Robert "Councillor" Carter III (February 1727/28 – March 10, 1804) was an American plantation owner, founding father and onetime British government official. After the death of his wife, Frances Ann Tasker Carter, in 1787, Carter embraced the Swedenborgian faith and freed almost 500 slaves from his Nomini Hall plantation and large home in Westmoreland County. By a "Deed of Gift" filed with the county in 1791, he began the process of manumitting slaves in his lifetime. His manumission is the largest known release of slaves in North American history prior to the American Civil War and the largest number ever manumitted by an individual in the US.
Later life and career
King George II appointed Carter to the Virginia Council. He continued to serve by a reappointment by King George III. Later, despite expressing support of the crown after George III's repeal of the Stamp Act 1765, Carter resigned as Councillor and eventually supported the American cause in the Revolution.
In the two decades after the Revolutionary War, numerous slaveholders in the Chesapeake Bay area freed their slaves. They were inspired by Quaker, Methodist and Baptist preachers, as well as the principles of the Revolution. Often they made provision for freeing slaves in their wills or deeds, in which they noted the principles of equality as reason for their decisions. The percentage of free blacks increased in the Upper South from less than one percent before the Revolution, to 10 percent by 1810. In Delaware, three-quarters of all blacks were free by 1810.
From Baptist and Swedenborgian influences, Carter concluded that human slavery was immoral. He instituted a program of gradual manumission of all slaves attached to his estate. It started in his lifetime in 1791 and continued after his death. He designed the program to be gradual to reduce the resistance of white neighbors. Frequently, Carter rented land to recently freed slaves, sometimes evicting previous white tenants in the process. His release of slaves, numbering 452, is the largest known manumission in the United States.
Toward the end of his life, Carter moved from Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland. In part he wanted some distance from family and neighbors who looked askance at his Swedenborgian faith and program of manumission. In 1803 the year before his death, Carter wrote his daughter Harriot L. Maund, "My plans and advice have never been pleasing to the world."
- Andrew Levy, The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father who freed his slaves. New York: Random House, 2005 (ISBN 0-375-50865-1)
- "Genealogy", Ben Lomond Manor House, accessed 30 Jan 2007
- "Robert 'King' Carter of Corotoman (1663-1732)", Historic Christ Church, accessed 30 Jan 2007
- Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619-1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1994, p.78, 81
- 4. Robert “Councillor” Carter, III, Col., b. ca. Feb 1727, Nomini, Westmoreland Co., VA of The Carter Family of Virginia.
- Baptists in America in A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, and Other Parts of the World.