Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782

By Carr, Lois Green | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782


Carr, Lois Green, The Catholic Historical Review


Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782. By Ronald Hoffman in Collaboration with Sally D. Mason. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2000. Pp. xxix, 429. $39.95.)

Here is a splendid union of family biography and social history. Ronald Hoffman has written the saga of an Irish family who, over the second half of the seventeenth century, lost nearly everything fighting the English occupation of Ireland and the English effort to suppress Irish Catholicism, but who regrouped in Maryland. There, Charles Carroll, the "Settler," and his relatives and descendants rebuilt their fortunes. And there, his grandson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, became a leader in the struggle for American independence of England and for liberty of conscience within Maryland's Christian society.

Hoffman grounds the Maryland Carrolls in Irish history, a history characterized over centuries by resistance to English invasion; by loyalty to clan; by conflicts among clans over power and the wealth to support it; and, after the English Reformation, by a defiant insistence on adherence to Catholicism in the face of English conquest and devastation. This history, he argues, helps to explain the mentality of the three Charles Carrolls-their unrelenting determination to regain and improve their fortunes and establish a dynasty in their new setting without compromising loyalty to their faith. The Carroll story, as he sees it, shows how "succeeding generations [can be] moved, unawares, to complete the unfinished agenda of those who preceded them" (p. xxvi).

The Settler appeared in Maryland in 1688 armed only with an excellent education, obtained on the continent and at the Inns of Court in London, and with an appointment as attorney general from Charles Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore. Unfortunately, within a few months, a bloodless revolution overturned the Calvert government and with it full liberty in religion and Catholic rights to hold office that had attracted Carroll to the colony. After 1692, he could not even practice in the courts of common law. Nevertheless, by his death in 1720, he had acquired the largest estate then known in the province and had laid the roots of a dynasty that was to make its mark on our nation's history.

The Settler's oldest surviving son, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, took over the family properties and as a land developer and a money lender accumulated a vast fortune. Yet he was always wary of the future, basing his concerns on the family history of English confiscations of Carroll property in Ireland and on English penal laws that, if transferred or re-enacted locally, could endanger Catholic property and prosperity in Maryland. During the Seven Years' War, when anti-Catholic agitation in the province was strong, he even planned to sell his Maryland properties and move his family and assets to Louisiana. He was not willing to gain security or political power, as some other Maryland Catholics did, by conforming to the Church of England. …

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