Robert Carter I
Portrait at Shirley Plantation, before 1726
Royal Governor of Virginia
In office
Preceded byHugh Drysdale
Succeeded bySir William Gooch
25th Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses
In office
Preceded byPhilip Ludwell
Succeeded byWilliam Randolph
In office
Preceded byWilliam Randolph
Succeeded byPeter Beverley
Personal details
Bornc. 1664
Corotoman Plantation, Lancaster County, Virginia, British America
Died( 1732 -08-04)4 August 1732 (aged 69)
Lancaster County, Virginia, British America
Spouse(s)Judith Armistead
Elizabeth Landon Willis
Children15, including Landon Carter, Charles Carter (of Cleve)

Colonel Robert Carter I (c. 1664 – 4 August 1732) was a planter, merchant, and government official and administrator who served as Acting Governor of Virginia, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and President of the Virginia Governor’s Council. An agent for the Northern Neck Proprietary, Carter emerged as the wealthiest Virginia colonist and received the sobriquet “King” from his contemporaries connoting his autocratic approach and political influence.[1] Involved in the founding of the College of William and Mary, he acquired at least 300,000 acres and engaged one thousand enslaved laborers on fifty plantations.[2] Carter was the largest land owner in Virginia.[citation needed]

Born around 1664 at Corotoman in Lancaster County, Carter received a classical education and studied the tobacco trade in London under Arthur Bailey.[3] He returned to Corotoman between 1678 and 1679 and inherited the plantation when his elder half-brother, John Carter Jr., died in 1690. He married Judith Armistead of Hesse in 1688. Following her death in 1699, Carter married widow Elizabeth Landon in 1701.

Elected a burgess in 1691, Carter represented the electoral constituency of Lancaster County consecutively during the 1695 to 1699 assemblies and served as Speaker from 1696 to 1697 and in 1699. After an appointment as militia commander of Lancaster and Northumberland counties and naval officer in 1699, he served as Treasurer of Virginia from 1699 to 1705. Appointed to the Governor’s Council by Francis Nicholson in 1699, Carter opposed Nicholson’s policies in 1704 and indirectly influenced the governor’s removal in 1705.

Carter was appointed agent of the Northern Neck Proprietary in 1702 though lost the lease to his political opponent, Edmund Jenings, in 1711.[4] He regained the proprietary in 1722 and was involved in the dismissal of Alexander Spotswood. In 1726, he was designated President of the Governor’s Council and appointed Acting Governor when his predecessor, Hugh Drysdale, died in office, and he was succeeded by William Gooch in 1727.[5] Afflicted with gout in later life, Carter died on August 4, 1732, at Corotoman and was buried at Christ Church in Lancaster County.

Early life and education

Robert Carter I was born around 1664 at Corotoman in Lancaster County, Virginia.[1] Carter’s father was John Carter Sr., a merchant, councillor, and burgess who emigrated from London to Virginia in 1635 and settled in Upper Norfolk County by 1640.[6] His mother was Sarah Ludlow Carter, John Carter’s fourth wife, who died in 1668.[7] His father died the following year, bequeathing most of his landholdings to Carter’s elder-half brother, John Carter Jr., under primogeniture.[8] Carter inherited one thousand acres in Lancaster County, one-third of his personal estate, and several of his father’s theology books.[3]

Carter’s father arranged provisions for a formal education and noted his second son should study Latin with guidance from a private tutor.[6] John Carter Jr. adhered to his father’s instructions and sent his younger half-brother to London about 1673. Placed under the direction of Arthur Bailey, a tobacco merchant and John Carter Sr.’s agent, he received a religious and classical education, gained awareness of the tobacco trade from Bailey, and observed architectural advancements in London engendered by the Great Fire in 1666.[3]

After living in London for six years, Carter returned to Virginia between 1678 and 1679 and resided at Corotoman with John Carter Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth Travers Carter.[8][3] When his elder half-brother died in 1690, he inherited his landholdings, managed his niece’s properties, and obtained a portion from a younger half-brother. On June 10, 1690, he became justice of the peace for Lancaster County, and on November 8, 1690, he was elected as a vestryman for Christ Church Parish.[1] He engaged as churchwarden about 1691, a capacity he would occupy until his death.[8] In 1688, he married Judith Armistead of Hesse, the daughter of planter and councillor John Armistead, then in Gloucester County and currently in Mathews County.[9][10] They had five children, three of whom survived infancy, including John. Following her death in 1699, Carter married the widow Elizabeth Landon Willis, the daughter of Thomas Landon, in 1701.[11] They had five daughters and five sons, seven of whom reached adulthood.[12]

Nomini Hall, Carter family plantation in Westmoreland County. Built in 1730 by Robert Carter II on land purchased by Robert Carter I and main residence for Robert Carter III


At age 28, shortly after his elder half-brother died Robert Carter entered the General Assembly of Virginia as a Burgess representing Lancaster County. He would serve part-time in 1690–1691, and then for five consecutive years (1695 through 1699) before being promoted (by the British Privy Council on the recommendation of Governor Francis Nicholson) to the Governor's Council (also the higher chamber of the Virginia General Assembly). While in the House of Burgesses, Carter served on two important committees (for Elections and Privileges and for Examination of Propositions and Grievances). In the session which began in September 1696, Carter defeated four other burgesses for the position of Speaker, and also served as Speaker for the October 1687 session, but was not re-elected in a five-candidate field in September 1698. However, the House of Burgesses appointed him as the colony's treasurer, thus giving him responsibility of monies raised by assembly-levied taxes in the colony, and assembly-mandated spending. Meanwhile, Carter also became a vestryman of Lancaster County's Christ Church Parish in 1690, and the following year became one of the justices of the peace for Lancaster County (the justices jointly in that era also administering the county, with social services provided by the vestry). He would also command the militias of Lancaster and adjacent Northumberland Counties, and secured appointment as the naval officer of the Rappahannock River region (which secured customs duties).[1]

Ultimately, Carter would become as influential a member of the Governor's Council as he had been in the colony's legislature. He was among the majority of Councillors who opposed Nicholson in 1704, which led indirectly to that governor's dismissal. A decade later, in the controversy between resident Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood and the great planters, Carter sided with his fellow planters opposing Spotswood. After the death of Governor Hugh Drysdale in 1726, as the council's President (by seniority after the death of Edmund Jenings and despite his own poor health), Carter served as acting Governor of Virginia until Lieutenant Governor William Gooch took office on 11 September 1727. Carter continued to attend Council meetings until the General Assembly adjourned on 1 July 1732, five weeks until his death.[1] Meanwhile, much of Carter's land acquisition was as the Virginia resident land agent of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron – known simply as Lord Fairfax. Carter served two terms totaling nearly 20 years, as agent for the Fairfax Proprietary of the Northern Neck of Virginia, essentially the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers westward to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beginning in his first term, 1702–1711, Carter had his surveyors find the best land, which he patented in his own names as well as in the names of his children, first in the drainage of Rappahannock River, and later the area drained by the Potomac River. Carter in 1709 purchased some 20,000 acres (81 km2), including the 6,000-acre (24 km2) Nomini Hall Plantation, also spelled "Nomoni" or "Nominy," from the heirs of Col. Nicholas Spencer.[13] The latter was a cousin of the Lords Culpeper, from whom the Fairfaxes had inherited their Virginia holdings.[14] When Carter became agent for Fairfax's interests again in 1722 (holding that position for a decade, until 1732), in addition to forwarding land rents back to Lord Fairfax, he secured for his children and grandchildren about 110,000 acres (450 km2) in the Northern Neck, as well as additional land in Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.{citation needed} Thus, when Carter died, he held at least 295,000 acres (1,190 km2)[1] Much of the land was divided into farms and cultivated using enslaved labor and overseers. Tobacco was the primary cash crop, but the farms also produced beans, corn and wheat, as well as cattle and hogs for domestic consumption. Other enterprises in which Carter engaged included sloops and flatboats, and he also acted as agent for slave traders.[1] Carter built a large house at Corotoman in 1725, then saw it burn four years later, but did not rebuild it before he died a four years later. He also suffered from gout.[1]


Carter died on 4 August 1732, in Lancaster County, Virginia. He was buried there at Christ Church. He left his family 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) of land; 3,000 slaves, counted as personal property; and £10,000 in cash, as stated in the academic genealogical study, A Genealogy of the Known Descendants of Robert Carter of Corotoman (1982), written by Florence Tyler Carlton. [page needed] Some of the papers of his family held by the University of Virginia Library are available in digital form.[15]

When Lord Fairfax saw Carter's obituary in the London monthly The Gentleman's Magazine, he was astonished to read of the immense personal wealth acquired by his resident land agent. Rather than name another Virginian to the position, Fairfax made arrangements to have his cousin, Colonel William Fairfax, move to Virginia to act as land agent, with the paid position of customs inspector (tax collector) for the Potomac River district. Fairfax himself then visited his vast Northern Neck Proprietary from 1735 to 1737, and he moved there permanently in 1747.

Family and descendants

Carter endowed each of his sons who reached marriageable age in his lifetime with significant plantations. Robert Carter II, whom his father called "Robin," would die of a sudden illness months before his father, but his Nomini Hall plantation was inherited by his son, Robert Carter III (1728-1804), who like his grandfather served on the Governor's Council. Charles Carter (1707-1764) would exchange the land he had inherited for other property and built Cleve Hall in King George County, which he represented for many years in the House of Burgesses. Landon Carter received Sabine Hall from his father and represented Richmond County in the House of Burgesses, as well as (in 1742) inherited some of property from his elder half brother John, and served as guardian for those underage nephews Charles Hill Carter, Edward Hill Carter and Robert Carter Nicholas, all of whom would later serve in the Virginia General Assembly.[1][16] Another brother, George Carter, remained in England, where he practiced law but did not marry (nor take possession of his Virginia inheritance). Carter had five children with his first wife, Judith Armistead:[17][18]

Carter had ten children with his second wife, Betty Landon Willis (1684-1719), of whom seven reached adulthood:

Other notable descendants include:

Notable relatives:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Berkeley, Edmund (2006). Robert Carter (ca. 1664-4August 1732). Vol. 3. p. 84. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help) also available at
  2. ^ "House History". 2023. Retrieved 23 July 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d Mesrobian, Jamie Elizabeth (1 January 2009). "An Analysis of Primary Resources Used as Tools for Discovery and Research at Archaeological Sites: Nomini Hall Case Study". Theses, Dissertations & Honors Papers: 4–5.
  4. ^ Knight, Thomas Daniel (2021). "Edmund Jenings (1659–1727)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 24 July 2023.
  5. ^ Brock, Robert Alonzo (1888). Virginia and Virginians, Vol. I, p. 40. Richmond and Toledo: H.H. Hardesty.
  6. ^ a b Brown, Katharine (1986). Robert "King" Carter: Builder of Christ Church. Foundation for Historic Christ Church, Inc. pp. 1–4.
  7. ^ Bradley, Richard C. (13 September 2018). "327 Years Ago in 1691..." Jamestowne Society. Retrieved 24 July 2023.
  8. ^ a b c Berkeley, Edmund (10 November 2015). "The Diary, Correspondence, and Papers of Robert 'King' Carter of Virginia, 1701-1732". Retrieved 24 July 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Foundation for Historic Christ Church. "History: Robert "King" Carter of Corotoman (1663-1732)". Historic Christ Church. Lancaster County, Virginia. Archived from the original on 17 October 2003. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
  10. ^ Garber, Virginia Armistead (1910). The Armistead Family, 1635-1910. New York Public Library. Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson.
  11. ^ "Robert "King" Carter (1663-1732) - HouseHistree". Retrieved 26 July 2023.
  12. ^ Jett p. 63
  13. ^ "Nomony Hall – Encyclopedia Virginia".
  14. ^ "The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography". Virginia Historical Society. 19 April 2018.
  15. ^ Diary, Correspondence, and Papers of Robert Carter at the University of Virginia Library
  16. ^ see note on talk page
  17. ^ Tyler Carlton, Florence (1982). A Genealogy of the Known Descendants of Robert Carter of Corotoman. Irvington: Foundation for Christ Church Inc. p. 3. LCCN 83081512.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Garber, Virginia Armistead (1910). "John Armistead: The Second Son of William the Immigrant". The Armistead family: 1635-1910. Richmond, Virginia: Whittet & Shepperson Printers. pp. 30–33.
  19. ^ Evans, Emory G. "John Carter (1695 or 1696–1742)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  20. ^ Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8061-3193-4. pp. 192, 236
  21. ^