The Foundation for Historic Christ Church Awarded Three Grants for New Exhibit

April 2016

The Foundation for Historic Christ Church is pleased to announce the recent award of three grants to mount a new exhibit on Robert Carter III’s 1791 Deed of Emancipation. 2016 is the 225th anniversary of Robert Carter III’s 1791 deed. The largest single emancipation in this country before the Civil War, the deed provided for the gradual manumission of more than 500 African-American slaves living on Carter’s Virginia plantations. 

The purpose of the exhibit is to examine slavery at Carter’s plantations and the lives of those set free. Its goal is to reach an audience that includes people of African descent and tells this little-known, but monumental story.

A remarkable act at an important time in Virginia slavery, Carter’s deed and the lives of those set free has generated only modest interest from historians and even less from museums. Robert Carter III and the 1791 Deed of Emancipation will be the first public exhibition of this incredible story. Through historical images, documents, and artifacts, it looks at the 1791 deed from two perspectives: Carter’s journey from grandson of Virginia’s largest slave owner to an emancipator; and the slave communities at Nomini Hall and Carter’s fifteen other plantations and their legacies of emancipation.

The exhibit will highlight elements of the African-American experience in the Northern Neck and provide residents and visitors, especially those who are descended from and/or have ties to the enslaved community, with an opportunity to explore their family history.  A majority of the artifacts are from excavations at Nomini Hall, Carter’s home plantation, and have never been exhibited in a public museum. With this exhibit, Historic Christ Church & Museum will draw a more diverse group of visitors and explore new themes and stories that are relevant today.

Mounting this exhibit in the museum will be the first step in an ongoing project to highlight the story of Carter-related slavery in the Northern Neck and beyond. For 2017, Historic Christ Church & Museum and its research committee plan to install an interactive display that will feature oral histories of slave descendants.

The design contract for planning and fabricating the exhibit has been awarded to Riggs Ward, Richmond, Virginia. Riggs Ward did the 2009 exhibit design project for the museum at Historic Christ Church & Museum. The exhibition is planned for installation at the end of July 2016, in time for the 225th celebration of this historic event on August 20 at 1st Baptist Church, Heathsville, who will also be celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. Partners in the Manumission celebration include Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library and the Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society.