Robert Carter letter books and day books, 1771-1804 and undated 9.5 Linear Feet — Approx. 125 Items
The letter books, day books, wills, loose letters, and other documents in the Robert Carter papers offer rich information on social and economic conditions in Virginia and Maryland in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and disclose a great many details on plantation life and the management of enslaved people, overseers, secretaries, ship's captains, and skilled workers employed in Carter's various enterprises. The records document milling, spinning, weaving, iron works, and linen manufacture at the time of the Revolutionary War, and the frequent shipments of goods to and from Europe. Carter comments in great detail on the development of new plantations and the purchase, clothing and feeding, training, and punishment of slaves. The records also document his efforts to free a large number of slaves, which eventually resulted in many hundreds acquiring their freedom after prolonged legal battles following his death in 1804.
Three sets of transcripts represent almost the entire body of correspondence and other records in the collection and facilitates access to the content of the volumes, many of which are fragile. Other loose papers include letters, invoices, notes, financial accounts, and a few clippings.
Information of the Revolutionary War's impact on Virginia and its plantations is found in both the letter books and day books, including militia affairs in Westmoreland County and Captain Lane's Company of that county. Carter also describes British ships off the Virginia coast, and raids on his plantations by the British, who carry off many slaves. Carter also includes descriptions of his oath of allegiance (Daybook XIV) and his membership in the Virginia House of Burgesses. After the Revolutionary War, his comments focus increasingly on life in Baltimore, where he had set up his household.
Carter's day books and letter books also contain frequent commentary on religious beliefs, preachings, and meeting houses. He examines Swedenborgian, Presbyterian, Quaker, and Methodist practices and beliefs, but around the Revolutionary War turns to the Baptist Church and leaders such as Lewis Lunsford, who baptised him, and Ebenezer Brookes. Carter copied a circular from preacher John Leland (1750-1841) into Daybook XVI. The conclusion of the sermon deals with the sin of slavery and the freedom of enslaved people, the burden of slavery to the owners, and the duties of slaves to those masters.
Perhaps influenced by Leland's stand, Carter executed a deed in 1791 setting up a gradual manumission of hundreds of his slaves, an extraordinary act for his time. Volume XI in the collection contains this act of manumission, recorded in the first few pages, then followed by many pages of lists of the names of the enslaved individuals who were to be freed, their names (a few with both first and last names), ages, and gender, their work roles (e.g. cooper, postilion), and the plantations where they worked. Also in the loose papers is a document recording a question posed by Robert Carter relative to the application of the law in Virginia as to the responsibility of a former owner of manumitted slaves for continuing to maintain those he has set free who are physically or mentally handicapped.
The individuals to whom Carter sent letters include many well-known individuals of the time: Charles Carroll, Benjamin Day, William Ebzer, Thomas Fairfax, William Grayson, Patrick Henry, Ludwell Lee, Richard Lee, Peyton Randolph, George Turberville, John Tuberville, and George Wythe. Among those writing to Carter were Alexander Campbell, Christopher Collins, Thomas Jones, Richard Lee, George Newman, John Overall, and Simon Triplett. There are also many references in the letter books and day books to Carter's many children, especially concerning their education.