Frank Bittner - October 2010


Shore Artist Rights a Wrong
Frank Bittner


Francis Carpenter’s famous painting, Signing the Emancipation Proclamation, depicts President Lincoln and his Cabinet seated at a table viewing the historic document that ended slavery. It is the quintessential image burned indelibly into the minds of the millions who have seen it.
But while many have seen it, few know the painting’s Eastern Shore connection or the significance of an empty chair sitting quietly on the side of the scene with maps and paper resting as though waiting for someone to pick them up. It was certainly not usual for artists documenting historic events to paint unused furniture into the scene. The common belief is that the empty chair fulfilled President Lincoln’s desire to recognize Maryland’s Miss Anna Ella Carroll and her role in ending the Civil War. Evidence exists that Lincoln had intended to honor her after the war with a title and pension equal to that of a Major General. After Lincoln’s assassination, however, her male counterparts assisted by General Grant conspired to totally erase her from the historical record.
Anna Carroll was the well educated daughter of Maryland Governor Thomas Carroll. Well educated himself as a lawyer and lobbyist, the father expertly trained his daughter as his personal assistant and appointed her to run his business during his absences. Biographers note that Anna could “scheme, connive, and maneuver as well as any man.”
When Anna Carroll died in 1894, deprived of honor, title, pension, and acknowledgement for all she had done, her life story was already considered a model for the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Not long after she was buried alongside her father at Old Trinity Church in Dorchester County, area school marms who supported Women’s Suffrage and knew the Carroll family, began to include Anna Carroll as part of their Civil War history lessons. Her place in history was taught in Dorchester county schools well into the 1970’s and her with that community being the only in the nation preserving her memory as both legend and folklore.
Since her death six books have been written about her. When the producer of “The Lost River,” the first motion picture about her true life story, learned of the efforts of a few senior citizens who have never forgotten her, he asked them to critique his film. In a heartfelt gesture, he gave them the rights to host its World Premiere which is scheduled on November 20th at The Hyatt Regency Resort in Cambridge.
Inspired by the story and people in her community that have never given up hope for Anna Carroll’s national recognition, Laura Era of Troika Gallery in Easton is honoring her neighbors by recreating Carpenter’s painting which will feature Anna seated in her heretofore empty chair. The newly re-titled painting, Maryland’s Version of Signing The Emancipation Proclamation. Ms. Era’s progress can be seen at Troika Gallery, 9 South Harrison Street in Easton. Information about the film premiere of “The Lost River” and ticket information is available at Tickets will also be available from Troika Gallery, The Dorchester County Visitors Center, The Nabb Center in Salisbury, and On-Line from The Maryland Women’s Heritage Center.