Author: John R. Barden


Robert Carter (1728–1804)

Robert Carter, also known as Robert Carter III and Councillor Carter, was a member of Virginia’s Council of State (1758–1776) who, after a religious conversion, emancipated more than five hundred of his enslaved African Americans. Heir to a fortune in land and slaves built by his grandfather, Robert “King” Carter, Carter studied law in London before returning to Virginia in 1751. His contemporaries remarked on his lack of learning and social grace, and he twice ran unsuccessfully for the House of Burgesses, receiving only a handful of votes each time. Through the influence of his wife’s uncle, Carter was appointed to the Council. In 1763, he served on the Virginia Committee of Correspondence, and in 1766 drafted the Council’s response to the Stamp Act. In 1777, he converted to evangelical Christianity, aligning himself with the Baptists. In 1788, he converted again, this time to the teachings of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. On August 1, 1791, he took the legal steps to gradually manumit, or free, more than 500 of his slaves, the largest individual emancipation before 1860. After the death of his wife, Carter moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he died in 1804.