It’s almost Fourth of July weekend. In 1776 as the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia and the Revolution began, Oatlands was known as “Leo” and was one of Robert “Councillor” Carter’s plantations. It was an “absentee” plantation, farmed by a combination of tenant farmers and slaves under an overseer. Six miles north, in Leesburg, later in the summer of 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read on the Courthouse steps.
George Carter, who would build Oatlands’ mansion in 1804 and run it as a successful wheat plantation, was born in 1777. He was the fifteenth child of Robert “Councillor” Carter and his wife Frances Anne Tasker Carter. Robert Carter was troubled by the institution of slavery. He sent young George and his older brother John to a school in Rhode Island when George was only 9 years old, removing them from daily exposure to slave holding in Virginia. By 1791, when George was 14, Robert Carter began the process of manumitting more than 500 slaves. This was not a popular thing to do in Virginia in the 1790s and his actions did not endear him to his neighbors. Robert Carter lived out his life in Baltimore and died in 1804.
George Carter was the executor of his father’s will. Despite his father’s strong views, he attempted to contest the will and halt the manumission process. The will was upheld and George completed the manumission plan in 1812. In the meantime, however, George himself was acquiring slaves to run his plantation in Loudoun County, which he had renamed Oatlands. Freedom was not for everyone in the early 1800s.