American Portraits

Robert Carter III and Integrity

In this lesson, students will learn about the integrity of Robert Carter III and how they can act with integrity in their lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Liberty image


Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


Robert Carter III made a momentous personal decision on September 6, 1778. In the presence of more than 400 men and women, he was fully immersed in the waters of the Totuskey Creek, close to his home on an offshoot of the Potomac River, to be baptized. Although most planters worshipped at the Anglican Church, Carter decided to be baptized as an adult in the dissenting Baptist Church. His Christian conversion had a profound impact on his life as one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you live with integrity in your life?

Virtue Defined

Integrity is personal consistency in moral goodness.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the integrity of Robert Carter III and how they can act with integrity in their lives.


  • Students will analyze the integrity of Robert Carter III.
  • Students will evaluate Robert Carter III’s actions in manumitting his slaves.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of integrity to their own lives.


In 1782, the Virginia Assembly passed a bill allowing slaveholders to manumit their slaves. Many slaveholders, inspired by Revolutionary principles of liberty and equality as well as Christian ideals, freed their slaves. Within a decade, nearly 10,000 slaves were freed in Virginia. Between 1792 and 1797, one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia, Robert Carter III, released more than 450 slaves, making it the largest manumission in American history.


  • Manumit
  • Momentous
  • Immersed
  • Dissenting
  • Conversion
  • Humane
  • Benevolent
  • Denomination
  • Forbade
  • Depravity
  • Emancipation
  • Scheme
  • Ironclad
  • Loophole
  • Symbolic
  • Gesture
  • Urban
  • Dwelling
  • Berth

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Robert Carter III’s identity prior to September 6, 1778? What was his identity after that date? How and why did his identity change?
  • What was Robert Carter III’s purpose in freeing his slaves?
  • Why did Robert Carter III decide to manumit his slaves by creating a “Deed of Gift”?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Levy, Andrew. The First Emancipator: Slavery, Religion, and the Quiet Revolution of Robert Carter. New York: Random House, 2005.
  • Taylor, Alan. The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832. New York: Norton, 2014.

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