Sunday, August 3, 2014

Visiting Oatlands Plantation...and the Carters

We were not able to travel far this summer, but that did not stop us from visiting historical spots in our backyard. Earlier this summer we drove to a nearby plantation that has greatly intrigued me. Every time we've driven past the plantation in the last few years, the tree lined drive beckoned me to the hidden mansion and the stories it had to tell. Over the years I've collected surprising twists and turns to the story, bit by bit, which has built an intricate web of fascination.


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Little did I realize it told the story of someone I knew quite well...actually I knew the parents of the son who built this plantation. George Carter I built this home with a blend of architectural styles in the early 19th century.

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George Carter I's father was the famed Robert Carter III who lived at Nomini Hall on the Great Neck in the 18th century, and when he served on the Governor's Council, he lived in the long house with the porch (my favorite) in Williamsburg next to the Governor's Palace. His wife was Francis Tasker Carter whom I portrayed in a history presentation, and was prepared to interpret if called upon when I attended a first person interpretation workshop a few years ago.  Robert Carter III inherited great wealth from his even more famous grandfather, Robert "King" Carter who helped to settle Virginia in the 17th century.

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The Carter story is huge! One of the Carter descendants was even bed ridden when the First Battle of Manassas descended upon her house. She died from a stray bullet. We learned about her when we visited Manassas Battlefield even earlier this summer.

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One of these days I will blog the Carter story. It is fascinating!  Meanwhile a great book to read is The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father who Freed His Slaves by Andrew Levy.

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In short, Robert Carter III inherited great wealth from his grandfather, King Carter, when he was a young boy. Being part of a wealthy family he was sent to England to further his education, where he squandered his opportunity. One of the most important things for an 18th century gentleman was to be well-educated, yet Carter did not complete his studies. He was not well-read. He was not articulate. He was snubbed in Virginia society so he found his wife in Maryland and later gained a position in Virginia government through the influence of his Maryland in-laws. Instead of being elected by the people to be a burgess (like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and many others) he was appointed to the Governor's Council.

George Washington was also expected to attend school in England like his older brother did, However when he was young his father died and the family did not have the money to send him to England. Washington learned the trade of surveying, fought in the French and Indian War, served as Burgess, was commander in chief of the Continental Army, led the Constitutional Convention, then became first president of the United States. In between and during all of that, Washington made great use of his time by reading books! In fact last winter we visited Mount Vernon to see the special exhibit of his books. Education was highly respected in Virginia society and Washington was well-read even though he did not get to further his education formally. It was the same for Benjamin Franklin, who also was well-read even though he worked at the trade of printing...inventing, writing, ambassadorships, Declaration of Independence, Constitutiional Convention.

Robert Carter III's wife however was quite well-read, which was unusual for Virginian ladies, but then she was from Maryland.  Robert Carter III learned from his mistakes so he  made certain that his children had a most proper education. He built an extensive library and hired a tutor named Philip Vickers Fithian, whose journal accounts today shed much light on Virginia society and the Carter family. I had used the journal, in fact, to build my Francis Tasker Carter interpretation. (When the boys were older they attended college.)

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Carter's claim to fame then was that he freed all of his slaves in his lifetime. I had hoped to see an interpretation of this last weekend on the Great Neck of Virginia, but that unfortunately did not work out for us. Anyway his son, George Carter I who built Oatlands, helped his father to free the slaves. However George Carter I bought slaves of his own to run this plantation.

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George Carter I and his family are buried here.
Interestingly the plantation was part of the Underground Railroad.

More from Oatlands blog.

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Not far from here lived President James Monroe, at his plantation called Oak Hill. This continues to be a private home today, which greatly disappointed my son because its history features a bit prominently in his life. 

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