Monday, December 5, 2011

The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story Of Robert Carter, The Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves

The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story Of Robert Carter, The Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves

Robert Carter was born February 9, 1728, son of Robert Carter and Priscilla Churchill Carter. Both of his grandfathers, the land baron Robert “King” Carter and William Churchhill served on the governor’s Council.

In 1737, he entered the grammar school of the College of William and Mary. Little else is known about his youth until February 1749, when he received his patrimony and sailed to London’s Inner Temple to study law. He returned to Virginia in June 1751 without being admitted to the bar. Several of his contemporaries commented on his lack of learning and social grace.

Emancipation of 500 slaves

Although Carter inherited and owned hundreds of slaves, his growing opposition to the institution echoed the antislavery sentiments of many Baptists in the 1780s. On August 1, 1791 he executed a deed of emancipation for more than 500 of his enslaved African Americans. It was probably the largest emancipation by an individual person in the United States before 1860. Because of Virginia’s restrictive laws, the emancipation was gradual, and the young slaves received their freedom when they reached adulthood. Carter spent his remaining years working out the details and schedule, an effort that occupied his agents and executors well into the nineteenth century.

Establishment at Nomony Hall

Carter moved into Nomony Hall – also spelled “Nomini” or “Nominy” – the Westmoreland County mansion he inherited from his father. He learned the business of tobacco planting and exported as many as 100 hogsheads of the leaf to England each year. On April 2, 1754, Carter married Frances Tasker, daughter of Benjamin Tasker, longtime president of the Council of Maryland. Of their 13 daughters and four sons, eight daughters and all four sons reached adulthood.

Andrew Levy talked about his book The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves, published by Random House. In 1791, Virginian Robert Carter III submitted a deed of gift to the Northumberland District Courthouse that freed his slaves from his plantation. He endured hardships and persecution as a result of his stance against slavery. In the book, Mr. Levy explains the religious and political ideals that prompted the emancipation and explains why he feels historians have forgotten Robert Carter. After his presentation he answered questions from members of the audience. The event was at Williamsburg Booksellers in the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center.

Watch Author Andrew Levy discuss his book "The First Emancipator" on C-Span here.

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