Carter was born on August 18, 1710, the son of Robert “King” Carter and his second wife, Elizabeth Landon Willis Carter, who was a wealthy widow at the time of their marriage. Landon Carter was born probably at Corotoman, the family’s seat in Lancaster County. His father was one of the most prominent public figures of his generation and was probably the wealthiest man in Virginia at the time of his death. Carter’s elder half brother John Carter became secretary of the colony and a member of the governor’s Council, and his elder brother Charles Carter represented King George County in the House of Burgesses for many years. When he was nine years old, Landon Carter accompanied two of his elder brothers to London, where at the private school of Solomon Low he received the classical education of a young English gentleman. He demonstrated a strong inclination for learning and was allowed to stay for four years after his brothers returned to Virginia in 1723 and 1724. When Carter returned in May 1727, his father found him well qualified for any business and at first thought of apprenticing him to a London counting house for a career as a Virginia merchant but instead taught him plantation management. After a brief stay at the College of William and Mary, Carter returned to Corotoman and managed some of his father’s land in Northumberland County.
Like his father and brothers, Carter early assumed an important role in public life. In September 1734 he became a justice of the peace and member of the quorum of the county court. From this position he helped to dispense justice and administer the county until his death forty-four years later. Sometime in the 1740s the vestry of Lunenburgh Parish elected him a member, which he remained for the rest of his life. About the same time Carter became county lieutenant in command of the militia. He continued as head of the militia until new regulations that decreased his control over the troops caused him to resign early in 1776. Carter was less immediately successful in securing elective office. Richmond County voters rejected him three times between 1735 and 1748 before finally electing him in 1752 to represent them in the House of Burgesses.
Carter was one of the most prominent members of the House. At his first session he was appointed to two powerful standing committees, on Privileges and Elections and on Propositions and Grievances, and from 1757 until 1761 he chaired the Committee for Courts of Justice. An inexhaustible writer, he prepared numerous formal addresses and became a public defender of the House by publishing pamphlets and newspaper essays upholding its stand during its controversy with Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie over the pistole fee and also by defending the assembly’s issue of paper currency and its passage of the Two Penny Acts in 1755 and 1758. Carter’s legislative career lasted until 1768, when he lost an election, a defeat he attributed in part to his constituents’ perception that “I did not familiarize myself among the People.”
Along with his brother Charles Carter, Landon Carter was named in 1756 as one of the directors to oversee the colony’s financing of troops to protect the Virginia frontier from French and Indian incursions. A strong advocate of vigorous measures during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), Carter also consistently opposed British encroachments on American rights after 1763. He claimed the distinction of first raising the alarm against the Stamp Act in Virginia by inspiring the House to protest it in the autumn of 1764, six months before Patrick Henry‘s famous resolutions of May 1765. During the following decade Carter poured forth a steady stream of essays supporting the American cause. From December 1774 through the middle of 1776 he chaired the Richmond County Committee. Though he disagreed with Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, preferring to be compelled to independence rather than to seek it actively, he gave wholehearted support to the Revolutionary War until his death.
Carter was probably the most prolific published author of his generation in
Virginia. He produced at least four major political pamphlets: A Letter from a Gentleman in Virginia to the Merchants of Great Britain Trading to that Colony (1754), A Letter to a Gentleman in London, from Virginia (1759), A Letter to the Right Reverend Father in God, the Lord B——p of L——n (1760), and The Rector Detected, Being a Just Defense of the twopenny Act, Against the Artful Misrepresentations of the Reverend John Camm (1764). Carter also wrote nearly fifty essays for the Virginia Gazettes, the Maryland Gazette, and other newspapers in both England and America. A dedicated improver, he acquired a large library and composed scientific papers that won him election to the American Philosophical Society in 1769 and to the Virginian Society for the Promotion of Usefull Knowledge in 1774.
From 1752 to 1778 Carter kept a diary, one of the most revealing personal documents for mid-eighteenth-century Virginia. When he wrote his will in 1770, he made ample provisions for his children, giving large dowries to his four surviving daughters and large estates to his three sons. Including property transferred to his sons before his death, his estate consisted of nearly 50,000 acres of land, as many as 500 slaves, and a large capital investment in buildings, livestock, and personal possessions—a fortune few Virginians of his generation could match. Landon Carter died at Sabine Hall on December 22, 1778, and was buried there.
- A Letter from a Gentleman in Virginia to the Merchants of Great Britain Trading to that Colony (1754)
- A Letter to a Gentleman in London, from Virginia (1759)
- A Letter to the Right Reverend Father in God, the Lord B——p of L——n (1760)
- The Rector Detected, Being a Just Defense of the twopenny Act, Against the Artful Misrepresentations of the Reverend John Camm (1764)