Historical re-enactors to perform at emancipation commemoration
, 2015

Historical re-enactors to perform
at emancipation commemoration

The public is invited to Christ Church in Weems at 10 a.m. September 6 to commemorate Robert Carter III’s 1791 Deed of Emancipation and honor the lives of those families and their descendants set free by this remarkable act.

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Historical re-enactor James Ingram will portray 18th-century Baptist preacher Gowan Pamphlet at Historic Christ Church on September 6.

In September 1791, Robert Carter III of Nomini Hall in Westmoreland County issued a deed of emancipation to free more than 450 slaves, said Foundation for Historic Christ Church education director and curator Robert J. Teagle. This was the largest single act of slave manumission in American history prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln issued more than 70 years later in 1863.

The commemoration will include presentations by professional living history interpreters Gerry Underdown and James Ingram. Underdown will portray Robert Carter III. Ingram will portray Gowan Pamphlet, a former slave who became a Baptist preacher and founded Williamsburg’s first black Baptist church.

Pamphlet and Carter III will discuss slavery, freedom and other important issues in late 18th-century Virginia. In addition, the Sharon Baptist Church Youth Choir will perform a number of songs, and Northern Neck resident Regina Baylor will share her experiences as a descendant of one of the families manumitted by Carter’s act.

The event is sponsored by the Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society, the Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library and the Foundation for Historic Christ Church. The Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts provided a generous grant to support the historical re-enactors and youth choir. Admission is free. Donations are requested to help cover additional event costs.

According to Karen Hart, Executive Director of the Mary Ball Washington Museum and Library, Robert Carter III of Nomini Hall in Westmoreland County was born into the highest circles of Virginia’s colonial aristocracy. He was the grandson of Robert “King” Carter and one of the wealthiest men in America in the Revolutionary era, owning tens of thousands of acres of land, factories, ironworks and hundreds of slaves.

Yet in 1791, at a time when the nation’s leaders were debating the contradiction of slavery in a newly independent nation, Carter undertook a remarkable act to free his slaves, said Hart.

On September 5, 1791, Carter filed a Deed of Emancipation in the Northumberland District Court that listed the names, sex, ages and residences of his 453 slaves. Carter explained that he had “for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principals of Religion & justice, & that therefore it was my duty to manumit them.”

He devised a plan for gradual emancipation that continued after his death in 1804 and eventually freed more than 500 individuals. The freed slaves were offered paid positions on the plantation, tenant farm opportunities, or options to leave the area.

A number of descendants of these families have attended previous years’ commemoration of this event, and the sponsoring organizations hope for an even greater turnout this year, said Teagle.

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