Robert Carter

Robert Carter

(1663-1732)

“Here lies Robin, but not Robin Hood/Here lies Robin, that never was good/Here lies Robin that God has forsaken/ Here lies Robin the Devil has taken.

Like many powerful colonial leaders, Robert Carter was buried under a large tombstone with flattering phrases carved upon it. However, someone with a less favorable view of the man who had been “King” in Virginia chalked the above lines on Carter’s headstone.

Carter was born in Lancaster County, Virginia. His father was a Royalist who had fled from England after the Civil War there, and then accumulated a good deal of property in Virginia. When Robert’s father and then his older brother died, he was left to carry on the family name in Virginia.

Carter was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1 69 1 . He served there through most of the decade, and was twice chosen as speaker of the House. In 1699, he was named to the Governor’s Council, and later served as its president.

Already a man of wealth and influence, Carter benefited to an extraordinary degree from his next appointment. The Fairfax family—proprietors of the Northern Neck, the peninsula bounded by Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers— named him as their agent. Carter flourished in this position. While he did not hold any title of nobility, he began to act as if he was royalty.

He built up his estate to an extraordinary degree. At the time of his death he left more than 300,000 acres of land, 1,000 slaves, and 10,000 pounds sterling. It was a remarkable achievement in a land where paper currency and buying on credit was standard for most of the tobacco farmers. Carter was both the biggest merchant and the biggest tobacco planter of his day.

Carter was a friend and benefactor of the College of William and Mary. At his own expense, he had Christ Church built in Lancaster County. One-fourth of the building was reserved for the use of him, his family, his tenants, and slaves.

Carter married twice. His first wife, Judith Armistead, died in 1699; his second wife, Elizabeth Landon, died in 1710. His children and grandchildren married into the other first families of Virginia, and two Presidents, one United States Chief Justice, six governors of Virginia, and General Robert E. Lee were among his many descendants.