James B. Carter (ca. 1816–1870)

James B. Carter served as a member of the Convention of 1867–1868. Born into slavery, probably in Chesterfield County and of mixed-race ancestry, he possibly escaped bondage during the American Civil War (1861–1865). After the conflict he worked as a boot- and shoemaker in Chesterfield before becoming a grocer in the town of Manchester. In 1867 Chesterfield County's Radical Republicans placed him on their slate of candidates for the upcoming constitution convention. A large African American turnout propelled the ticket to victory. Representing Chesterfield and Powhatan counties, Carter served as a relatively silent member of the convention and complained that its members spoke too much. He introduced a resolution calling for the General Assembly to require children spend at least three months a year in public school. Carter voted in favor of the new constitution, which included such reforms as universal manhood suffrage and the establishment of a public school system. Seemingly abandoning political life thereafter, he died in 1870. MORE...


Carter was born into slavery in or about 1816, probably in Chesterfield County and probably of mixed-race ancestry. The names of his parents are undocumented, and nothing is known about his life during slavery. After the Civil War he was described as a boot- and shoemaker, so it is possible that he received some training as a cobbler. Although the list of convention delegates compiled by Virginia's military commander, Brigadier General John McAllister Schofield, states that Carter was illiterate, he managed to acquire enough education, either while a slave or after emancipation, to be able to sign his name, and comments he made on the floor of the Underwood Convention suggest that he could read as well.

Possibly Carter escaped to the North during the Civil War, but he was living in Chesterfield County in February 1866, when he was taxed 28 cents as a male Negro over age twenty-one. He next appears in the public record in December of that year when he purchased two lots in the community of Swansboro, near Manchester, from William H. Brander, a wealthy farmer who may have been Carter's former owner. Carter probably practiced his trade as a shoemaker until 1868 or 1869, when he and a partner opened a grocery under the name of Smith and Carter. The store stood on a lot in Manchester that Carter bought in April 1868 for $425, most likely with the money he earned as a delegate to the state constitutional convention.

Carter had entered politics by April 1867, when he represented Chesterfield County at a convention of black and white Republicans that met in Richmond to prepare for the upcoming constitutional convention. The First Reconstruction Act, passed by Congress in March, mandated new constitutions for the former Confederate states in addition to placing the South under military rule and granting freedmen the right to vote. Chesterfield County Radical Republicans convened in Manchester to select candidates for the convention, and on October 3, 1867, a meeting of African American Republicans recommended Carter. A respected member of his community, Carter was nominated unanimously at the county's Radical convention held four days later. Charles Howell Porter, son-in-law of former United States senator Lemuel Jackson Bowden and a future member of the House of Representatives, and Samuel F. Maddox, a Pennsylvania native who later served in the General Assembly, overcame opposition to join Carter on the Radical ticket. African Americans in the district consisting of Chesterfield and Powhatan Counties turned out in large numbers on October 22, 1867, in their first opportunity to vote in a Virginia election. They overwhelmingly supported holding a convention and easily elected the Radical candidates, who also received votes from at least ten whites.

The convention opened on December 3, 1867, and nine days later Carter was appointed to the Committee on County and Corporation Courts and County Organizations. He remained silent during the first two months of the convention but spoke on January 17, 1868, in favor of continuing night sessions in order to complete the convention's business more quickly. Carter commented that too many delegates were wasting too much time with long speeches on irrelevant topics, whereas he had come to listen to the debates and "conceive whatever I believe to be right in the formation of this Constitution." On January 28 he again spoke out in favor of limiting speeches to half an hour. He also introduced several resolutions on the convention floor, including one that the General Assembly pass a law requiring students to attend public schools at least three months of every year. Carter voted with the Radicals on nearly all issues that came up during the convention, although he did side with the Conservatives against requiring racial integration in public schools. On April 17, 1868, he joined the majority in approving the new constitution, which mandated universal manhood suffrage, created a new system of publicly funded schools, and transformed the organization of county government.

The day after the convention closed, Carter attended a Radical meeting at the State Capitol to discuss appointments to state offices and nominations for Congress. Carter does not appear to have taken part in any further political activities, however, and he did not seek office in the elections held in July 1869. Carter had married a woman named Alice, surname unknown, by January 7, 1869, when he sold his two lots in Swansboro and mortgaged his lot in Manchester for $115. It is not known whether Carter and his wife had been married before or after emancipation or whether they had any children, because no marriage or births were ever recorded under their names in Chesterfield County. Carter died at his home in Manchester early in the morning of January 11, 1870, and was buried from the African Baptist church (later First Baptist Church, South Richmond) in that town.

Time Line

  • ca. 1816 - Around this year, James B. Carter was born. He was born into slavery, probably in Chesterfield County.
  • October 22, 1867 - African Americans in the district consisting of Chesterfield and Powhatan Counties turn out in large numbers in their first opportunity to vote in a Virginia election.
  • 1868 or 1869 - Around this time, James B. Carter and a partner open a grocery store under the name Smith and Carter in Manchester.
  • January 7, 1869 - By this date, James B. Carter has married a woman named Alice.
  • January 11, 1870 - James B. Carter dies at his home in Manchester.
Further Reading
Hume, Richard L. "The Membership of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868: A Study of the Beginnings of Congressional Reconstruction in the Upper South." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 86 (Oct. 1978): 461–484.
Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
Julienne, Marianne E. "Carter, James B." In Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 69–71. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Lowe, Richard G. "Virginia's Reconstruction Convention: General Schofield Rates the Delegates." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 80 (July 1972): 341–360.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Julienne, M. E., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. James B. Carter (ca. 1816–1870). (2013, December 9). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Carter_James_B_ca_1816-1870.

  • MLA Citation:

    Julienne, Marianne E. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "James B. Carter (ca. 1816–1870)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 9 Dec. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: April 15, 2013 | Last modified: December 9, 2013