More Evidence David Barton is Wrong About Jefferson and Slavery: Robert Carter’s Emancipation Deed

I talked about Robert Carter in a prior post. Carter set in motion a plan to free his slaves beginning on August 1, 1791. Fresh from the Northumberland District Court in Heathsville, Virginia, I have copies of the Deed of Gift which Carter filed on August 1, 1791. I will pull out a couple of pieces of it and then provide links to all the pages which you can click through to review.

David Barton wrote in The Jefferson Lies that Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law. However, in Getting Jefferson Right, we demonstrate that Virginia law changed in 1782 to allow emancipation both during an owner’s life and at his death. The law was in effect for 24 years until it was modified in 1806 to make manumission more complicated for the slaves.

It is one thing to examine the law, but it is another thing to see the law in application. Robert Carter, a wealthy plantation owner who also sat on the Governor’s Council, submitted a deed, in accord with the law, on September 5, 1791. The process would take years and involve other people Carter appointed when he left Virginia.

Carter wrote the Deed of Gift on August 1, 1791 and included a list of 452 of his slaves covering all or part of five pages. Slaves over age 45 would be handled in another manner. Page one is here so you can see the format of the deed:

First, Carter introduced the list, then provided a listing of his plantations and finally a list of his slaves by name, age and location.

The next three pages contained an inventory of human beings and then on the fifth page of the deed, Carter provided his rationale and legal basis for the emancipation.

This section is quite important so I type it out here for easier reading (start at the red slash at the end of the first line):

And whereas I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them [slaves] in slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion & Justice, that therefore it was my Duty to manumit them, if it could be accomplished without infringing the laws of my Country, without being of disadvantage to my neighbors & the Community at large: And whereas the General Assembly for the Commonwealth of Virginia did in the year seventeen hundred eighty two enact a Law entitled “an Act to authorize the manumission of slaves” now be it remembered that the said Robert do under the said Act for myself my heirs my Executors & administrators emancipate from slavery all such my slaves in the aforesaid Schedule (as are under the age of forty-six years) but in a manner & form as hereafter particularly mentioned & set forth.

Virginia law set age restrictions on manumissions and the older slaves would be handled differently. However, this document provides clear reference to the Virginia law passed in 1782 which allowed Carter to do what he listed here.

As recently as last week, David Barton told a radio audience that Jefferson could not free his slaves due to Virginia law. I don’t know how long it will take for someone in the Christian community to hold him accountable for this but the evidence is here that he is wrong.

Some have asked me why this matters. First of all, I would like to think that Christian leaders would not want to put out falsehoods. Second, I recently spoke to an African American pastor who told me that Barton’s whitewash of Jefferson’s record is offensive to him and his colleagues. According to this pastor, lifting up Jefferson as an abolitionist and civil rights champion hinders racial reconciliation within the greater Christian community.

Robert Carter’s entire Deed of Gift (click the links)

Page one, two, three, four, five, & six.


For more on Jefferson and slavery as well as other matters covered in David Barton’s recent book, see Getting Jefferson Right.

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  • Exc work, Dr. Throckmorton. I especially appreciated that you quoted David Barton directly re the radio show here

    rather than the lazy [and often contentious] paraphrases of many of his critics.

    There’s usually some kernel of truth in what Barton says—that he then takes on a wild ride—but on this one, I don’t even know what the kernel is.

  • Jeff Baker

    Bravo Doctor Throckmorton! More people who can should call Barton on his lies.

  • Lynn David

    Someone has to get Barton and you on the same program.

  • Jim Guinnessey

    I had always read that Jefferson was at his time of death so broke and so much in debt that he kept his slaves for a final sale to others in order to pay off some if not all of his debts. Is this true?

  • Jim – Yes, he was in debt and freed some members of the Heming family but his heirs sold slaves to pay debts.

  • Craig Denison

    I have a hypothesis as to why David Barton is so adamant in whitewashing Thomas Jefferson’s holding slaves. A lot of Americans have an all-or-nothing concept of virtue. In a worldview focused through that sort of lens, any person’s deviation from what is considered virtue is enough to discredit everything that person ever contributed, created, or did. This is particularly true of the audience that David Barton has gained through his association with Glenn Beck.

    In the present day United States, even most anti-black bigots acknowledge that slavery was wrong. This presents a problem for Barton, who is trying to claim Thomas Jefferson as being in agreement with his particular political and religious positions. When some of Barton’s supporters learn Jefferson kept slaves, they might question whether Jefferson is worthy of admiration.

    So rather than acknowledge that Thomas Jefferson was a human being, one who might have had “feet of clay” in some parts of his life, Barton may feel compelled to claim over and over that Jefferson was not allowed to free his slaves.

  • @Craig Denison .. I think it more likely that he is politically motivated .. The thought pattern runs something like this .. if we can prove the founding fathers (ie most all of them) were Christians .. then that means we are a Christian nation and we need to get back to our roots .. ie. fight the liberal rewriting of history and take America for God and so forth. This then works its way into all sorts of Christian political movements and causes.

    While I am all for being patriotic and being faithful to Christ the kingdom of heaven is not the United States .. and when our religous goals and political goals get intertwined it can end up countering the very kingdom we are supposed to be part of. In some/many cases it leads to a (perhaps deliberate) distortion of facts (otherwise known as lies) to accomplish goals that Christ never intended us to accomplish. The intersection of faith and politics is a rather complex thing but when it leads to deception either in distorting history or (as discussed elsewhere on this forum) in making claims about the lgbt community that are deceptive and false .. the cause of Christ is not advanced .. and is instead .. IMHO deterred.


  • Warren :

    First of all, I would like to think that Christian leaders would not want to put out falsehoods.

    Your mileage may vary there.

    Here are some quotes from Martin Luther:

    “”Faith, must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees it must put out of sight, and wish to know nothing but the word of God””

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    “What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.”

    That last was uncharacteristic, and to quote it without giving context would be misleading. But it was said, and many Religious Ideologues apparently believe it.

  • Ron Lester

    Barton has not done a whitewash of Jefferson and slavery. I read the book; I know. It is fair and accurate. Throckmorton is not displaying a Christian attitude by calling Barton a liar.

  • Okay, Ron, you need to provide evidence for your statement. Why did Barton omit the section of the 1782 law on manumission which contradicted Barton’s contention that Jefferson could not free his slaves? The law allowed it. Barton quoted only part of it on page 92 of The Jefferson Lies – why?

  • Ron Lester

    WT: “Posts may be rejected if they include defamation, threats, namecalling, profanity, ad hominem attacks, disruptive comments, or anything else that I think creates a hostile environment for people to engage in civil dialogue.”

    You should practice what you preach. Calling Barton a “liar” is uncivil and disrespectful.

  • Ron Lester

    WT: Okay, Ron, you need to provide evidence for your statement. Why did Barton omit the section of the 1782 law on manumission which contradicted Barton’s contention that Jefferson could not free his slaves? The law allowed it. Barton quoted only part of it on page 92 of The Jefferson Lies – why?

    I read the Barton book. There is absolutely no “whitewashing” of slavery, but plenty of other quotes which do not paint Jefferson as a racist. I do not have to prove a false negative. You need to disprove the quotes which do not support your point.

  • Ron Lester

    Jefferson called slavery a “disease.” Dispute that, Warren.

  • Ron – If Barton can omit a portion of a law to bolster his view point, then why do you trust his quotes about anything else? His central contention is that Jefferson could not free his slaves due to VA law. This is simply not true and you are enabling the lack of truth.

  • Timothy

    If it’s truth you’re after please watch Hidden Faith of The Founding Fathers The entire Documentary can be seen on youtube.

    If I can say it this way, this is a MUST SEE.

  • Also from the same site:

    Darwin Debunked

    It would seem the Evolution debate has never been stronger. Learn more about some of the leading evidence that proves Darwin’s theory is both un-scientific and mathematically impossible

    Or, you could look at

    Optimization of a genetic algorithm for searching molecular conformer space in the Journal of Chemical Physics, where such “mathematically impossible” techniques are used to solve a knotty scientific problem.

    But heck, what does the American Institute of Physics know about science?

    Or Optimization of a Genetic Algorithm for the Functionalization of Fullerenes in the Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation.

    But that’s only according to the American Chemical Society.