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In her debut novel, Never Pleasing to the World: A Man and His Slaves, author Peggy Patterson Garland creates a fictionalized biography of Revolutionary War-era abolitionist Robert Carter III.
Carter was born in 1728 and was a member of Virginia’s Council of State from 1758 to 1776. The novel follows him from early childhood to late adulthood, and gives a voice to this forgotten hero who made his mark on history by freeing nearly 500 slaves 74 years before the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect.
Garland draws from real events to provide a better understanding of Carter’s contentious beliefs and enigmatic persona. Carter’s stepfather rejected him, denying him a formal education and causing him to rely on his uncles for support and slaves for companionship. Carter is seen to have close relationships with numerous slaves throughout the book, seeking to treat them justly and hesitating to use physical punishment.
“First and foremost, I wrote this book because I wanted to give credit to Robert Carter III who deserves to be recognized for rebelling against the social norm and using his privilege and power to help slaves gain their freedom,” Patterson said. “I also sought to increase the understanding of the complex relationships between slaves and their masters and give insight into the abilities and family lives of slaves.”
The Real Robert Carter III
Carter was born in a plantation in Virginia. His father died before his grandfather, and it was necessary to obtain a government order to inherit his father’s portion of his grandfather’s estate. According to the order, he would inherit more than 65,000 acres of land and several hundred slaves on his 21st birthday.
As a young man, Carter studied law in England before returning to Virginia and eventually entering politics. In 1776, Virginia’s Council of State ceased to exist, and Carter swore loyalty to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Revolutionary War took its toll financial on Carter, and he was unsuccessful running for a seat in the Virginia Convention of 1788.
In 1777, Carter converted from the Church of England to the Morattico Baptist Church and later to the Church of the New Jerusalem. This religious conversion eventually caused Carter to question the institution of slavery. A decade and a half after his conversion, Carter issued emancipation orders for more than 500 slaves.
Carter married Frances Tasker in 1754 and they had 17 children, 12 of which survived into adulthood. He died in 1804. His wife died in 1787.
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