August 1 – Robert Carter Appreciation Day

On August 1, 1791, Robert Carter wrote a deed of emancipation for 452 of his slaves. Although no slaves were freed that day, he set in motion the largest emancipation in the United States until the Civil War. Carter finished the six page document on August 1, and then filed it in the Northumberland Courthouse on September 5, 1791. You can read “the first day of August” in the oval below.

Carter was moved to consider freedom for his slaves after a move toward first the Baptist faith and then Swendenborgianism. He was a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, although there is no evidence that they ever communicated about Carter’s act of emancipation.

Today, a group of ministers is meeting in Cincinnati to attempt to hold Thomas Nelson publishers accountable for printing a book that whitewashed the record of Thomas Jefferson on slavery. When David Barton declares in The Jefferson Lies that Jefferson was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law, Barton obscures the virtue of men like Carter who went against the resistance of other slave owners who talked about liberty but didn’t provide it for all. Carter and other emancipation minded people in Virginia took steps against their own interests to do what was right. These stories need to be celebrated and remembered, not hidden due to misguided reverence for the founders.

Wallbuilder’s slogan is “presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage.” In my view, Robert Carter’s deed of emancipation is forgotten history and Carter is a forgotten hero.

For more on Carter click here, here, and (especially) here.

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  • jimmiraybob

    Do you know if Carter made other provisions for after they were emancipated, maybe stipulated in the will? Could the emancipated slaves stay on as paid workers? Was there any effort to help provide an education?

    I believe that Jefferson, while not emancipating all, did make provisions for some of his slaves that were to be emancipated in order to provide some measure of security after the emancipation following his death (as stipulated in his will).

  • Warren

    The slaves were freed gradually and he allowed them to set up homes on his lands and made various provisions for them.

    RE: Jefferson – he only emancipated two slaves, relatives of Sally Hemings, during his life and at least one of them had to purchase his freedom. At his death, he emancipated only 5 slaves and did make some provisions for them. However, the rest of the slaves were sold to other slave owners. There is no comparison between the actions of Carter and those of Jefferson.

  • jimmiraybob

    I agree with respect to a comparison. I only mentioned Jefferson’s limited attempts as an illustration – probably not needed in retrospect.

    I’d never heard the story of Robert Carter before and was wondering if and how so many people could be helped with the transition. It is impressive.