Continuing series on the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Carter Braxton ( September 10, 1736 – October 10, 1797 ) was born to wealth, power and privilege. His father George Braxton Jr. was a rich landowner and merchant. His mother, Mary Carter was granddaughter to King Carter, the largest landowner in Virginia. Mary caught a cold and died shortly after his birth. His father also died when he was thirteen, leaving him in the guardianship of neighbors. He had private tutors until he went to William and Mary at sixteen, and graduated three years later at nineteen. In the same year, he married Judith Robinson, but she did not survive the birth of their children, Mary and Judith. Buried in grief, he left for England, where he remained for two years.
On return, he sold the family property where he and Judith had lived, and married Elizabeth Corbin, daughter of the Crown tax collector. I’m sure there were some interesting family discussions when Carter came out opposing taxes by the Crown. From the time of this second marriage in 1760 to the beginnings of revolutionary fervor, Carter pursued a merchant career, buying a schooner, and allegedly engaging in the slave trade. He owned 12,000 acres and 165 slaves.
In 1761, Braxton took his seat in the House of Burgesses. Despite inheriting large debts with the death of his brother, he used his position for power and influence and managed to profit, though not always by the most ethical means. He was involved in the John Robinson Estate scandal, apparently dipping his hand into the colony’s treasury along with his political ally John Robinson Jr., his wife’s uncle. When the matter was resolved, he lost the family estate of Newington, but still owned over 8,000 acres.
Braxton was not an ardent revolutionary and had sympathy for the Crown. Nevertheless, he joined in opposition to the Townshend Acts and joined the Virginia Committee of Safety which morphed into the revolutionary mouthpiece of the colony. His Crown ties were of value when Lord Dunmore, Colonial governor, seized powder and flintlocks. Braxton brokered a compromise short of bloodshed between Dunmore and Patrick Henry.
In 1775, Peyton Randolph, a delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress, died of a stroke (apoplexy) while dining with Thomas Jefferson. Braxton was selected to replace him since they were of similar political views, and occasionally at odds with the firebrand Patrick Henry. On the 15th of December, 1775, he was elected to the Continental Congress and entered upon the duties of his new station with great zeal and vigor.
In April, 1776, he wrote, “Independence is in truth an elusive bait which men inconsiderably catch at, without knowing the hook to which it is affixed.” Braxton pointed out that one republic after another had come to an unhappy ending. The Netherlands, he claimed, became “as unhappy and despotick as the one of which we complain,” and Venice “is now governed by one of the worst of despotisms.” He concluded that “the principle contended for is ideal, and a mere creature of a warm imagination.” The advantages of republics “existed only in theory and were never confirmed by the experience, even of those who recommend them.”https://www.dsdi1776.com/signers-by-state/carter-braxton
He served through August 1776, and was present, affixing his signature on August 2. He initially opposed the Declaration, but later was persuaded partly by the taxation issue, since he thought Virginia ought to tax itself, owing nothing to the Crown.
Throughout the war, the British troops invaded and destroyed Braxton’s property, owing to his signing of the Declaration. One of his ships pirated a neutral Portuguese vessel, causing censure in Congress. He invested the greater portion of his wealth supporting the Revolution, and emerged a much poorer man, though still wealthy for his time.
In his later years, he became entangled in a web of lawsuits, losing even more wealth. He continued his merchant enterprises until he died on October 10, 1797.
“The happiness and dignity of man I admit consists in the practice of private virtues, and to this he is stimulated by the rewards promised to such conduct. In this he acts for himself, and with a view of promoting his own particular welfare.” – Carter BraxtonMay 1776 – address to the Convention of the Colony and Ancient Dominion of Virginia