Charles Carter

Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764)

Charles Carter, a son of Robert "King" Carter, was a planter and member of the House of Burgesses (1736–1764). Carter was educated in England and returned to Virginia in 1724, after which he moved to one of his father's estates in Middlesex County. He later purchased a King George County plantation known as Cleve. (He was often referred to as Charles Carter of Cleve to distinguish him from relatives of the same name.) He served as a justice of the peace in King George County and as the commanding officer of the county militia. He helped establish three towns along the Rappahannock River. As a burgess, Carter became the most important lieutenant of John Robinson, the Speaker of the House of Burgesses and the treasurer of the colony. He enlarged his own landholdings and advocated for the diversification of Virginia's economy. To this end, he participated in some speculative schemes and pushed for agricultural reform. London's Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce awarded Carter a medal for his wine-growing efforts. MORE...

 

Early Years

Carter was born about 1707 to Robert "King" Carter, a land baron and member of the governor's Council, and Elizabeth Landon Willis Carter. It was the second marriage of both his parents. His elder half brother John Carter (d. 1742) became secretary of the colony and also a councillor, and his younger brother, Landon Carter, served with him in the House of Burgesses. Carter and his brothers were educated in England. After his return to Virginia early in 1724 he moved to one of his father's estates near Urbanna, in Middlesex County. The governor appointed Carter naval officer, or customs official, for the Rappahannock District on November 1, 1729, and on the following April 29 named him a justice of the peace for Middlesex County.

After the death of his father Carter moved to King George County to the Stanstead plantation, which he inherited. Later he purchased nearby Cleve, where he resided for the rest of his life. He was often referred to as Charles Carter of Cleve to distinguish him from several relatives of the same name. About 1728 Carter married Mary Walker, of Yorktown. They had three daughters and two sons before her death early in 1742. Their eldest daughter, Mary Walker Carter, married Carter's nephew Charles Carter (1732–1806), who served with him in the House of Burgesses, and their only surviving son, Charles Carter (1732–1796), also served with him in the House of Burgesses and later sat on the Council of State. On December 25, 1742, Carter married Anne Byrd, the seventeen-year-old daughter of William Byrd II, of whose estate he was an executor. They had six daughters and two sons before she died on September 11, 1757. Carter courted at least two women, including the widow Martha Dandridge Custis, before he married sixteen- or seventeen-year-old Lucy Taliaferro about June 9, 1763. They had one daughter, who was born a few weeks before his death.

Political Career

Carter was a trustee for the establishment of the towns of Falmouth, in King George County (after 1776 Stafford County), Leedstown, in King George County (later Westmoreland County), and Port Royal, in Caroline County, and he was a commissioner in the 1730s and again in the 1740s to determine the boundaries of the Northern Neck. Carter served as a justice of the peace in King George County beginning in 1734 and became county lieutenant, or commanding officer of the militia. In September 1734 he stood for election to the House of Burgesses, lost, and unsuccessfully challenged the result. Two years later Carter won election to the House of Burgesses from King George County but had his victory contested on the ground that he had offered life leases to one or more men to make them qualified to vote for him. The challenger failed to gather evidence properly, and the Committee of Privileges and Elections recommended that the challenge be dismissed. Carter served in every session of the assembly from 1736 until his death and quickly became one of the most influential burgesses. On his first day as a member he seconded the nomination of John Robinson (1705–1766) for Speaker, and during that session he took the lead in attempting to tighten enforcement of the duty on the importation of slaves, served on a committee that examined the treasurer's accounts, and also sat on a committee appointed to draft a bill to secure titles to land grants issued by the proprietors of the Northern Neck.

Lieutenant Governor William Gooch recommended Carter for the governor's Council late in 1742, but another man received the appointment. Throughout his career in the assembly Carter usually served on committees appointed to frame petitions to the Crown or to draft bills and major state papers on such topics as finance. In the October 1748 assembly session Carter succeeded Edwin Conway, who had temporarily retired from the House, as Robinson's right-hand man. Carter chaired the Committee of Propositions and Grievances and routinely presided during debate in the committee of the whole, which allowed Robinson to exercise his power effectively without fear of adverse rulings from the chair. Until his death, Carter remained, next to the Speaker, the most influential member of the House of Burgesses, even as the next generation of legislators, such as Richard Bland and Peyton Randolph (d. 1775), emerged early in the 1760s. Along with Robinson, Randolph, his kinsman Carter Burwell, and his brother Landon Carter, he was appointed in 1756 as one of the directors to oversee the colony's financing of troops to protect the Virginia frontier during the Seven Years' War.

Advocate for Economic Diversification

While his father was an agent for the Fairfax family, Carter received grants for large amounts of land in the Piedmont counties of the Northern Neck Proprietary, and he subsequently inherited large tracts from his father. Carter spent much of his life improving his huge landholdings and seeking to diversify the productions of his plantations. He constructed flour mills that served a wide community and grew a variety of crops for market. Carter and his brothers developed a copper mine, he owned equipment for a large distillery and for processing nut oils, and he built a bakery that produced ship biscuits for the maritime market. About 1746 he began construction of the great, seven-bay house at Cleve.

Carter was equally committed to the diversification of the colony's economy and the development of the Piedmont and the backcountry. He worked in the 1750s with other colonial gentlemen to obtain grants to large tracts of land in the West, and in 1754 he persuaded George Washington to survey the Potomac River above the falls in pursuit of their mutual interest in opening the upper regions of that river to navigation.

In 1759 Carter sponsored a bill to create a committee to encourage economic diversification in Virginia and award "bounties or premiums for the more speedy and effectual bringing to perfection any art or manufacture of service to the public." As committee chair, he initiated an extended correspondence with the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, in London. Carter shared the results of his experiments and the trials other planters made with a variety of raw goods and manufactures, ranging from hemp and salted fish to naval stores and viticulture. The society awarded him a medal in 1763 for his attempt to produce wine in Virginia. Carter hoped to improve the colony's economy and the profitability of its plantations by fostering new exports to replace tobacco, which he feared would saturate the European market. Carter was one of the pioneers in transforming the plantation economy of northern Virginia from tobacco production to grains and other commodities.

Later Years

When Carter wrote his will in 1762 he sought to extend his vision of economic improvement under the direction of a secure class of planter families. He instructed his executors to implement his full plan of agricultural reform at Cleve, and he granted a favored slave, Benjamin Boyd, a continued role in the maintenance of the estate's manufactures, as well as an annual income. Carter made substantial provision for all of his children, daughters as well as sons, and younger sons as well as his firstborn, and he ordered that his younger sons study law in London in order to prepare themselves for their varied business affairs in the colony. Carter used his will as an attempt to instill in his family a code of behavior that shunned material ostentation and emphasized genteel manners. Carter died at his home in King George County on April 26, 1764, of "a dropsey" that may have been induced by the use of narcotics to relieve pain or reduce fever. He was buried probably on his estate at Cleve.

Time Line

  • ca. 1707 - Charles Carter is born to Robert "King" Carter and Elizabeth Landon Willis Carter.
  • 1724 - Charles Carter returns to Virginia after receiving his education in England. He moves to one of his father's estates near Urbanna, in Middlesex County.
  • ca. 1728 - Charles Carter marries Mary Walker, of Yorktown. They will have three daughters and two sons.
  • November 1, 1729 - The governor appoints Charles Carter naval officer, or customs official, for the Rappahannock District.
  • April 29, 1730 - Charles Carter is named a justice of the peace for Middlesex County.
  • 1732 - After the death of his father, Robert "King" Carter, Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) inherits Stanstead plantation in King George County, and moves there.
  • September 1734 - Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) stands for election to the House of Burgesses from King George County, loses, and unsuccessfully challenges the result.
  • 1736 - Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) is elected to the House of Burgesses from King George County. His victory is contested on the ground that Carter had offered life leases to one or more men to make them qualified to vote, but the challenge is dismissed.
  • December 25, 1742 - Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) marries Anne Byrd, the daughter of William Byrd II. They will have six daughters and two sons.
  • ca. 1746 - Construction begins on the seven-bay house at Cleve, Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764)'s plantation in King George County.
  • 1756 - Carter Burwell, Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764), Landon Carter, Peyton Randolph, and John Robinson are appointed as directors to oversee the colony's financing of troops to protect the Virginia frontier during the Seven Years' War.
  • September 11, 1757 - Anne Byrd Carter, the wife of Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764), dies.
  • 1759 - Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) sponsors a bill to create a committee to encourage economic diversification in Virginia and award "bounties or premiums for the more speedy and effectual bringing to perfection any art of manufacture of service to the public."
  • 1762 - Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) writes his will and instructs his executors to implement a full plan of agricultural reform at his plantation, Cleve.
  • June 9, 1763 - Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) marries Lucy Taliaferro. They will have one daughter.
  • April 26, 1764 - Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764) dies of "a dropsey" at his home in King George County. He is buried probably on his estate at Cleve.
  • Categories
Further Reading
Evans, Emory G. A "Topping People": The Rise and Decline of Virginia's Old Political Elite. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.
Greene, Jack P. The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall, 1752–1778. Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1987.
Hilldrup, Robert Leroy. "A Campaign to Promote the Prosperity of Colonial Virginia." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 67, no. 4 (October 1959): 410–428.
Isaac, Rhys. Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Kolp, John Gilman. Gentlemen and Freeholders: Electoral Politics in Colonial Virginia. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Ragsdale, Bruce A. "Carter, Charles (ca. 1707–26 April 1764)." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 55–57. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Walsh, Lorena S. Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607–1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2010.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Ragsdale, B. A., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764). (2013, November 6). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Carter_Charles_ca_1707-1764.

  • MLA Citation:

    Ragsdale, Bruce A. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Charles Carter (ca. 1707–1764)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 6 Nov. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 17, 2013 | Last modified: November 6, 2013


Contributed by Bruce A. Ragsdale and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography