On September 5, 1791, Robert Carter III presented a remarkable document to the District Court in Northumberland County, Virginia. In a “Deed of Gift,” Carter set out a plan for the gradual manumission of 452 enslaved people he owned on plantations in the Tidewater and Shenandoah. Carter declared that he had “for some Time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true Principles of Religion and Justice, and that therefor it was my Duty to manumit them.”
Carter’s plan freed his slaves gradually according to age. It was designed to withstand the opposition he expected and received from his heirs and the community, who fought it fiercely in public and the courts. Carter’s document, however, withstood these challenges. Several decades after his death, his executors were still carrying out the manumissions. Today thousands of people in Virginia and other states trace their ancestry to the more than 500 individuals ultimately emancipated by Carter’s deed.
One of the best sources on Carter’s deed and the lives of those persons manumitted is John Melendez-Barden’s Flushed With Notions of Freedom: The Growth and Emancipation of a Virginia Slave Community, 1732-1812 (Ph.D. Dissertation, Duke University, 1993). Dr. Melendez-Barden has graciously allowed the Foundation for Historic Christ Church to make this scholarly work available to the public here.
Dr. Melendez-Barden’s meticulous research includes a collection of appendices and key biographical data (citing primary sources) that provide valuable information on the family relationships, surnames, occupations, residences, emancipation certificates, and other important records from the lives of the enslaved persons who gained their freedom through Carter’s deed. The Foundation intends to make this research accessible to the public in an online resource similar to its Corotoman Slave Histories and Corotoman Servant Database.
All material from “Flushed With Notions of Freedom: The Growth and Emancipation of a Virginia Slave Community, 1732-1812” provided here is the copyright of Dr. Melendez-Barden (Copyright by John Randolph Barden 1993).