Carroll, William (1835–1926), nationalist and physician, was born 24 February 1835 in Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, first of eight children of Thomas Carroll, weaver, shoemaker, and small farmer, and Eliza Carroll (née McClure), also from Rathmullan. In 1838 the family emigrated to Philadelphia but not long afterwards moved to Keene, Coshocton county, Ohio, where William attended school. At the age of 15 he left home and served a three-year apprenticeship in harness-making in Pittsburgh before working as a saddle-maker in Ohio. Rejecting his strict presbyterian upbringing, he was an agnostic and freemason from an early age. In 1857 he became a Knight Templar of a Masonic lodge in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and remained a member until his death. Some time during the late 1850s he moved to Philadelphia and entered Jefferson Medical College. After graduating in May 1863, he was appointed as an assistant surgeon in the federal army with the rank of first lieutenant and served in several battles. In the latter stages of the civil war he was in charge of 2,000 wounded confederate soldiers in City Point Hospital, Virginia. In 1866, on promotion to captain, he was appointed as the quarantine officer for an army camp in South Carolina. After combating a cholera epidemic among the soldiers, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In 1867 he left the army and moved to 617 South 16th St., Philadelphia, where he lived until his death, and practiced medicine for many years. Three of his five brothers also became doctors, the other two serving as a pharmacist and a medical book salesman respectively. In December 1869, after chairing a public dinner in their honour in Philadelphia, he became a friend and an ardent admirer of John Martin (qv) and particularly John Mitchel (qv), who lived at his home for some time. Later he accompanied Mitchel to Ireland (July–October 1874). After the deaths of Martin and Mitchel in the spring of 1875, he presided at a large memorial service in their honour in Philadelphia. It was probably during the early 1870s that he joined Clan na Gael. In February 1875 he became a member of the committee later responsible for the Catalpa rescue of six IRB prisoners in Western Australia (April 1876). In July 1875 he was elected chairman of the Clan and the following year arranged the first official alliance between the Clan and IRB through the formation of a body known as the ‘Revolutionary Directory’. During the winter of 1877, as trustee of the ‘skirmishing fund’, he attempted to persuade the Spanish government to accept Clan aid in recapturing Gibraltar from the British and to persuade the Russian minister in Washington, DC, to provide assistance for an Irish rebellion in the event of an Anglo–Russian war. This having failed, in January and March 1878, while in Ireland performing an inspection tour of the IRB, he interviewed C. S. Parnell (qv), whom he had first met in Washington two years earlier. Believing that a stridently separatist public opinion was needed in Ireland if a foreign power was ever to support a rebellion, in October 1878, as Clan chairman, he signed the ‘new departure’ proposals of John Devoy (qv), encouraging republicans to become more involved in Irish public life. Meanwhile, through the medium of the Revolutionary Directory, he initiated a Clan arms-subsidisation scheme to enable the IRB to import modern firearms.
After organising an American lecture tour for Michael Davitt (qv) in the summer of 1878, Carroll became sympathetic towards the idea of promoting land agitation in Ireland. In February 1880 he played a significant role in organising an American lecture tour for Parnell and John Dillon (qv), both of whom stayed in his home occasionally. However, Parnell's snub of Carroll's close friend John Murdoch (a leading Scottish cultural nationalist), combined with Carroll's belief that Parnell's motive in launching the Land League of America (March 1880) was to undermine the Clan, prompted him shortly afterwards to oppose Parnell and the Land League. Other Clan leaders, however, did not share his sentiments and consequently he was forced to step down as chairman in May 1880. He remained a nominal member of the Clan until his death but ceased to attend its conventions during 1881. Indeed, despite his continued friendship with Devoy and John O'Leary (qv), he did not play an active role in the Irish revolutionary movement after 1880. A lifelong member of the Republican party in the USA, during the 1880s he was particularly active in American politics, taking part in three presidential election campaigns. Meanwhile, together with his close friends Mgr Gerald Coghlan and Prof. Robert Ellis Thompson (formerly a presbyterian minister in Co. Down), he played a subtle but significant role in encouraging the ‘Scots-Irish’ community in Philadelphia to support the cause of Irish independence. In the winter of 1891 he served for a short time on the executive of the New York central council of the Irish National League of America. A tall, handsome, and intellectually minded man, during the 1900s, as president of the Celtic Society of Philadelphia, he entertained and corresponded with some notable Irish literary figures, including the historian Alice Stopford Green (qv). Not long after attending the Irish Race Convention in New York in May 1916, he was appointed to the board of directors of the Friends of Irish Freedom but did not play a prominent part due to his age. He died at his home in Philadelphia on 3 May 1926.
He married (1884) Anna Davidson (d. 1896), daughter of a Scottish immigrant. They had four children: Mitchel, who was head of the biology department of Franklin and Marshall College; Franklin (Ph.D.), a schoolteacher; Wharton, an investment banker; and Anna, a schoolteacher. After his death, his family destroyed much of his extensive correspondence, but a large selection, dealing mostly with his activities in the Clan, can be found in Devoy's post bag or the NLI.