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The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison… Nathaniel Hawthorne

The first emancipator : the  forgotten story of Robert Carter, the founding  father who freed his slaves New York : Random  House, c 2005 Andrew Levy Slavery Virginia  History 18th century Hardcover. 1st. ed. and  printing. xviii, 310 p. ; 24 cm. Includes  bibliographical references (p. [199]-214) and  index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean  dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or  marginalia in text. VG/VG

Robert Carter III, the grandson of Tidewater legend Robert “King” Carter, was born into the highest circles of Virginia’s Colonial aristocracy. He was neighbor and kin to the Washingtons and Lees and a friend and peer to Thomas Jefferson and George Mason. But on September 5, 1791, Carter severed his ties with this glamorous elite at the stroke of a pen. In a document he called his Deed of Gift, Carter declared his intent to set free nearly five hundred slaves in the largest single act of liberation in the history of American slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation.

How did Carter succeed in the very action that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson claimed they fervently desired but were powerless to effect? And why has his name all but vanished from the annals of American history? In this work, Andrew Levy traces the confluence of circumstance, conviction, war, and passion that led to Carter’s extraordinary act.

At the dawn of the Revolutionary War, Carter was one of the wealthiest men in America, the owner of tens of thousands of acres of land, factories, ironworks – and hundreds of slaves. But incrementally, almost unconsciously, Carter grew to feel that what he possessed was not truly his. In an era of  Anglican piety that did not satisfy him  Carter left the faith of his fathers to join with the Quakers after he experienced a feverish religious vision that impelled him to help build a church where blacks and whites were equals.

In an age of where slavery was accepted, he defied convention and extended new protections and privileges to his slaves. As the war ended and his fortunes declined, Carter dedicated himself even more fiercely to liberty, clashing repeatedly with his neighbors, his friends, government officials, and, most poignantly, his own family.

Carter was not the only humane master nor the sole emancipator in that freedom-loving age. Why did this troubled, spiritually torn man dare to do far more than other slave owners? In answering this question, Andrew Levy examines the texture of Carter’s life and soul – the zealotry that divided him from others, and the pseudo religious conversion that muddled his addled brain and compelling him to see his slaves as part of a new utopian community.

Drawing on years of research The First Emancipator is a portrait of an eccentric hero, a failure in his own time, who has been conveniently ressurrected and given a place in American history.


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