Carter Braxton

Carter Braxton, Virginia (1736 – 1797)

Carter Braxton was born on September 10, 1736 at Newington Plantation in Livingston, Virginia. He was the son of George Braxton, Jr. and of Mary Carter, who died just seven days after giving birth. Carter’s father died when he was in his teens, and he was raised by family friends.

Carter Braxton was born on September 10, 1736 at Newington Plantation in Livingston, Virginia. He was the son of George Braxton, Jr. and of Mary Carter, who died just seven days after giving birth. Carter’s father died when he was in his teens, and he was raised by family friends.

Carter Braxton was a descendant of some of the most distinguished families in Virginia in terms of wealth and influence. His grandfather, George Braxton, Sr., immigrated to Virginia from London about 1690 and lived in an estate called Mantua on the Mattaponi River. The Braxton family in England was of ancient origin and resided in Lancaster County. George Braxton married Elizabeth Paulin and in his will of 1725 left a tract of 578 acres to his daughter. Elizabeth Paulin’s father, Thomas Paulin, was a justice of Old Rappahannock in 1688 and was one of the county officers in King and Queen County.

Carter Braxton’s father, George Braxton, Jr., received large land grants from King George II. He was a frequent member of the House of Burgesses from 1718 to 1734, and held lands in common with William Brooke, his son George Braxton, Humphrey Brooke, Sr. (his son in law) and Ambrose Madison (the grandfather of President James Madison).

Carter Braxton’s mother, Mary Carter, was the daughter of Robert “King” Carter and his second wife, Elizabeth Landon Willis. Robert was called “King” because of his great wealth and prominence. He was born at his father’s estate, Corotoman. He served in the House of Burgesses, where he was Speaker.. He served as Treasurer of the Colony, member and President of the King’s Council, and as Acting Governor for one year. His estate consisted of 300,000 acres of land and 1,000 slaves. Robert Carter built Christ Church in Lancaster County and served as vestryman of the church.

“King” Carter’s father ( Carter Braxton’s great- grandfather) was Colonel John Carter of England. John Carter was the son of William Carter of Casstown, Hereford County, England and was born in 1620. The Colonel came to the Virginia colony in 1649 and built the ancestral home of Corotoman in Lancaster County. He served in the House of Burgesses, was an influential member of the King’s Council, and was a commander against the Rappahannock Indians in 1654. His descendants included three Signers of the Declaration of Independence: Carter Braxton, Benjamin Harrison and Thomas Nelson.

Carter Braxton was educated at the College of William and Mary, and later became a member of its board of visitors. Shortly after graduating, his father died, leaving him the family estate of Newington.

In 1753, Braxton came into possession of the impressive manor house and plantation of Elsing Green. He sold Elsing Green in the early 1760′s but never lived there.

In 1755, Braxton married the wealthy, beautiful and amiable Judith Robinson, the daughter of Christopher and Judith Robinson of Hewick, Middlesex County, Virginia. Judith died shortly after the birth of their second child in 1757 leaving Braxton devastated with grief.

Following the death of his first wife, Braxton moved to England in 1757, where he remained for three years. During this time he became familiar with the feelings and designs of the English government. His rank and fortune gave him access to the nobility from whom he obtained much valuable information: that Great Britain would support the exchequer by extracting money from the hardy pioneers of American in the form of new taxes. In 1760 Carter Braxton returned from Europe and was elected to the House of Burgesses where he became an active and prominent member. He was to continue in the House until 1775.

In 1761 he married Elizabeth Corbin, the daughter of Colonel Richard Corbin and Elizabeth Tayloe.

Elizabeth’s father, Colonel Corbin, was educated in England, and later served in the House of Burgesses, as President of the King’s Council, and receiver general of the colony for nearly 20 years. Elizabeth’s grandfather was Gawin Corbin who came to the Virginia colony in 1650. She was the great- granddaughter of the Honorable Henry Corbin of Hall End, Warwick County, England, who was born in 1594. His wife was a descendant of Sir Gilbert Grosvenor, who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066.

In the 1760s Braxton considered investing in the slave trade, exchanging letters with the Brown brothers in Providence, but the Browns proceeded on their own.

In the growing dispute with Great Britain Carter Braxton was loyal to Virginia, but held the more conservative views of the Tidewater leaders. He was present in the House of Burgesses when Patrick Henry’s resolutions condemned the Stamp Act.

In 1769, along with Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Peyton Randolph, and others he signed the Virginia Resolves, which declared that the House of Burgesses had the sole right to tax the inhabitants of the colony. Braxton also signed the Virginia Association, a non-importation agreement.

The day after the first hostilities at Lexington and Concord in 1775, Braxton became a member of the Virginia Colonial Convention. He then played a key role in the confrontation with Royal Governor Lord Dunmore.

Lord Dunmore confiscated the gunpowder stored in the Williamsburg magazine and placed it on a British warship. Militia units were eager to retaliate, but they were calmed by Peyton Randolph and George Washington. Patrick Henry, however, refused to be pacified, and led a militia unit into Williamsburg to demand the return of the gunpowder. Before hostilities broke out, Carter Braxton, speaking for Patrick Henry, convinced his father-in-law, Richard Corbin, who was receiver general of the Colony, to pay for the gunpowder, thus averting an open conflict.

When Peyton Randolph died suddenly in October, 1775, Carter Braxton was chosen to replace him in the Continental Congress.

Braxton was hesitant at first to support the growing sentiment for independence, and argued strongly against it. In April, 1776, he wrote, “Independence is in truth an elusive bait which men inconsiderably catch at, without knowing the hook to which it is affixed.”

Braxton pointed out that one republic after another had come to an unhappy ending. The Netherlands, he claimed, became “as unhappy and despotick as the one of which we complain,” and Venice “is now governed by one of the worst of despotisms.” He concluded that “the principle contended for is ideal, and a mere creature of a warm imagination.” The advantages of republics “existed only in theory and were never confirmed by the experience, even of those who recommend them.”

During the debate following Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence on June 7, Braxton continued to argue against separation. But by early July he had changed his mind, voting for independence on July 2, the Declaration on July 4, and signing the Declaration on August 2. At the first meeting that fall of the General Assembly of Virginia, Braxton and Jefferson received a vote of thanks ‘for the diligence, ability and integrity with which they executed the important trust repose(?d) in them as two of the delegates of the County in the General Congress.”

Braxton, however, was not reappointed to the Continental Congress, when he opposed a more democratic form of government desired by the delegates in the Virginia convention.

He was active and influential in the Virginia Legislature from 1777 to 1785, and from 1786 to 1797 he was elected, and re-elected, a member of the Council of State.

Braxton invested a great deal of his wealth in the American Revolution. He loaned money to the cause and funded shipping and privateering. Unfortunately, the British destroyed many of his ships, and ravaged several of his plantations and land holdings. He accumulated a great deal of debt and was forced to leave his estate at Chericoke in 1786 and move to a smaller residence in Richmond.

A fellow Signer of the Declaration, Dr. Benjamin Rush, described Carter Braxton as agreeable, a sensible speaker, and an accomplished gentleman, but someone strongly prejudiced against New Englanders. Others described him as a gentleman of cultivated mind and respectable talents. Although not possessed of the impressive eloquence of colleagues such as Patrick Henry (who was?), his oratory was described as easy and flowing. In his manners he was peculiarly agreeable and the language of his conversation was smooth. In spite of his financial adversities and trying circumstances his reputation did not suffer. He maintained his well-earned fame as an able and faithful public servant, a worthy upright man. He was a faithful sentinel in the cause of freedom.

Chericoke, in King William County, Virginia was home to Carter Braxton from 1767 to 1786. The estate is located on the Pamunkey River, about 20 miles by land from the junction of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers.The farm is located on the upper edge of a large horseshoe bend in the river, with the house on a hill a little way back.The land of Chericoke was rich, not having been worn out by tobacco. The family graveyard was on the side of a hill. Wooden grave markers disappeared over the years, making it difficult to locate the gravesites.

Caperton Braxton Horsley, a descendant of Carter Braxton, wrote in 1933 about his experiences related to Chericoke in reminiscences he titled “In Quiet Places”. This is what he wrote about the history of the house and estate itself:

“It was more than a hundred years ago that the old Chericoke house burned. They say that the curtains caught fire from a candle at night. It was winter with snow on the ground. The house was large and built of wood. It burned to the ground. Rushing through the halls in candlelight, they fought the growing fire with buckets of water, the men shouting, the women crying. The slaves’ faces: dark against the night with the light of the fire shining on the snow, staring at the burning symbol of authority and permanence; dark with the morning sun shining on black smoking timbers surrounded by snow.

 

“The land of Chericoke Farm was rich, not having been worn out by tobacco. The wind blew flurries of waves over the green wheat fields, thick tall wheat in the wind. The cattle and hogs were fat, and fat sheep lay in the shade of the osage orange trees. The magnolia trees blossom in the spring, and the locust and catalpa. Early in the morning dew lies on the pink and white blossoms of the fruit trees, at night the sound of insects and the frogs comes from the marsh far off. The firelight shines in the eyes of the negroes and their voices ring through the night’s soft air.”

Horsley also wrote about the meaning of the Civil War, and his experiences and stories of his ancestors, relatives, friends and acquaintances over the years.

A large granite monument in the Hollywood Cemetery at Richmond, Virginia, honors many of Braxton’s descendants and ancestors, including George Braxton, Sr., the immigrant. In Washington, D.C., near the Washington Monument, there is a small park and lagoon dedicated to the fifty-six Signers of of the Declaration. Alongside his fellow Virginians, Carter Braxton’s signature is engraved in gold. Carter Braxton died in Richmond in 1797 and is buried at Chericoke.

 

Shelley Cruz, descendant, DSDI, 2014

Sources

  • Barthelmas, Della Gray, The Signers of the Declaration of Independence, A Biographical and Genealogical Reference, 1997, McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640
  • Blatteau, John and Paul Hirshorn, “The Illuminated Declaration of Independence,” , 1976
  • Collins, Gene, “The Signers of the Declaration of Independence,”, Resurrection Resources LLC , 2000
  • Ferris, Robert G. and Richard E. Morris, “The Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” Interpretive Publications, 1982
  • Fradin, Dennis B., “The Signers,” 2000
  • Goodrich, Charles A., “Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” 1829 (Internet ref.: ColonialHall.com, link: Biographies of the Founding Fathers.)
  • Gragg, Rod, “The Declaration of Independence,” 2005
  • Lossing, B.J., “Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence, 1848
  • Maier, Pauline, “American Scripture Malone, Dumas, “The Story of the Declaration of Independence,” 1954
  • The Prudential Insurance Company of America, “The Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” date NS
  • Roberts, Cokie, “Founding Mothers, the Women Who Raised Our Nation”, HarperCollins, New York, 2004
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