The Musical Carter

Robert “Councilor” Carter III: The Musical Carter
by guest blogger and Oatlands Director of Programming and Education, Lori Kimball

Robert Carter III was the grandson of prominent and wealthy Robert “King” Carter, who owned approximately 330,000 acres in Virginia and hundreds of slaves. King Carter’s descendents inherited his vast wealth; by the time Robert III came of age, he had received 65,000 acres and over 100 enslaved people. Because of his service on the royal governor’s council in Williamsburg, he came to be called Councilor Carter. Among his properties was a large white house on the green next to the Governor’s Palace. It is still standing, although no longer open for tours at Colonial Williamsburg.

Like other prosperous gentlemen of his time, Councilor had the time and wealth to pursue his interests in reading, music, science and philosophy. Unlike his contemporaries, his belief in the institution of slavery changed over time and in 1791 he filed a deed of emancipation that would gradually free his 500+ slaves. It was the largest private emancipation in American history. This topic will be the subject of a future newsletter article.

According to a recently published book, Changing Keys – Keyboard Instruments for America 1700-1830, Councilor was considered to be a “skilled amateur musician” and “musical theorist.” He owned and played a harpsichord, piano forte, German flute, chamber organ, guitar, and an armonica, an invention by Benjamin Franklin that consisted of a series of glass bowls played by rubbing one’s fingers along the rims. The book describes Councilor as a “true product of the Enlightenment” who “considered his piano, one of the first in the colony, to be both a musical and a scientific instrument on which to experiment as much as to play.” Carter experimented with the sounds of his instruments and created a tuning device for his piano.

While living in Williamsburg during the tenure of Governor Francis Fauquier, Councilor often performed in weekly concerts that included notables such as Thomas Jefferson, fifteen years his junior. Councilor played the harpsichord or German flute. At one point, Jefferson tried unsuccessfully to purchase Councilor’s chamber organ.

The book, The First Emancipator, states that Councilor “…played his harmonica [another name for the armonica] in public, immune to the headaches its impossibly high, beautiful tones produced in many listeners.”

What is Councilor’s connection to Oatlands? His son, George, inherited several thousand acres in Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax Counties, including part of the Goose Creek Tract. On this tract in 1804, he began construction of his house which he called Oatlands.

George inherited many of his father’s personal belongings, including a large library of Colonial-era books. He might have inherited the musical instruments, too. A May 5, 1818 advertisement in the Genius of Liberty, a Leesburg newspaper, announced lessons on the piano forte, German flute and clarinet. The ad stated: The principles of musick are imperfectly taught, in many parts of the country, for want of capable teachers. – It ought to be the wish of every lover of musick to understand it perfectly. A professor now offers to teach the fundamental rules of this science in 8 lessons so as to enable those who are taught by him, to pursue their studies by themselves, until they may attain a perfect practical knowledge of musick. Those who may choose to receive lessons upon either of the above mentioned instruments, will please to address their applications to G. Carter, Oatlands near Leesburg.

Research thus far has not determined if George was as passionate about music as his father or, successful businessman that he was, if he saw musical instruction as a business opportunity. Regardless, he offered the science and beauty of musical instruments to the Loudoun community.

For those interested in learning more about Councilor Carter’s musical interests and contributions, see the following publications: Changing Keys – Keyboard Instruments for America 1700-1830 by John R. Watson; The First Emancipator – Slavery, Religion, and the Quiet Revolution of Robert Carter by Andrew Levy (available in Oatlands’ gift shop); and John Randolph Barden’s master’s thesis, “Innocent and Necessary: Music and Dancing in the Life of Robert Carter of Nomony Hall, 1728-1804”, at the College of William and Mary.

Oatlands honors its musical heritage by incorporating, when possible, music into its programs. During last December’s candlelight tours, performers provided musical enjoyment in the Drawing Room. Country music will be the focal point of the Harvest Festival on October 20. Small performances are planned for the Drawing Room. Stay tuned (pun intended) for more information.

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Spring again…Oatlands celebrates its 47th year as a public history site

Today, Oatlands will open to the public for the 2013 season…our 47th year of being a public museum and garden.  The spring sun is bright, the birds are singing, the garden is awakening, and we are ready to welcome visitors back to Oatlands. 

Today’s event is a celebration of everything right with historic preservation and education.  We hope everyone who attends today’s event will leave with a deeper appreciation of the history of our community and the legacy of those who walked these grounds before us.

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Oatlands Ginkgo Cam – 26 November 2012

The 200 year-old Oatlands Ginkgo lost its leaves about two and a half weeks later than it did in 2011. The yellow blanket will remain for weeks as the unique, leathery foliage slowly breaks down.

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The Oatlands Ginkgo Cam – 21 November 2012

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Living Legacy Dedication at Oatlands

This morning, Oatlands reached a milestone as the pilot site for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership’s Living Legacy Project. The first of more than 400 trees have been planted, and the very first dedicated.

Attendees gather at the planting site

Attendees gather at the planting site

The Living Legacy Project seeks to honor America’s Civil War fallen with a series of tree plantings stretching over the 180 mile Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway. In time, each soldier who died will have a tree planted or dedicated in his honor. The color palette for the project is red, with plantings consisting of red maples, scarlet oaks, redbuds, and red twig dogwoods.

The tree plantings fill an important role at Oatlands, contributing to our                         stewardship of the property and a positive impact on the environment. As a National Trust Historic Site, we are committed to sustainable maintenance of this property.

Fittingly, the first tree was dedicated to honor one of the hundreds of thousands of unknown Civil War dead. It is estimated that nearly half of the 620,000 soldiers who perished on both sides are unknown.

Planting site at Oatlands for Living Legacy Project

Planting site at Oatlands for Living Legacy Project

Featured speakers included Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton, National Trust for Historic Preservation President Stephanie Meeks, Journey Through Hallowed Ground President Cate Magennis Wyatt, Oatlands Board Chair Michael J. O’Connor, and Oatlands Executive Director Andrea McGimsey. The Reverend Brown Morton gave the invocation prior to the tree dedication, and Colonel Meg Roosma of the West Point Alumni Glee Club sang Amazing Grace as the tree was dedicated. It was a solemn and moving moment.

It is seemly that the dedication took place this Thanksgiving week. In his proclamation announcing the Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln invited the nation to set aside “a day for Thanksgiving and Praise”. He asked “the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union”.

Oatlands is proud to be the pilot site for the Living Legacy Project, and proud to echo the words of President Lincoln’s proclamation.

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Oatlands Ginkgo Cam – 20 November 2012

Retaining its yellow coat into the Thanksgiving season.

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Oatlands Ginkgo Cam – 16 November 2012.

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