Every 4th of July, citizens of the United States of America everywhere celebrate Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and separation from British rule. The Continental Congress had actually voted to approve a resolution of independence on July 2nd and declare the Thirteen Colonies a new nation, the United States of America. However, it would not come until two days later that the Declaration of Independence was drawn up, revised by the Continental Congress, and officially signed. Were any signers of the Declaration of Independence Catholic?
Of the 56 total signatories of the Declaration of Independence, only one was Catholic: Charles Carroll. Carroll was born in September 1737 to a wealthy Annapolis, Maryland family. He was raised Catholic and educated in Jesuit colleges in Maryland and France before finally studying law in Paris and London. In 1765, he returned to Maryland as an educated man to take over the family estate. He began adding “of Carrollton” to his signature as a way to distinguish him from his father and cousin with similar names.
In 1774, Carroll was approached by Benjamin Franklin who asked for his help in gaining the assistance of the Canadian government for the impending Revolutionary War. While not successful, his work gained him an appointment to the Continental Congress where he advocated early and often for an armed resistance against the British on the Board of War. Although Carroll was not present for the independence vote on July 2nd, he was present for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, making him the only Catholic signatory of the historical document.
When it came time for Charles Carroll to write his signature, he went to the document on a desk near John Hancock and simply wrote “Charles Carroll,” before returning to his seat. One of the 56 signatories, who was prejudiced against his Catholic Faith, jested that Carroll risked nothing by signing because there must be many men who share his name in the Thirteen Colonies, and if caught the King of England would not execute him without proof he was the same that signed the Declaration. Charles Carroll simply rose once again, took the pen from John Hancock, and added “of Carrollton” to his signature.
His cousin, John Carroll, was also the first Bishop and Archbishop in the United States in Baltimore. Not only was Charles Carroll the only Catholic signer of the declaration, he was also the last living surviving signer, dying in Baltimore at the age of 95 in 1832. Today he is remembered for his influential role in moving the Thirteen Colonies and Continental Congress towards independence from British rule.