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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story

Walter B. Norris

published by
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p109  Chapter VII

The Three Signers of the Declaration of Independence and their Annapolis Homes

Not the least of the attractions of Annapolis to the student of American history is the fact that it contained among its citizens three of the fifty‑six signers of the Declaration of Independence, and that the town house of each of them still stands. It is doubtful if this can be said of any other city in the country. Perhaps the most famous of their group, these men were, however, but part of a brilliant and devoted band of patriotic lawyers, merchants and land-owners who inspired and controlled the movement for greater freedom in the affairs of government and greater opportunities for all.

Of the three Signers, Charles Carroll of Carrollton was easily the outstanding figure. The differences in his circumstances as related to the events of his time are really striking. He is not all that we generally include in our conception  p110 of a Revolutionary patriot. He was a Catholic, as all his family were and have remained. He was the richest individual in the Colonies. He was, until a new Constitution was adopted, ineligible to vote in any election. He was almost European in his education and ideas, as he had spent seventeen years of his youth on the Continent and in London. Yet he was heart and soul in sympathy with the patriot cause, and gave unsparingly of his time and wealth to help it achieve success.

The grandfather of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, also named Charles, had originally arrived in the province with a commission from Lord Baltimore, with whom he was intimately connected, as Attorney-General, an office in the gift of the Proprietary. But no sooner had he reached Maryland than the authority of Lord Baltimore was abrogated by William of Orange and the position vanished. Yet he administered so well the business with which he was thereupon entrusted that by 1707 he had received 60,000 acres of land. In the same year he received the 10,000acre tract which he later called Dougheregan Manor, and a little later 10,000 more, which  p111 he named Carrollton, and from which the Signer derived his distinctive designation. Thus he laid the foundation for what became in the wise care of his son, generally known as Charles Carroll of Annapolis, the largest fortune in America and which was estimated to amount before the Revolution to at least $2,000,000.

Charles Carroll of Annapolis, father of the Signer, was educated abroad and took over the management of the family estate at the age of twenty‑one. The house in which he lived, and where his son also had his residence whenever in Annapolis, still stands on the banks of Spa Creek and presents its original condition. The house was built by the father of the Signer, and the story is that buying the land from a widow he paid many times its real value in order to do her a kindness she would receive in no other way. Parts of the building date back as far at least as 1735. There, in a part of the town not originally set aside for gentlemen's residences, but somewhat apart from the rest of the principal inhabitants — a position which the Carrolls seem always to have occupied — the family homestead was established. Later Dougheregan Manor became  p112 the principal center of the family life, but it was at Annapolis that the Carrolls, including the Signer, who was born here in 1737, were found on all important occasions. The gigantic tree which stood near the house saw Washington often entertained here, and in 1783, when he resigned his commission as commander-in‑chief, the whole community celebrated on this spot at the expense of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Of the many letters exchanged between Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his father while the former was abroad securing an education, perhaps the most revelatory of the character of the father is a part of a letter written in 1756 in which he describes the situation of the Acadians who had been deported from Nova Scotia and scattered along the Atlantic seaboard in the English colonies. He says:

"It has been the misfortune of 900 and odd of these poor people to be sent to Maryland, where they have been entirely supported by private charity and the little they can get by their own labor, which for want of employment has been but a poor resource to them. Many of them have met with very humane treatment from the  p113 Roman Catholics here, but a real or pretended jealousy inclined this government not to suffer them to live with Roman Catholics. I offered the government to take and support two families consisting of fourteen souls, but was not permitted to do it.

"These poor people for their numbers were perhaps the most happy of any on the globe. They manufactured all they wore, and their manufactures were good; they raised in great plenty the provisions they consumed; their habitations were warm and comfortable; they were all upon a level, being all husbandmen, and consequently as void of ambition as human nature can be. They appear to be very regular and religious, and that from principle and a perfect knowledge of their duty, which convinces me that they were blessed with excellent pastors. But alas, how is their case altered! They were at once stripped of everything but the clothes on their backs: many have died in consequence of their sufferings, and the survivors see no prospect before them but want and misery."1

In these letters we trace the migrations of  p114 young Carroll through various Jesuit schools at St. Omer, Rheims, Paris, and Bourges, and in his studies in law at the Temple in London, where he spent three or four years. Thus when he returned to Annapolis in 1765, he was thoroughly at home with civil law in all its phases and had seen enough of English and Continental society to feel thoroughly at ease in any of the circles of Annapolis. Yet the whole impression we derive from his letters and from the character sketches of him made by various individuals is that he ever retained a certain simplicity which never made him ambitious for the leadership of society or for the exhibition of his wealth. When he appeared in Philadelphia at the session of the Continental Congress he at once drew from John Adams the following favorable "character":

"A gentleman of independent fortune — perhaps the largest in America — a hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand pounds sterling; educated in some university in France, though a native of America; of great abilities and learning, complete master of the French language, and a professor of the Roman Catholic religion;  p115 yet a warm, a firm, a zealous supporter of the rights of America, in whose cause he has hazarded his all."2

As a person excluded by religion from any active political rôle, but trained in the principles of government and law more deeply than perhaps any other Marylander of his generation, it was natural that when opposition developed to the existing government, based upon the supremacy of Protestantism and the Parliament as it was, Carroll should take the side of the reformers and seek political freedom at their hands. And it was also natural that they should welcome the assistance of the wealth and following which he represented. His championship of the popular cause in the fee controversy of 1773, as will be related in the next chapter, quickly made him a member of all the important committees which directed the growing opposition to the mother country. This finally sent him to the Continental Congress and gave him many important posts of a business nature during the Revolution. As a leading Catholic and a master of French he was sent with Franklin, Samuel  p116 Chase, and John Carroll, a cousin who was a priest in the Catholic Church, on a mission to the inhabitants of Quebec to secure their assistance in the revolutionary cause. After the war he became United States Senator from Maryland, was active in all the chief enterprises of the day, and when he died in 1832 the last surviving signer of the famous Declaration passed away.

He was, it has been said, the first to append his signature, the richest man who signed, the only Catholic who signed, and the last one of the Signers to die. But the commonly accepted story that as he wrote his name some one remarked, "I see several millions gone through confiscation," but another said "Oh, there are several Charles Carrolls," and that then Carroll added "of Carrollton," is obviously untrue, since from the time when he returned from abroad and assumed an active part in the affairs of the family he consistently penned his name in this way.

The best known of houses of Signers is probably least frequently associated with its builder and the Declaration of Independence. This is  p117 the structure on Prince George Street which constitutes the western half of the Carvel Hall Hotel. The name is, of course, derived from Winston Churchill's novel, but there the building serves as the home of Dorothy Manners. But the house is historically the former residence of William Paca, where he lived from 1763 till 1780. A native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he first attended Franklin's College of Philadelphia, and after graduating went to the Middle Temple in London to study law. In the beginning of his legal practice in Annapolis he was associated with Stephen Bordley, one of the leaders of the bar, until he was admitted to practice in 1764. When he married Mary Chew a year before this he seems to have erected the house that still stands to recall his career.

The house is plainer in its interior decorations than some of its contemporaries, but in Colonial times its attractiveness was enhanced by beautiful gardens which extended down to a little inlet running from behind the house to the harbor. Here were box bordered walks, beautiful garden plots, an octagonal summer house, a miniature lake, a fountain, and a wharf at the water's edge.  p118 Here lay anchored the roomy barge in which the master of the house was rowed by half a dozen or more negro slaves in livery on his visits to relatives and friends along the Severn. Enough of this beauty remained till Winston Churchill's midshipman days at the Naval Academy and the months he spent living in this very house while writing the novel that made his reputation to induce him to give the house a prominent place in the story.

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William Paca's activities in behalf of the patriot cause were as varied and important as any other Marylander's. He was early a member of the Sons of Liberty, the organization that enforced the non‑importation agreement; he headed the body of citizens which showed its abhorrence of the Stamp Act by hanging in effigy the Stamp Distributor and then burying the proclamation in a coffin. In the Continental Congress, to which he was sent as a delegate from 1774 to 1778, he early advocated independence, even in advance of the wishes of his constituents. He was one of the three Maryland delegates — the fourth being absent — who voted for the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July  p119 4th, and one of the four who affixed their signatures to the engrossed document on August 2d.

In home affairs Paca was also incessantly active. He had been in 1774 a member of the Committee of Correspondence which practically ruled the colony during that uncertain period, was frequently consulted when the new State government was formed, was appointed one of the principal judges, and from 1782 to 1786 served as Governor. In December, 1789, Washington nominated him as Judge of the United States District Court of Maryland and he served in this capacity till his death ten years later, the same year in which his illustrious chief passed away.

Not far from the Paca House another Signer built a mansion for himself, and, curiously enough, the most vehement of the popular party against the aristocratic Tories is remembered in Annapolis for the most pretentious of all the Colonial mansions that have survived. Few of the old houses possessed a full third story, and the chief one of this type was erected by Samuel Chase, another lawyer, a man of purely Maryland  p120 birth and education, and the firebrand of all the popular movements that preceded the Revolution. He was referred to by his opponents as "a busy body, a restless incendiary, a ringleader of mobs, a foul mouthed and inflaming son of discord and faction, a promoter of the lawless excesses of the multitude." He, too, was not a native of the town but had been drawn there by the desire to study law, but he became the most active of the patriots in opposition to the Stamp Act and other similar measures. From 1774 to 1778 he was a member of the Continental Congress, was present on July 4th and August 2d when independence was voted and the Declaration signed.

Unlike the other two Signers, Samuel Chase was practically a self-made man, but his legal practice and his popularity with the Country Party soon brought him considerable wealth. In 1769 he bought a plot of land at what is now the corner of King George Street and Maryland Avenue, then called Northeast Street, for £100 Sterling, and there erected a house almost square on its foundation but three stories high. The height of the first floor above the ground  p121 allows room for a great wine cellar with a barrel vault of brick that runs the full depth of the house. The brick work is especially beautiful, for the very thin layers of mortar add a charming delicacy to the construction. At one side is a story-and‑a‑half wing of brick which contains a huge fireplace with an opening fully ten feet wide.

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It is uncertain whether Samuel Chase ever occupied the house, and it may be that it proved to be on a more ambitious scale than he was able to afford, for in 1771 he sold the entire property to Edward Lloyd for £504 Sterling. The simple exterior of the house is in such contrast with the ornate interior with its elaborate carvings, its solid mahogany doors, its silver latches and hinges, the intricate wood carvings of the dining room, and the stucco-decorated ceiling throughout the first floor that it seems as if the Lloyds, a wealthier family, had themselves completed the interior. Here the most admired feature is the staircase. It ascends from the center of the hall to a landing half way up, where, crowned by a beautifully ovalled Palladian window, it divides and rises on either hand to the  p122 second floor. The supporting columns are in the purest Ionic style. Other interior features are similarly well-designed and rich, the key to the pantry to be carried on a silken cord by the mistress being of silver.

The structure is essentially a town house, for it stands close to the street, from which a high flight of steps leads to the front door. The semicircular opening from the sidewalk is fenced by an ancient wooden fence with many slender palings. The garden and lawns surrounding it are ample but not extensive. Not far behind it and in the same square with it is the Governor Ogle residence.

Edward Lloyd, who purchased the house and occupied it during Revolutionary days, was of much more distinguished lineage than its builder. The Lloyds had been among the first Puritan settlers, the first member of the family having been Edward Lloyd, who in 1650 was named "Commander of the Severn." But when he received large grants of land on the opposite shore of the Chesapeake in 1660, he moved there and built Wye house. The fourth Edward Lloyd was the purchaser of the Chase House. He  p123 was conspicuous during the Revolution as a member of the Continental Congress, the Committee of Safety of the Eastern Shore, and the provincial Assembly. During hostilities his home at Wye was burned by predatory British soldiers, but in spite of this in 1783 he was assessed as having 500 ounces of silver plate, 2 tracts of land containing 11,884½ acres, 261 slaves, and 215,000 lbs. of tobacco. In 1792, in spite of his being said to be the largest landholder in the State, he supported the proposal to remove the property qualification for voting, and thus gained additional esteem.

Thus occupied as a town house by Colonel Lloyd in his frequent visits to Annapolis on public and private business, the mansion became in 1809 the Governor's mansion, for his son, also Edward Lloyd, became Governor in that year. In all these years it must have been the scene of much brilliant entertaining of French officers at the close of the Revolution and of all the prominent Marylanders of the time.

In 1847 the house came back into the possession of the Chases and in 1888 was bequeathed to the Episcopal Church of Maryland as a home  p124 for aged women. As the benefactress was Mrs. Hester Ann Chase Ridout, connected with both the Chases and the Ridouts, one sees to‑day in the house some China bearing the Chase coat of arms, a large clock bequeathed to John Ridout by Governor Sharpe, and the latter's sword and punch bowl.

The Author's Notes:

1 K. M. Rowland, "Life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton," vol. I, pp27‑8.

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2 Ibid., p145.

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Page updated: 7 May 13