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Robert Carter

Member From: 1691 - 1699

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  • Birth Date: 1662 or 1663 Birth Place:
  • Death Date: August 4, 1732
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
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  • Bio: ROBERT ("KING") CARTER was Speaker of the House of Burgesses at the assemblies of 1696-1697 and 1699. He had represented Lancaster County in the House of Burgesses from 1691 to 1699 except during the two assemblies in 1693. Governor Nicholson appointed him to the Council in 1699. Thirty years earlier most of the family estate had passed to his elder brother,John Carter,Jr., but, upon his death in 1690, the entire estate had come to Speaker Carter. He had studied for six years in England with "old Mr. Baily" and read law in the family library, and throughout his life he sustained a serious interest in education for his children. Elected to the House of Burgesses in April 1691, Carter was active in matters related to the establishment of the College of William and Mary.
    Speaker Carter was absent from both assemblies in 1693, but was returned to the House of Burgesses in April 1695. He probably was nominated for Speaker at that session, for he led the committee of burgesses that informed Governor Andros that the House had chosen Philip Ludwell, Sr., for the chair. On 20 April Carter was appointed chairman of the committee on propositions and grievances, and at the next day's meeting he presided over the committee of the whole House.
    In September 1696 Carter was elected Speaker over five other nominees. After taking the chair he "made a Speech to disable himselfe, but being generally approved, he assured the house of his uttmost Endeavours, ability and integrity in the discharge of that weighty trust.'' This custom of the disabling speech, in which a newly elected Speaker made excuses and declared himself unworthy of the office, was borrowed from the House of Commons where it once had had real significance. In 1728 Arthur Onslow abandoned the custom upon his election as Speaker of the House of Commons. The next newly elected Speaker in Virginia, Sir John Randolph, followed suit in 1734.
    The burgesses again nominated five candidates for Speaker in 1698, and this time the House was unable to reach a decision until the second day. Carter, surely one of the unsuccessful nominees, again led the committee of burgesses who informed the governor that they had elected William Randolph I, who had made the standard disabling speech. This pattern recurred in April 1699. The House met on the twenty-eighth. Five men were nominated but the race quickly narrowed to a deadlock between two rivals. When the burgesses were unable to complete the election after two additional meetings, they adjourned until "a Fuller house" was present. Finally on Tuesday, 2 May, the tie was broken by the arrival of some tardy burgesses, and Carter was elected. According to the journal, immediately after he had taken the chair he rose to make the customary speech, which began, "Seeing my Excuses have not been Effectuall." Had Carter's unnamed rival, probably Philip Ludwell, Sr., won the election he would have said virtually the same thing.
    In 1699 the House of Burgesses resolved that ''Mr. Robert Carter be appointed Treasurer,'' an office that became closely associated with the Speakership during the eighteenth century, but which Carter held until 1705 even though on 14 December 1699 the Privy Council approved his appointment as a member of the Council. Speaker Carter and Governor Nicholson, who had secured his appointment to the Council, got along rather well until they found themselves on opposing sides of the quarrel between governor and Council over land policy. Nicholson promoted the Board of Trade's program of granting land only for settlement, rather than continuing the headright system, and wanted to enforce the collection of quitrents.
    Carter was given particular reason to oppose the Board of Trade's program in 1702 when he became agent for the Northern Neck Proprietary. The office opened new vistas for land speculation and quickly brought him into conflict with the governor. By 1705, over this and other issues, Carter and the other councillors had had Nicholson recalled. During his first term as agent, from 1702 to 1711, Carter acquired about 20,000 acres of land and received about £300 annually in salary and fees. His second tenure, from 1722 to 1732, was equally profitable, for at his death the Carter family held title to some 180,000 acres amassed while King Carter was agent. An English periodical described Carter's total estate as "about 300,000 acres of land, about 1000 negroes, and £10,000 in money." This expansive domain was a speculative venture only in part: from his home at Corotoman near the mouth of the Rappahannock River, King Carter managed the operation of fifty working plantations.
    Carter was president of the Council when Lieutenant Governor Hugh Drysdale returned to England in 1726. On 23 July 1726, he received word of Drysdale's death and became acting governor until the arrival of Lieutenant Governor William Gooch on 11 September 1727. Carter continued on the Council until his death on 4 August 1732, although ill health often kept him from attending its meetings. He was buried at Christ Church, Lancaster County, near the handsome sanctuary built through his patronage.
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Speaker of the House of Burgesses: 1696-97 & 1699
    Member of the Council of State: 1699 - 1732 
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1691-1692 Lancaster
1695-1696 Lancaster Propositions and Grievances (Chair)
1696-1697 Lancaster Speaker of the House
1698 Lancaster Propositions and Grievances
1699 Lancaster Speaker of the House

*The information within this interactive and searchable application has been researched extensively by the House Clerk’s Office. As with any historical records of this age and breadth, there may be discrepancies and/or inconsistencies within records obtained from a variety of credible sources. Any feedback is encouraged at history@house.virginia.gov.

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