In 1791, 72 years before President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Robert Carter III, grandson of Robert “King” Carter and a wealthy Virginia planter, set his slaves free.
The Foundation for Historic Christ Church, the Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society, and Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library are co-sponsoring a commemoration of Robert Carter III’s Deed of Manumission on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Historic Christ Church in Weems. The event will bring together three speakers and Lively’s Church of Deliverance choir in an annual event to celebrate the lives of those set free.
Colonial Williamsburg’s James Ingram will re-enact Gowan Pamphlet, a slave who became a Baptist preacher and served as pastor of Williamsburg’s first Baptist church in the early 1800s. Ingram will tell the story of how Pamphlet grew his slave congregation to number about 500 and eventually was both freed by his owner and welcomed into the Dover Baptist Association.
Speaker Thomas Duckenfield, III, Esq., a descendant of two families manumitted by Robert Carter III, will share his family’s story and discuss the consequences of Carter’s bold act. Duckenfield is a Washington-area attorney who represents minority clients on matters of corporate diversity and, as CEO of Diversity Spectrum, provides diversity-focused news, information, and intelligence to diversity professionals and the public.
Melvin Patrick Ely, Ph.D., a professor at the College of William & Mary and the author of Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War, will discuss why so few Virginia planters, many of whom developed strong feelings against slavery in the years following the Revolution, actually acted on their beliefs and freed their slaves. Dr. Ely will also address the kind of life freed Afro-Virginians carved out in a society so deeply rooted in slaveholding.
The choir of the Church of Deliverance in Lively will perform at the commemoration. There will be also displays and demonstrations of research tools and resources for people to search for family roots in Virginia. The Mary Ball Washington Museum will showcase its Lancaster County Estate Records 1835-1865
Database, which contains information on county residents — enslaved and free — from wills, estate inventories and other court records. Researcher LaTonya Lawson will also be on hand to share her Nomini Hall Slave Legacy Project (www.nominihallslavelegacy.com), which chronicles the descendants of the more than 500 slaves that were freed by Robert Carter III from his Nomini Hall estate.
Persons who can document or may believe they have connections to these descendants are encouraged to attend and review Ms. Lawson’s records. Finally, visitors will be able to tour Historic Christ Church’s research room and see extensive collections on people who lived and worked in Christ Church Parish in the early eighteenth century.
These records are part of a volunteer research project that identified landholders and landholdings in the parish ca. 1720-1750 and profiled the different types of people—indentured, enslaved, free, women, children and others—who made up Christ Church Parish.