Robert Carter III: A Forgotten Hero David Barton Doesn’t Want You to Remember

Fred Clark at Patheos reminds us that today is the day that Robert Carter III filed his deed of emancipation at the Northumberland District Court in 1791.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Robert Carter wrote what he called a “deed of gift” that set in motion the largest emancipation of slaves in the United States prior to the Civil War. Carter’s deed listed 452 slaves to be emancipated throughout the remainder of Carter’s life. To see parts of the six page deed, click here. See the image below for the filing date.


Carter, a Virginia plantation owner, became convinced that slavery was morally wrong and put his beliefs into action. David Barton claims in his book The Jefferson Lies that fellow Virginia slave owner Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law. On the contrary, Robert Carter relied on the Virginia’s 1782 law allowing owners to emancipate slaves via a deed recorded at the county court house. Barton modified his claim somewhat on the Glenn Beck show in mid-August by saying that Virginia law required owners who freed their slaves to provide a security bond for their care. To date, he has produced no evidence for this claim.

Carter’s story is an inconvenient truth for Barton and his fans. In the sad history of slavery, Carter is a brighter light, a true hero of his times. Yet, until recently, there has been little attention to him. Andrew Levy’s book on Carter (The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Work of Robert Carter the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves) helps to correct this but, on the other hand, Barton’s book on Jefferson serves to obscure Carter’s legacy. Levy’s observation about the place of Robert Carter in history is relevant:

It becomes difficult to argue that the founding fathers acted liberally within their own moral universe when small slave owners up and down the Virginia coast were freeing their slaves. It becomes impossible, however, to make that argument when one of their peers commits the same radical act. Similarly, the argument that there existed no practical plan for mass emancipation makes sense only if Robert Carter’s Deed of Gift is suppressed within the historical record.

David Barton claims his organization preserves America’s forgotten heroes. Robert Carter is one he might rather you forget.

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  • Lynn David

    To believe Barton one must agree with him that Jefferson put his own monetary needs above that of his moral viewpoint.

  • Krista Vessell

    And that’s EXACTLY what “Barton-ists” do! On Rick Green’s blog, article titled “It Turns Out Semantics Have Been Used To Try And Destroy David Barton,” I got into an argument with 4 individuals who did nothing but made excuse after excuse for Jefferson’s not freeing his slaves, and also not executing Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s will. In the end, their argument boiled down to this: Jefferson was too afraid of losing popularity and backing by investors to do what was right. He also was afraid of losing his beloved Monticello over his debts and just HAD to keep the slaves as collateral. Sounds like a staunch Christian leader to me… Even though this goes against Barton’s claim that Jefferson was a great civil rights leader and “orthodox” Christian, they continue making excuses for Jefferson and vehemently defending Barton at the same time. Barton’s works have brainwashed people to the point to where they can’t even entertain the thought that maybe, just possibly, Barton is wrong. It’s scary.

  • Thank you, Warren, for your refutations of Barton and his ilk. You bring rationality and reason to the discussion of the early American history ,which is sadly lacking these days. it seems like that to some folks if you view the Founders as less than godlike that you are being unAmerican, not just acknowledging that America is not perfect. As a fellow Cedarville grad (class of 1980) and history/political science major I am heartened that there are still those who do proper research and don’t buy into the “deification of the Founders. They were great men, sure enough, and very wise. But they also had, as do we all, feet of clay. Thanks for the info on Robert Carter. That really is an inspirational tale, one that should not be hiden nor overlooked.

  • Krista Vessell

    Yes, Bob. Speaking about the founders’ character flaws and such is considered the tactic of “deconstructionism” by Barton and his army of God-warriors. Barton even wrote an article about it on Wallbuilders. You can go to the website and search “deconstructionism” in their articles to read all about their views on people who want to have a comprehensive education of America’s founders.