Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Charles Carroll's Signature in Burns Book

Main Hall, Washington College Signature of Charles Carroll.

Back in the Fall 2010 issue of the Boston College Libraries Newsletter I reported on a Revolutionary War-era set of documents found buried deep in the bowels of the Burns Library. These documents, U.S. Congressional reports from the first few sessions of the U.S. Congress, had been in the B.C. collections for years, as they were bound together in a modern, blue library binding which sported a call number label on the spine. Yet somehow this collection of books had missed retrospective conversion to machine-readable format … until last Fall.


So it was not completely surprising when yet another revolutionary-era document appeared on my desk. In a shipment of books from the Theology and Ministry Library that I had been cataloging was an innocuous little octavo of but 50 pages entitled An Account of Washington College in the State of Maryland [image 1]. The item was published in Philadelphia in 1784, just a year after the successful close of the American War of Independence. A nice, foldout frontispiece shows a frontal view of the main hall of this college [image 2].


I have to admit that I hadn't heard of Washington College. I had originally thought that it might have been a predecessor of Washington and Lee University in nearby Virginia - so I did a quick search and discovered some interesting facts. This school, near Chestertown, Maryland, is evidently the 10th oldest college in the country, and takes its name from one of its main benefactors, the then General Washington. As you'll see, Washington began supporting this school - as he did the aforesaid Washington and Lee University (née Liberty Hall Academy) - through monetary donations and service on the school's equivalent of the Board of Trustees - even before the war was over [image 3]. Rather like the construction of the famous horse racing track in Saratoga Springs, New York, built at the height of the Civil War, the construction of a college in the midst of our seminal armed conflict bespeaks something of the strength of this country - even in times of war.


The school featured the standard liberal education of the time, heavy on the classical authors as well as math and natural philosophy, as revealed in the curriculum pages [image 4].


All of the items in the Burns Library are - by definition - in "special" collections. Some, however, are more special than others, and it is in this latter category that this little pamphlet falls. For on the front of the original paper covers lies a signature that is most remarkable. No, not Washington's, but still that of a Revolutionary hero [image 5]. It's the signature of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence!


Why, you might ask, was this item in amongst the TML's collections? Virtually all of the items I've cataloged for this library relate to theology – as you might expect - in one aspect or another; so this pamphlet is really quite anomalous. The answer resides in Carroll's religious affiliation - he was the only Catholic to have signed the Declaration!


Please come to the Burns and view this little piece of history for yourself, and tell the appropriate faculty of this gem that awaits their perusal.


David Richtmyer
Senior Cataloger, Burns Library