Menu

Guide to the Robert Carter letter books and day books, 1771-1804 and undated

Abstract

Robert Carter III (1728-1804) was a planter, slaveholder, and iron manufacturer of Nomini Hall plantation, Westmoreland County, Virginia.

The correspondence, letter books, day books, and other papers in this collection contain detailed documentation on colonial Virginia: the Revolutionary War; plantation and family life; 18th century slavery and emancipation; the iron and textile industries; Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Swedenborgian, and Baptist religious beliefs and practices, and their relevance to slavery and race; tobacco cultivation in Virginia; and life in Baltimore, Maryland after the Revolutionary War. Documents related to Carter's unusual act in 1791 to gradually manumit hundreds of slaves are also in this collection. The letter books house over 3,000 pieces of correspondence written by Carter to well-known individuals of the time, such as Charles Carroll, Benjamin Day, William Ebzer, Thomas Fairfax, William Grayson, Patrick Henry, Ludwell Lee, Richard Lee, Peyton Randolph, George Turberville, John Turberville, and George Wythe, and letters to Carter written by Alexander Campbell, Christopher Collins, Thomas Jones, Richard Lee, George Newman, John Overall, and Simon Triplett. In his letters, Carter refers many times to the education and welfare of his many children and writes to them while they are away from home. Transcripts are available for the majority of the materials.

Descriptive Summary

Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Creator
Carter, Robert, 1728-1804
Title
Robert Carter letter books and day books 1771-1804 and undated
Language of Material
English
Extent
9.5 Linear Feet, Approx. 125 Items
Location
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Collection Overview

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.

Administrative Information

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48-hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Contents of the Collection

Information folder

Additional information folders are available in the repository collection control files.

Box 1
Letterbook: Vol. 1, 1772 January 28-1774 May 10
Box 1
Letterbook: Vol. 2, 1774 May 20-1775 May 7
Box 1
Letterbook: Vol. 3 1775 June 29-1780 May 16
(4 folders)
Box 1
Letterbook: Vol. 4, 1780 May 31-1782 April 16
Box 2
Letterbook: Vol. 5, 1782 April 17-1784 June 12
Box 2
Letterbook: Vol. 6, 1784 June 30-1785 November 16
Box 2
Letterbook: Vol. 7, 1785 November 15-1787 September 12
Box 2
Letterbook: Vol. 8, 1787 August 20-1789 July 18
Box 3
Letterbook: Vol. 9, 1789 July 21-1792 June
Box 3
Letterbook: Vol. 10, 1792 July-1793 April
Box 3
Deed of Emancipation: Vol. 11, 1791 August 1
Box 3
Religious Notes: Vol. 12, 1777 July 12-1779 July 4
Box 4
Daybook: Vol. 13, 1773 January 1-1776 November 9
Box 4
Daybook: Vol. 14, 1776 October-1778 March
Box 4
Daybook: Vol. 15, 1778 March 28-1778 November 8
Box 4
Daybook: Vol. 16, 1784 May 28-1789 July
Box 4
Daybook: Vol. 17, 1785 October 10-1787 April
Box 4
Daybook: Vol. 18, 1793 May 29-1793 December
Box 4
Loose manuscript papers, 1771-1804 and undated

Includes letters, invoices, notes, reports, opinions, and queries.

Box 11

The "A" set comprises what was judged to be significant excerpts from the collection. Date ranges represent the dates of the excerpts. Volumes 11, 12 and 17 are not present. Complete transcripts for almost all the original manuscripts are found in the "B" and "C" transcript sets.

"A" Transcripts: Vol. 1, 1772 June 9-1774 January 27
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 2, 1774 June-1775 February 17
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 3, 1775 July 18-1780 April 16
(3 folders)
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 4, 1780 October 14-1782 April 16
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 5, 1782 May 16-1784 April 12
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 6, 1784 September 9-1784 November 8
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 7, 1785 November 29-1787 September 12
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 8, 1787 September 24-1789 June 18
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 9, 1789 July 29-1792 June 29
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 10, 1792 July 21-1793 February 19
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 13, 1774 August 3-1776 July 23
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 14, 1776 November 16-1778 February 18
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 15, 1778 June 2-1778 November 9
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 16, 1784 June 15-1784 November 15
Box 5
"A" Transcripts: Vol. 18, 1793 May 6-1793 December 17
Box 5

The "B" and "C" sets comprise full transcripts from all the volumes, with some gaps. The "C" set appears to contain more accurate and complete transcripts, including full dates marking the entries and transcriptions of all markings and information found on covers, endpapers, and book plates. Transcriptions from Volume 12 - religious notes and commentary - are only found in this set.

"B" Transcripts: Vols. 1-4
Box 6
"B" Transcripts: Vols. 5-7
(2 folders)
Box 7
"B" Transcripts: Vols. 7-10
Box 8
"B" Transcripts: Vol. 11 (copy of Carter's Deed of Emancipation), 1791 Aug. 1
Box 9
"B" Transcripts: Vols. 13-18
Box 9
"B" Transcripts (carbon copies): Vols. 1-3
(3 folders)
Box 9
"B" Transcripts (carbon copies): Vols. 3-5, 7-10

Vols. 5 and 9 of the carbon copies consist of only a few pages. Volume 6 is not present among the carbon copies.

(10 folders)
Box 10
"B" Transcripts (carbon copies): Vols. 13-16, 18
(5 folders)
Box 11
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 1, 1772 Jan. 28-1774 May 10
(2 folders)
Box 12
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 2, 1774 May 20-1775 May 7
Box 12
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 3, 1775 June 29-1780 May 16
(4 folders)
Box 12
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 3 (part 3, cont.)
Box 13
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 4, 1780 May 31-xxx
(3 folders)
Box 13
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 5, 1782 April 17-1784 June 12
(2 folders)
Box 13
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 6, 1784 June 30-1785 July 12 16
(2 folders)
Box 13
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 6, 1785 July 12-1785 Nov. 16
Box 14
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 7, 1785 Nov. 15-1787 Sept. 12
(4 folders)
Box 14
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 8, 1787 Aug. 20-1788 June 18
(2 folders)
Box 14
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 8, 1788 June 18-1789 July 18

With one letter at end dating 1788 July 4.

(2 folders)
Box 15
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook,Vol. 9, 1789 July 21-1792 July 3
(4 folders)
Box 15
"C" Transcripts: Letterbook, Vol. 10, 1792 July 12 -1793 April 26
Box 15
"C" Transcripts: Vol. 11, Deed of Emancipation, 1791 August 1
Box 15
"C" Transcripts: Vol. 12, Religious Notes, 1777 July 12 (22 pages)
Box 16
"C" Transcripts: Daybook, Vol. 13, 1773 January 1-1776 November 9
(2 folders)
Box 16
"C" Transcripts: Daybook, Vol. 14, 1776 November 16-1778 February 18
Box 16
"C" Transcripts: Daybook, Vol. 15, 1778 March 28-1778 November 8
Box 16
"C" Transcripts: Daybook, Vol. 16, 1784 May 28-1789 July
Box 16
"C" Transcripts: Daybook, Vol. 17, 1785 October 10-1787 April
Box 16
"C" Transcripts: Daybook, Vol. 18, 1793 May 29-1793 December
(2 folders)
Box 16
Transcripts of loose papers, 1771-1804 and undated
(20 items)
Box 16

Historical Note

Robert Carter III (1737-1804) was the son of Robert Carter II (1705-1733) and Priscilla (Churchill) Carter of Nomony Hall (alternately spelled Nominy and Nomini in other sources), Westmoreland County, Virginia, and the grandson of Colonel Robert Carter, called "King" Carter. Although he lived in Westmoreland County and England until he moved to Williamsburg in 1761, he returned to "Nomini Hall" and Westmoreland in 1773, when his letter books and day books begin.

At the age of 21 he inherited tens of thousands of acres that he developed into the eighteen plantations he owned across the state of Virginia. It is estimated that by 1791 he owned 3400 slaves. Carter is most known historically for his efforts to emancipate over 500 individuals, the largest manumission known prior to the Civil War. The document setting out this plan is in the collection, and it is chiefly made up of long lists of the names of all the enslaved individuals who were to be freed.

Carter was a member of the vestry of Cople Parish, the Church of England, whose affairs are referred to in the early day books (Daybook XIII) but soon joined the Baptist Church and caused a scandal by becoming a member of a racially mixed congregation. By 1793, with his oldest son, Robert Bladen Carter, dead in a brawl in London, his older daughters married, and his oldest surviving son, John Tasker Carter, installed at Nomony Hall, he purchased a house in Baltimore and brought his youngest daughters to live there. He had placed his youngest son, George Carter, in school at the University of Pennsylvania. In these later years, Carter was involved in legal tangles over his properties; details are noted in the letterbooks. Carter died in 1804.

Subject Headings

Related Material

  • Robert Wormeley Carter papers, 1813-1850 (16 items) [son of Landon Carter and grandson of "King" Carter of Westmoreland County, Virginia] (Rubenstein Library, Duke University)

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Robert Carter Letter Books and Day Books, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Provenance

The Robert Carter letter books and day books were acquired by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library from 1933 to 1989.

Processing Information

Processed by Rubenstein Library staff

Encoded by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico and Sara Reams, April 2014

Accession(s) described in this collection guide: 1933, 60-209, 68-302, and 89-117.

Descriptive sources and standards used to create this inventory: DACS, EAD, NCEAD guidelines, and local Style Guide.