of Independence. (History-Greatness of the Founders)

By Eddlem, Thomas R. | The New American, August 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

Maryland's "First Citizen": The Maryland Senate Issues a "First Citizen" Award Every Year as a Well Deserved Tribute to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Wealthiest Signer of the Declaration of Independence. (History-Greatness of the Founders)


Eddlem, Thomas R., The New American


Newspapers nationwide mournfully marked the end of a generation on November 15, 1832. The last living signer of the Declaration of Independence, Maryland's Charles Carroll of Carrollton, died in his sleep the previous evening. "The only remaining link which connected this generation with the past, with that illustrious race of statesmen, philanthropists and patriots, the founders of American independence, and the benefactors of the world, now and for all time hereafter, is broken," the Baltimore American wrote. Similar sentiments poured in from all over the nation, all grateful to the last surviving symbol of the Declaration.

In many ways, Charles Carroll had become "First Citizen" of America. The story of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his family is in many ways the story of Maryland.

Grandfather Arrives in Maryland

Charles Carroll's grandfather, also named Charles Carroll, sailed to Maryland in 1688 after briefly serving the faltering court of James II. Carroll was an ambitious lawyer, and he set sail to the proprietary colony commissioned by the third Lord Baltimore to serve as Maryland's attorney general. In Maryland, the 25-year-old Irish-born Carroll hoped to find tolerance of his religion and a chance to succeed.

The first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, received his title and a charter to begin colonizing Maryland from King Charles I in 1632. The charter promised safe haven for all Christians persecuted by the Church of England. Though the Calverts were staunch Catholics, and had preferred the new colony to primarily harbor persecuted Catholics, the charter also beckoned Puritans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others to religious safety. Among the original 13 colonies, Maryland opened its history with the greatest invitation of religious freedom. Before long, large numbers of persecuted Puritans were streaming across the Potomac River from Anglican Virginia, and Maryland Catholics became a small minority of the population. Except for a brief interlude during the 1640s, when the same Protestant revolution that had engulfed England temporarily displaced the Baltimores, a spirit of religious tolerance pervaded Maryland up until the day Carroll landed in Maryland. The restoration of Baltimore brought the 1649 Toleration Act, which stipulated that "no person or persons whatsoever in this province ... professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall henceforth be any ways troubled, molested or discountenanced for in respect to his or her religion."

The Carroll family patriarch arrived at Maryland's capital city, St. Mary's, just one month ahead of the news that James II had been overthrown in what was popularly called the "Glorious Revolution." Replaced by Dutch Prince William of Orange and his wife Mary, the British crown reverted to Protestant control once again and the Baltimore proprietorship was again overturned with a local revolution. London did not intervene on his behalf this time. Lord Baltimore's control over Maryland's government was permanently stripped from him, though Baltimore (Charles Calvert, the third Baltimore) and his successors were allowed to continue to receive the monetary proportion of the proprietorship. The capital was moved from St. Mary's to Annapolis, and penal laws were enacted barring Catholics from voting, teaching, holding public office, practicing law, and practicing their faith publicly.

Though most of Calvert's friends deserted him, Charles Carroll stood by him and served as his primary legal advisor. Carroll was even jailed twice for his spirited verbal defense of Calvert. The Carroll family patriarch benefited greatly from serving as lawyer for Calvert, as well as from his own abilities to make money, and he was soon at the head of an estate of 60,000 acres worth a sizeable fortune.

The elder Carroll's death in 1720 left his son, Charles Carroll of Annapolis (father of the Declaration signer), to manage the sizeable family estate at the tender age of 18.

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Maryland's "First Citizen": The Maryland Senate Issues a "First Citizen" Award Every Year as a Well Deserved Tribute to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Wealthiest Signer of the Declaration of Independence. (History-Greatness of the Founders)
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