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.