Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Who is This King —
and Why Does he Have a Last Name?


When I told my sister that the daughter-in-law of our D.A.R. Patriot ancestor was named Margaret Chew Carter, she wasted no time in shooting out the question, "Was she related to King Carter?"

My sister is a finance person. She specializes in commercial real estate. She was keen to know whether we were related to this man, presumably because of her occupational interests. Me? I have no such specializations. All I could think was, "Who is this king—and why does he have a last name?"

As it turns out, "King" Carter received that nickname specifically because of his phenomenal capabilities—with power, influence, financial management, and political connections much of the reason behind why he ended up being the wealthiest man in colonial Virginia. But there was one thing I needed to learn before I could answer my sister's genealogical question: his name wasn't "King."

It was Robert.

Granted, researching a Virginian named Robert Carter would be only slightly easier than searching for a name like John Carter. And John Carter—at least one of the many surely in existence at that time—was the man we'd need to start with, if we were to trace the roots of our fourth great-grandmother, Margaret Chew Carter.

But since she asked—and since I once again stumbled upon that question with the passage found in the book I mentioned yesterday—we may as well first take a look at just why Robert Carter's peers bestowed such a nickname upon him.

Looking at a portrait of the man, he seems to be self-assured, certainly affluent, maybe even imposing in stature. Born in colonial Virginia about 1664—to yet another John Carter—Robert Carter was orphaned at an early age and sent to London to complete his education, according to his father's wishes. During that time, he also learned the practicalities of the tobacco trade from the English perspective, an edge he capitalized upon, once returning to his colonial home.

Back in Virginia, he mounted a series of political career moves, all of which added not only to his political but financial power. Above all, his keen interest in accumulating land holdings—whether by inheritance, acquiring patents on the best of still-unsettled land in Virginia, or even foreclosing on mortgages—worked to produce financial resources which he then shrewdly invested for greater return.

King Carter died in 1732, leaving a generous legacy to both his sons and his daughters, as well as to grandchildren, detailed in a will stretching for forty pages. Though one of those sons was indeed named John, jumping to any conclusions about our Margaret Chew Carter's father—also named John—would not be a wise way to begin this month's research endeavor. For that quest, we'll return to Margaret herself, and begin our search tomorrow with a more sound approach.

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