A James River plantation with connections to some of the most prominent members of this country's founding generation, including the man who released more slaves than any other individual in American history, has fallen into disrepair and federal bankruptcy proceedings.
Carter's Grove, started in 1750 and finished in 1755, was built for Carter Burwell, a grandson of Robert "King" Carter. It hosted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among others, and each generation of owners pledged to maintain the property as a historic site.
From the late 1960s until 2007, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation owned the property, using it to illustrate colonial life until 2002. However, due to a growing deficit, the foundation sold the property to Halsey Minor for $15.3 million. Part of the deal included Minor's agreement to maintain the property.
However, in 2010, Minor stopped his payments, and the foundation sought foreclosure. They allege that instead of taking care of the plantation, he used the equity in it for a $5 million lease of a personal jet, secured with a lien on Carter's Grove. Minor filed for bankruptcy protection, claiming $12 million in debts.
Minor also claims that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation knowingly hid the extent of the mansion's structural damage, including moisture and mold problems, sinkholes and buried asphalt, construction debris and other hazardous materials, and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, thought to be millions of dollars, needed to return the mansion to its former glory.
The foundation has been fighting the allegations and is seeking to force the sale of the mansion to a new owner. Its lawyers say Minor basically has abandoned Carter's Grove because he's been facing financial difficulties stemming in part from other unsuccessful projects.
"It's falling into such a state of disrepair that it's alarming to us," Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's attorney Greg Stillman said.
Burwell and his ill-fated mansion are not all that remains of "King" Carter's family dynasty. His descendants also included Robert E. Lee and several signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as his mostly unknown grandson, Robert Carter III. Robert's father died in 1732, followed shortly after by his grandfather, and at the young age of four the lad inherited a huge fortune, including slaves.
While Burwell was constructing the mansion, young Robert Carter III was growing up in plantation society, a wealthy socialite among other wealthy socialites. Many men of his generation earned names for themselves through their support of the fledgling American republic. Carter, meanwhile, has been largely forgotten even though he released the largest number of slaves in American history-about 500.
Carter served as an Anglican vestryman, supposedly dabbled in Deism in the late 1770s, and then was baptized by a Baptist preacher in 1778. Three years later, influenced by Baptist views on slavery, he began to free to his slaves.
Only a few years earlier that had been illegal in Virginia. Laws at the time were designed to prevent owners from offloading slaves unwanted due to youth, illness, or old age, but a 1782 law allowed for their release. His manumission took place over three decades, with the last freed in 1812 as they turned 21.
By that time, Carter had been dead for eight years. He died in poverty in Baltimore as a Swedenborgian, a member of what is now known as the New Church, a Christian sect of dubious orthodoxy. His act was the largest private manumission in the US, freeing about 500 slaves. Now, while his cousin's estate is a high-profile court case, he rests quietly in an unmarked grave, his story comparatively unknown.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.