The great American Catholic family—the Carrolls of Maryland—are justly remembered during this time of saluting our independence, and this article from The Catholic Thing is a superb remembrance.
“On the Fourth of July weekend, it’s only fitting in The Catholic Thing to remember America’s leading Catholic family during our Revolution: the Carrolls of Maryland.
“Charles Carroll (1661-1720), Maryland’s first attorney general, founded the family, which acquired and developed tens of thousands of acres, and was the richest Catholic clan in the colonies. Courageous and clever, they often challenged and confounded the Protestant establishment. The first Carroll was described this way: “in spite of the tremendous odds against him, he usually managed to make fools, single-handed, of the entire House or the entire Governor’s Council. He was a magnificent fighter because he never knew when he was beaten.” His heirs continued the family tradition of resisting Anglican attempts to destroy their fortune and faith.
“The Continental Congress turned to the third generation of Carrolls in 1775 for aid in a mission to negotiate an alliance with Canada: Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832) and his cousin Father John Carroll (1735-1815). In deciding to send a Catholic priest, John Hancock, president of the Congress, followed the advice of his friend, Charles Lee: “I should think that if some Jesuit or Religious of any other order (he must be a man of liberal sentiments, enlarged mind and a manifest friend of Civil Liberty) could be found out and sent to Canada, he would be worth battalions to us.”
“Commenting on the delegation which also included Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase, John Adams wrote: “We have empowered the Committee to take with them, another gentleman of Maryland, a Mr. John Carroll, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Jesuit, a gentleman of learning and ability.” Adams pronounced Charles Carroll, “A Roman Catholic but an ardent patriot.”
“The Commission ultimately failed because the Canadians were content with British rule. Father John Carroll had predicted exactly this outcome. Before the delegation left, he wrote that the Canadians, “have not the same motives for taking up arms against England, which renders the resistance of the other colonies so justifiable.”
“One happy consequence of the delegation’s journey to Canada was Benjamin Franklin’s growing fondness for the Carrolls. When Franklin fell ill, Father John tended to his health. Franklin wrote of their time together: “I find I grow daily more feeble, and I think I could hardly have got along so far, but for Mr. Carroll’s friendly assistance and tender care of me.” Father John recalled the time spent with Dr. Franklin as “one of the most fortunate and honourable events of my life.” Historians agree that, in later years, John Carroll was chosen as the first native-born Catholic bishop in America in part owing to Franklin’s influence in European circles. He would build the first American cathedral in Baltimore and found the first Catholic university in America, Georgetown.”