27 Mar 2023


Lost Capitol Hill: Joseph G. Carroll

Joseph G. Carroll

In researching the history of Eastern Market, a name I came across numerous times was one of the primary drivers of the building of the new market, a man who came within a hair’s breadth of having the market named after him, and someone almost entirely forgotten in the intervening 150 years.

Joseph G. Carroll was born in D.C. in 1828. While he would later claim to have been related to Daniel Carroll of Duddington, historians have serious doubts about this, as Daniel had only daughters.

He became a butcher and married Mary E. sometime in mid-1850s, but really the first time he appears in the records is when he was made First Lieutenant in charge of Company F of the 6th District of Columbia Battalion Militia in 1861.

This unit was organized on the evening of April 17, 1861, in the Navy Yard neighborhood and mustered into service five days later. While other companies, including Company F––stationed at the Capitol–– found themselves guarding various points around D.C., Carroll’s company’s only recorded operation was when it was reviewed at 18th and H Streets, near the White House, on May 13 of that year. Carroll and the rest of the 6th DC Battalion Militia were mustered out in the middle of July of 1861, having served the three months they had been activated for. While Carroll was in danger of being drafted again two years later, he escaped for being too old.

The feather duster legislature, including Carroll. (From Stephen J. Ackerman’s history of Eastern Market)

Instead, he went back to being a butcher, though shortly after the Civil War he also embarked in a new career as a politician. While his first elections did not go as well as he would have hoped (he received exactly 3 votes in one of them), when the Territorial Government was created in 1871, Carroll found himself a member of the House of delegates. It was while he was a member that he pushed for the building of Eastern Market, and two and a half years later, this crowning achievement would open. There was some interest in naming the new building after him, but this soon fell by the wayside. Nonetheless, the day that the market opened, it was no question who the man of the hour was. The Holy Hill Band, hired to play for the assembled onlookers, even played a song named “Not for Joe” in his honor.

This did not stop Carroll from running afoul of the law: Not a year later, he was hauled into court for failing to have acquired the proper license for selling meat.

Around this time, the territorial government was dissolved, and Carroll seems to have disappeared from public life. Other than serving on several Grand Juries, there are no records of his being active in politics.

Joseph G. Carroll died in April, 1894, and was laid to rest in Congressional Cemetery, next to his wife, who had died four years before he did.

Hear more about Carroll and his market this Thursday, when I will talk about the history of Eastern Market for the Capitol Hill Restoration Society in the North Hall. More information here.

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