“A strange dream this day”; an excerpt from the diary of Landon Carter (1776–1777)


In this excerpt from the diary he kept for more than twenty-five years, Landon Carter notes that several of his slaves have run away following a proclamation by the royal governor, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, promising freedom to slaves who joined British forces during the American Revolution (1775–1783). Carter repeatedly voices his dislike for Patrick Henry and his belief that he (Carter), and not Henry, had taken the lead in opposing the Stamp Act (1765). Finally, he gives evidence of strained relations at home with his son and wife, and brags of his abilities as a physician.


[June] 26[, 1776]. Wednesday.

Last night after going to bed, Moses, my son’s man, Joe, Billy, Postillion John, Mulatto Peter, Tom, Panticove, Manuel and Lancaster Sam, ran away, to be sure, to Ld. Dunmore, for they got privately into Beale’s room before dark and took out my son’s gun and one I had there, took out of his drawer in my passage all his ammunition furniture, Landon’s bag of bullets and all the Powder, and went off in my Petty Auger new trimmed, and it is supposed that Mr. Robinson’s People are gone with them, for a skow they came down in is, it seems, at my Landing. These accursed villains have stolen Landon’s silver buckles, George’s shirts, Tom Parker’s new waistcoat and breeches; and yet have not touched one thing of mine, though my door was open, my line filled with stockings and my buckles in my shoes at the door […]

29. Saturday.

At 7 in the morning after their departure some minute men at Mousquito Point saw the Petty Auger with ten stout men in her going very fast on the Middlesex shore. They pursued and fired at them, whereupon the negroes left the boat and took to the shore where they were followed by the minute men. By their firing they alarmed 100 King and Queen minute men who were waiting for the Roebuck’s men, should any of them come ashore there. It is supposed that Moses and many of the negroes were killed.

Joseph Harwood in treaty about my horse Nimrod brought down from Rippon Agreed to buy him at 30 £ but must try him at first for about 5 miles. Never sent me the money, Pretending the danger of the times.

[July] 3[, 1776]. Wednesday.

Monday at Court we heard the Kg and Queen men below had killed a mulatto and two of the blacks out of the 8 of my people who ran away and the remaining 5 surrendered; how true it is I don’t know.

Mr. Page there gave me an account that Pat. Henry was chosen Governor in convention, a great majority over President Nelson, who though he had 45 votes was in the Election of a Council of State but the 7th man and Charles Carter of Corotoman the 8th man. We shall now see what we shall see […]

4. Thursday.

Yesterday brought me from Jos. Harwood £30 for my horse Nimrod; one 12 pound one 10 pound and one 8 pound note, James River bank.

I hope I am not deceived when I say that this Mr. Bruce seems to be an honest and, in this instance of the American struggle, not what the diagnosis of Toryism would call a moderate man: for he seems to be quite hearty in the cause although a Scotchman; I have had much conversation with him detesting the behaviour of his countryman, in particular a late runegado to Govr. Eden and Dunmore, who carried off all the slaves and servants almost out of Maryland.


5. Friday.

Hearing so many contradictory stories about Moses and his gang, I sent Beale off this morning to get fully informed either in Lancaster, Middlesex, or Gloster. I gave him 10s to bear his expenses. The Gent. made a demur about his breeches being dirty. I told him dirty breeches are as certainly good to ride in as to stay at home in […]

6. Saturday.

The first real summer heat—for it obliges me to wear but one pair of thin stockings.

Much is said of the slavery of negroes, but how will servants be provided in these times? Those few servants that we have don’t do as much as the poorest slaves we have. If you free the slaves, you must send them out of the country or they must steal for their support.

The story of Dunmore’s reinforcement turns out to be a lie, a vessel only brought home some prisoners from Ireland.

9. Tuesday.

Beale returned but brought no account of Moses and his gang. He went to the King and Queen camp on the point between the Rappahannock and Pianketank and talked with the commander. They had catched other people’s negroes but not mine. Beale reported that the men who followed my people in the Petty Auger when they were driven ashore was the Towles Point guard in a boat of Burgess Ball.

Another report from Guthrie, who I have a long time known to be an egregious liar, that some runaways told him that they saw some slaves who had run away from Dunmore, who told him that they saw Moses on the Island; who swore to them if he could get back he would return to his master; for Dunmore had deceived all the Poor Slaves and he never met so barbarous or so vile a fellow in all his life.

Beale owns the Captain of that guard told him the slaves were returning daily, most miserably and barbecued, and did aver the whole gang of slaves must leave the Island as soon as they could get off.

Beale tells me that when he went to ask for the Petty Auger which the minute men had taken from my People, Captain Berryman with an oath refused to give it up. […]

13. Saturday.

[…] John Selden met Purcell coming up and bid tell me that Dunmore last week sent off a load of negroes to one of the Islands which so alarmed the rest that the counyy of Gloster was disturbed with their howlings. Possibly Capt. Moses, the freeman, may be one of them to glut his genius for liberty which he was not born to.

News just come John Self at Rings Neck turned a Baptist, and only waits to convert my People. He had two brethren Preachers and two others with him; and says he cannot serve God and Mammon, has just been made a Christian by dipping, and would not continue in my business but to convert my people.

This a strange year about my overseers; some, horrid hellish rogues and others religious villains. Came here after dinner Mr. John Selden, who told us Capt. Burgess Ball wrote from Hampton that Patrick Henry, the late elected Governor, died last tuesday evening, So that being the day of our battery’s beginning to Play on Dunmore’s gang and they being routed we ought to look on those two joined as two glorious events. Particularly favourable by the hand of Providence.

14. Sunday.

It is not many days past I heard that in the lobby of the late convention it was urged the late dignified person was the first who opened the breath of liberty to America. But it was with truth replied, and Proved that that breath was first breathed and supported by a person not then taken notice of. I know this merit is claimed also by another, But I only say I never courted Public applause; and if any endeavour assists my country, I care not who enjoys the merit of it. This I am certain of, that nothing renders a man more suspected than his schemes for Popularity, and I will forever be like a Prophet, who is only without honour in his own country […]

15. Monday.

[On hearing that five of his runaways were in a Middlesex County jail]

Last night John Beale came up. I intend to agree with him, if I can, to take Norris’ plantation under his care. He says that two French, who deserted from Dunmore’s camp on the Island after our people had drove them off, declared we killed abundance of their men; and that no negroes were kept by Dunmore but were fine active fellows, but were all sent away to some of the West India Islands, and out of the strong and active scarce one in ten escaped death by distempers or ill usage except when a man was wanted in his vessels […]

22. Monday.

[…] However incredible this relation may be of any animated part of the creation except the brutes, I hereby call God to witness the truth of it. Colo. Robert Wormeley Carter, who surely has been somehow changed since born of his mother, though this day at dinner, though at my own table and with my own victuals, seeing me take a little vinegar out of the cucumber plate called out to his daughter to put some more vinegar and pepper in, for his father had taken it all out as he always does. I vow to God I had not more than half a teaspoonful to acidulate some oyster broth. I have dreaded what this filial disobedience will get to. I must be provided with pistols; for I am certain no resolution of mine can otherwise guard against the consequence. Lord, is not the 5th command, honor thy father and mother, and is this honor, gracious God […]

23. Tuesday.

A pleasant morning and some rain in the night which I most sincerely thank the god and my God of mercies for and I hope it has been a good drink to the choaking crops, though B. Beale says there has been but little.

25. Thursday.

A little sprinkling in the night after incessant lightning for a long while […]

I asked [Richard Henry] Lee who came home with me if he did not remember who gave the first breath for Liberty in America; he said he well remembered it; and it was an absurdity to give it to P. Henry, the Govr., for he actually was not at the assembly, though they gave him the reputation of it. I may truly say Hæc ego primus tentavi tulit alter honores. This man only assisted in the resolves after the stamp act came in by the advice of another […]

A strange dream this day about these runaway people. One of them I dreamt awakened me; and appeared most wretchedly meager and wan. He told me of their great sorrow, that all of them had been wounded by the minutemen, had hid themselves in a cave they had dug and had lived ever since on what roots they could grabble and he had come to ask if I would endeavor to get them pardoned, should they come in, for they knew the should be hanged for what they had done. I replied a good deal. He acknowledged Moses persuaded them off and Johnny, his wife’s father, had helped them ot the milk they had, to wit, 4 bottles. He was to have gone with [them] but somehow was not in the way; declared I had not a great villain belonging to me. I can’t conceive how this dream came into my brain sleeping, and I don’t remember to have collected so much of a dream as I have done of this these many years. It seems my daughter Judy dreamt much of them too last night. I am just weak enough to fancy we shall soon hear about them. […]

[February] 13[, 1777]. Thursday.

Weather not being Pleasant. Yesterday J. Beale sent me word that 3 of my people, vizt., a young fellow Toney, Jacob, and a Johnny from B[eale’s] P[lantation] had run away and gone on board the Man of war lying. I asked for calmness and sent for My son at Capt. Beale’s to consult how to prevent the rest from going. He was very sure that this war would bring us all to beggary. I agreed A war begun by robbery, as all Unconstitutional taking of Property without the owner’s leave must be deemed, can only be carried on by thieves, and they Permitted to go on might introduce beggary as certainly as an arbitrary taking away, for there was not any difference in the two, except the latter was productive of Slavery, and unless our Masters had more humanity than ever a despot or his accursed banditti of agents had, Submission to such would be a beggary and in chains. Upon adding if I begged or starved it could but be of a short continuance, he agreed to go down with B. Beale to fall on some way to Prevent others going, if possible. Since they set off I lay down and dreamt that Jonathan Pullen my last overseer which I turned away, had out of revenge delvyd away Beale’s 3 people and my Young fellow Toney who were lurking about his plantation, and that my other two fellows were got with them. I wish I had given them a caution about this. Though it may be only a dream.

We have got but 5 lambs yet. It seems that which came from the fork on account of its sick mother is dead so we have lost 2 this year. Bad weather coming indeed, not unlike snow. […]

23. Sunday.

[…] In this time my Grandson having had offer of a Lieutenancy by Genl. Washington in Colo. G. Baylor’s regiment of horse, was Preparing to set off with my letters to the General and to Colo. Baylor for it was through my recommendation he became so respected. This Capt. Offered to take his Picture and really effected it on blue Paper with Chalk and Charcoal in a very natural and masterly manner. But the mother could not any longer contain her grief and after having imployed the whole night in tears, she discovered a greater willingness to leave the world than part with her son. Of course, as nobody can know those feelings so beautifully expressed in scripture which makes a woman to forget the pains she endured bringing a son with a joy that she has brought a man child into the world, the whole scheme of his going into the army was laid aside; and I accordingly wrote to Genl. W and to Colo. Baylor to give my excuse for soliciting his notice of my Grandson, desiring it to be laid in the Scale of sensibility and friendship. At last, I proposed to this Capt. to do me the favour to take my figure in the same manner. This he performed yesterday and has produced a serious, thoughtful old gentleman holding in his right hand a paper thus inscribed:

“America, Freedom supported Against the British Stamp Act.

Merui, sed intus tantum truor.”

It alludes to my having first of All in America opened the door of freedom against the supremacy assuming in the British Parliament to make laws for America to bind her in all cases whatever. This she attempted in the instance of the Stamp Act which I had the honour Publickly and indeed openly to oppose, and obtained a Majority great enough to Pettion the King in a most decent and humble manner, against such an unconstitutional stretch of Power in his Parliament, in which America was not nor could not be represented […]

24. Monday.

It was easily to be seen as 12 yesterday that abundance of snow, if the wind did not drive it away, was coming. It began something after candlelight And has continued all night and in appearance will hold on […]

There is a Story also brought down by a certain Rig Graham about Moses, my son’s waiting man. At first Graham asked my son if he had not got him; for Colo. Robt Lawson in the army told him that he knew Moses very well and saw him in Philadelphia. After this Graham told others that Moses was taken coming home to his Master who he had run away from; but they imprisoned him in Philadelphia. All this is said after many other stories, some of his waiting on Capt. Squires, who was with Dunmore at Gwins Island where he ran away. Some that he died there of the Smallpox or in Maryland at St. George’s Island of the Contagious fever. As to this Mr. Graham, his character is that of an Original something of [torn] and I’ll be swore Colo. Lawson never said anything about Moses. Addison of Maryland told me Graham was truely an Original, whom nobody believed, for everybody knew him almost never to be without a Story to tell.

It snowed untill past 3 o’clcok but only fast now and then […]

[July] 7[, 1777]. Monday.

[…] I have had 3 women to wife, but never one of them, like Lady Fat, [a] Lady for lying and scolding, and thus it is, I do suppose, by the husband’s warping to her temper has he turned a mere bulldog. Last night nobody was allowed to give evidence against her falsehood. She hears, sees, and Smells more than anybody can. Do you bring your negroe to contradict me! A negroe and a passionate woman are equal as to truth or falsehood; for neither thinks of what they say […]

9. Wednesday.

Natan Sullivan brought up old Will, Ben, and Molly, my runaways, in Irons. I had them seperately secured and confied. They shall be till I can sell them […]

10. Thursday.

I am glad when I reflect on my own conduct to Moses and his gang of runaways that I have no kind of Severity in the least to accuse myself of to one of them; but on the contrary a behaviour should have taught them gratitude if there ever was a virtue of the sort in such creatures. 1s[t], Mr. Moses, before I lent him to my son, was so very subject to worms as to be at times almost in the Jaws of death, And yet by God’s blessing my care constantly saved him. 2d, Mr. Manuel I really obliged by bringing Suky, his wife; he then took a fancy from a distant quarter And at least [I] purchased the rascal’s life condemned by the law and at the expense of £16, it being the smallpox time. 3d, Mr. Pentie run a tobacco Stick at his calf most into his body and he, to the astonishment of Dr. Jones, I saved by God’s Permission. 4, Mr. Peter was so accustomed to bleed at the nose that though often given over by the Docters I entirely cured, by the favour of heaven. 5th, Mr. Joe to appearance struck dead with lightning for some days, and yet by God’s grace I alone saved and restored him. 6th, Mr. Sam, a Sheep stealer under a process below which never reached him. I endeavoured to protect him. 7, Mr. Tom I ever used with the greatest respect and 8, Mr. Billy a fellow too honest, and mild in temper who could not have gone away but to please his father Manuel who ever was a Villain and his brother Will confined the same cursed breed. He sent off two of his sons below and was contriving to get off more but after 3 months trial I have catched him and to Carolina he shall go if I give him away.

Landon Carter keeps a diary, one of the most revealing personal documents for mid-eighteenth-century Virginia.
APA Citation:
Carter, Landon. “A strange dream this day”; an excerpt from the diary of Landon Carter (1776–1777). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Carter, Landon. "“A strange dream this day”; an excerpt from the diary of Landon Carter (1776–1777)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 13 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.