Last Surviving Signer

by Lou Binninger

How humans have survived and thrived is amazing when you have the curiosity to look closely. It’s a shame the teaching of history comes off so boring.

Mark Twain wrote, “Many public-school children seem to know only two dates--1492 and 4th of July; and as a rule they don't know what happened on either occasion.”  Today, Americans’ understanding of their history is often seriously lacking or revised.

We just passed the 75-year commemoration of the World War II D-Day attack to liberate Europe and many realized that at the next 5-year ceremony there will be no surviving veterans still with us. In the same fashion Americans noted the passing of those 56 brave signers of the world-changing Declaration of Independence and particularly when there were just three remaining.

On July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence the only three signers still alive were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Carroll. In a strange coincidence in American history, Adams and Jefferson both died that day, so Carroll became the lone surviving signer.

Carroll died in 1832 at age 95. He was a patriot, a public servant and far brighter than political leaders today. The signers risked their lives, families and assets. Carroll had much to lose as he was known as the wealthiest American at that time. He uniquely signed the Declaration as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton” to not bring persecution on other family members with the same name elsewhere. His wealth was used for the revolution.

Some thought John Hancock, another signer and Boston’s leading merchant, was the wealthiest, but Charles Carroll the father of the signer, and his son were one and two. Charles Carroll the Founding Father was an only child and inherited his father’s wealth to add to his own.

Richard Stockton, a lawyer from Princeton, New Jersey, became the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to recant his support of the revolution. On November 30, 1776, the delegate was captured by the British. After months of harsh treatment and meager rations, Stockton renounced his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swore his allegiance to King George III. A broken man when he regained his freedom, he took a new oath of loyalty to the state of New Jersey in December 1777.

Carroll represented Maryland at the gathering to draft and confirm the Declaration. He was also a devout Catholic which limited his political aspirations due to colonial intolerance of certain faith movements. He was the only Catholic signer.

Most students learn only of the Boston Tea Party, but there were a number of "tea party” uprisings. On October 15, 1774, the ship Peggy Stewart owned by the Annapolis mercantile company of Dick and Stewart sailed into the harbor of Annapolis, Maryland, carrying tea. On arriving, the ship’s owner paid the tax applied by Britain to importations of tea to its American colonies in compliance with the Tea Act of May 1773.

Charles Carroll led the Tea Party movement in Maryland. On October 19, 1774, Charles Carroll helped set fire to the British ship Peggy Stewart.

Charles Carroll wrote to Rev. John Stanford on October, 9, 1827: "To obtain religious as well as civil liberty I entered jealously into the Revolution, and observing the Christian religion divided into many sects, I founded the hope that no one would be so predominant as to become the religion of the State....That hope was thus early entertained because all of them joined in the same cause, with few exceptions of individuals.”

“God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these States, to the end of time, and that all believing in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of every virtue."

After John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died the City of New York sent a committee to Carroll to get his final thoughts on the Declaration.  He wrote on August 2, 1826: "Grateful to Almighty God for the blessings which, through Jesus Christ Our Lord, He had conferred on my beloved country in her emancipation and on myself in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy, to live to the age of 89 years…..  do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man."