Keeper Bio: Carter, Peter Jacob

Peter Jacob Carter – Courtesy of: Negro Office Holders In Virginia 1865-1895, Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

Date of Service: 1871, 1879-1880

1845:  Peter J. Carter is born a slave in Northampton County, VA., to parents Jacob and Peggie

1860: Calvin H. Read (owner of Peter, his two younger siblings, and his mother) deeds Peter and his family to his wife as repayment for a $1,000 debt. The Carters are listed in the deed as living in Northampton County, VA.

1863: After escaping slavery, Carter enlists in Company B of the 10th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment.

1864: Peter J. Carter is arrested for mutiny in February and imprisoned at Camp Hamilton (near Fort Monroe, Va.). In May, all charges against Carter are withdrawn and he is released from prison. He returns to duty at Bermuda Hundred.

1866: Peter Jacob Carter is discharged on May 17 in Galveston, Texas.

1869-1871: Peter J. Carter begins his education at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now known as Hampton University).

1870: Works as a teacher at Williams Friendship School in Chincoteague, VA. for the Freedmen’s Bureau.

1871: Served as Second Assistant at Assateague Lighthouse, VA. His annual salary was $440/year.

1871: In November, Carter is elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican in Northampton County, VA. He would serve for eight consecutive years, three terms.

1873: Peter Jacob Carter marries Georgianna Mapp in February. They have 4 children.

1879-1880: Served as Principal Keeper at Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse, VA. His annual salary was $540/year.

1880:  In the US Census in Northampton, Capeville VA., Peter J. Carter (age 36), lives with his wife Georgianna (Georgia), age 30, along with his two children and mother, Peggie, where he works as Keeper at Cherrystone Lighthouse.

1882: Georgianna Mapp Carter dies in November.

1883: Peter J. Carter is elected as rector of the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (Virginia State University), where he would serve for approximately two years.

1884: Peter Carter marries Maggie F. Treherne of Accomack County, VA.

1886: Peter J. Carter dies on July 19, 1886. He is buried in the family cemetery near Franktown, VA.

Keeper Peter J. Carter Anecdotes:

Peter Jacob Carter was born into slavery on May 29, 1845, in Northampton County, Virginia. Soon after the start of the Civil War in 1861 and Union troops arrived on the Eastern Shore, Carter fled slavery. In late 1863, Carter enlisted in the 10th Regiment United States Colored Infantry, Company B. Carter would go on to serve with the quartermaster department in late 1865, and in early 1866 served on detached duty with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (which would later become the Freedmen’s Bureau).

In May 1866, Carter was discharged from service in Galveston, Texas, where he returned to Northampton County, Virginia, and resided in Franktown. In 1869, Carter began his education at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now known as Hampton University). In 1870, he started work as a teacher at the Williams Friendship School in Chincoteague for the Freedmen’s Bureau (established in 1865 by Congress to help former slaves and underprivileged whites after the Civil War).

In July 1871, Carter served as Second Assistant at the Assateague Lighthouse, earning $400 a year until he resigned in November 1871. After completing his education in 1871, Carter was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican in November after receiving numerous votes from the freed people of the Eastern Shore. In 1873, Carter married Georgianna Mapp and they had four children.

Carter would go on to win reelection three times, serving eight years from 1871 to 1879, making Carter one of the longest African American legislators in the nineteenth century. During his term, Carter served on multiple committees: Agriculture and Mining, and Retrenchment and Economy. He served on these committees until his last term when he was also named to the Committee on Claims, and the Committee on Militia and Police. Some of the bills introduced by Carter dealt with boundaries of election precincts and taxes on oysters. He also introduced legislation that would provide housing for the elderly and poor in Richmond and improve the care of deaf blacks. Carter also tried to correct the abuse of prisoners in the state prison.

In 1879, Peter Carter decided not to run for re-election to the House of Delegates but instead chose to run for a seat in the Virginia Senate representing Northampton and Accomack counties. He would lose the election because white conservatives gerrymandered his district.

From 1879 – 1880, Carter was Principal Keeper at Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse in Virginia, earning $440 a year. In 1883 he was appointed rector of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (which later became Virginia State University), where he served for two years. When Carter was not busy with politics, he worked on his 150-acre farm near Franktown, Va.

Peter Jacob Carter died on July 19, 1886, and was buried in the family cemetery.

The following is the obituary of Peter J. Carter, titled, “Death of a Colored Politician”

“Peter J. Carter, a well known colored politician of Northampton County, Va., died suddenly in that county Monday afternoon. He had been to Norfolk a day or so before his death, and was taken sick on the steamer while crossing the Bay. Deceased was about forty-five years of age, and was a man of some note among his people. He was a member of the State Legislature for two or three terms, and it is said that he made a great deal of money, which was spent as fast as it came in. We understand that his life was quite heavily insured.”

Sources: Chesapeake Chapter Keeper’s Database;;, “United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 14 December 2021), Peter J Carter, Mar 1870; citing Residence, Chincoteague, Accomack, Virginia, United States, NARA microfilm publications M1053. Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861 – 1880, RG 105. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969-1978); roll 19; FHL microfilm 1,549,596; Richmond Dispatch, November 17, 1873; Alexandria Gazette, July 26, 1886; accessed 12/2/2023

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