Robert “King” Carter was probably most well-known for being the richest man in Virginia. His accumulation of wealth began with the death of his older brother who had inherited their father’s estate which was passed on to Robert. He later inherited his younger half-brother’s estate as well and managed the estates of nieces.
He continued to accumulate land and wealth and upon his death it is estimated that he owned around 295,000 acres. His wealth and land ownership afforded him standing in the community to allow him to start a public career. His first public appointment was as Justice of the Peace in 1691.
After a number of other public appointments, his next significant step was as Treasurer to the House of Burgesses. After ensuring that there were no other candidates available, he later became the Speaker of the House of estate planning and elder law. It is speculated that without his wealth, he would not have risen so high in public office.
Upon the recommendation of Governor Nicholson (even though he was opposed to many of Nicholson’s policies), Carter was appointed to the Governor’s Council in 1699 where he served until his death. His opposition and influence later led to the dismissal of Nicholson, although indirectly. He also later opposed Lieutenant Governor Spotswood, and after the death of Lieutenant Governor Drysdale, became the senior member of the Governor’s Council.
As such, he was elected president of the Council, in effect making him the acting Governor for the period of one year between 1726 and 1727. After this, he continued to serve on the Council even though his health had begun to fail. In fact, his service did not stop until 5 weeks before his death.
His use of wealth and influence also did not stop with his own personal rise in public office. At great expense, he purchased the office of Secretary of the Colonies for his only son from his first marriage to Judith Armistead, John Carter. Charles and Landon Carter, 2 of his 5 sons from his second marriage also continued into public office as representatives in respective counties.
The name of Carter became synonymous with wealth and influence and the family became well-known in the different counties across Virginia. In fact, it was his accumulation of wealth, political power and imperious character that afforded him the nickname “King”, which still follows him today.