Today marks the start in a new series that this blog will be hosting on history. The “Do You Know About?” series of post will highlight historical moments in United States history that are not taught in school either for lack of time or they just don’t want you to know. The series is designed to highlight important relationships and incidents that contribute to an overall understanding of history and engages the reader guiding them to learn about a subject that heretofore was deemed uninteresting. In addition, this series is meant to show that the founders were not super human but had the same life struggles and fallacies that we have today. Enjoy and please leave comments.
Do you know that two signers of the Declaration of Independence were not only cousins but mortal enemies who did everything possible to ruin the other politically?
Carter Braxton and Richard Henry Lee were first cousins through the Carter family of Virginia. Both were the grandchildren of Robert “King” Carter the largest plantation and slave owner of his time. Braxton and Lee became enemies upon Lee’s arrival in the House of Burgess and his subsequent attacks on Speaker John Robinson. Speaker Robinson was the guardian of Carter Braxton after he was left an orphan upon the death of his parents and he was very close to Speaker Robinson.
In 1766, Speaker of the House of Burgess, John Robinson, dies, but before his death, a scandal was brewing in the Treasury Department. What happened was Speaker Robinson did not call in the several loan notes in 1763, as he was supposed to, and continued to loan money to friends, who were heavily in debt. These men were of the James and York gentry. Several individuals, among them Richard Henry Lee, want to enforce the sterling debt but it was protested by some as being unreasonable. This would be the start of the bad blood between Carter Braxton and Lee – who was usually at odds with the leadership. Prior to Speaker Robinson’s death, Lee was trying to oust him as speaker, during each session, after Lee’s election to the House in 1758. Lee demanded an investigation and Speaker Robinson acquiesces appointing a committee to investigate, which found no wrongdoing. This battle would continue until 1765 when Patrick Henry was elected and joins forces with Lee, but by then, the James and York faction was much stronger and has more power.
After Speaker Robinson dies, it was discovered how large the debts were and how much money was involved. Control of the Treasury was separated from the control of the Speaker and was now its own department. Between Braxton and his late brother’s estate, the family owed £7104 to the Treasury. Braxton pays off his brother’s debt by 1792, through the sale of various parcels of land. He then repays his own debt through the forced sale of 3300 acres of land, on the Roanoke, as well as lands in Amherst, King William, and King Kent counties. By 1782, Virginia owes him £11 and by 1792, the debt was cleared off the books. Braxton’s anger does not appear to be over the scandal itself, but instead, it was directed towards Richard Henry Lee’s attempt to smear Speaker Robinson, deprive him of his own position and go against his own class which was not done in that time.
Disclaimer – some of the information above first appeared in my master’s capstone project.