I happened to see a post on social media that had a picture of a historical marker for Robert Carter of Norther Virginia. The more I learned about this event the more profoundly it struck me.
He was a very wealthy planter in the Northern Neck of Virginia with over 500 slaves. His wealth was inherited from his grandfather (at one time he owned over 1000 slaves but freed some of them while it was still legal to do so) who left large plots of land to his family. He became friends with and traveled overseas with George Washington’s half brother Lawrence who also was a prominent land holder. Robert Carter attended the College of William and Mary and studied law in England.
Here is what struck me. This gentleman released his slaves, all of them over a period of time through his wills and by dcree. He did this before the Civil War… way before the Civil War… he did this while George Washington was President! His neighbors knew of his humane treatment of his slaves. Much to the chagrin of his neighbors Carter attended a mixed church of white and black, of free and of slaves. Wipping of his slaves was not allowed. Apparently Governer Fauquier allowed his slaves to pick their master in his will. This influenced Robert Carter. He considered slavery to be immoral and “contrary to the word of God”. He once wrote: “the toleration of slavery indicates very great depravity of mind.”
Virginia’s legislature in 1778 barred slave trade. They also entertained law sympathetic to freeing slaves. Quakers at the time freed slaves in the spirit of the Revolution and presented petitions in this vein but James Madison successfully opposed them. His own family did not whole hardedly embrace Carter’s feelings regarding manumission (release from slavery).
There is far more to this story and I urge the reader to do further personal research.