Oral histories are often viewed as inaccurate and unreliable. Indeed, over time stories do get twisted to the point that they hardly resemble the original facts. I would like to acquaint how my great-grandmother Amelia Draper Burke (1867-1947) explained Burke family history by using examples from the Biblical story of the Israel's bondage in Egypt.
According Grandma "Neelie" as she was affectionately called, while in Africa our ancestors were very wealthy. They were told enticing stories about the abundance of land in North America by European traders. My African ancestors soon became interested in sailing to America to settle this new land, so they contracted with a certain ship's captain to sail them to the New World. My African ancestors assembled all their wealth in gold and jewels and brought it with them on board ship.
Mid-way across the Atlantic, the crew of the vessel seized my ancestors in the night and imprisoned them below deck. The captain then took posession of all their gold and jewels and when the ship reached Virginia (Egypt), he sold my ancestors to ("Ole Pharaoh"). Actually Ole Pharaoh represents four generations of the Carter family in Tidewater Virginia; John Carter (1613-1669), Robert "King" Carter (1663-1736), Robert Carter Jr. (1704-1732), and Robert Carter III of Nomini Hall (1728-1804).
Just as the Israelites in the Bible, were put to work by the Egyptians, so were our ancestors put to work by the Carters. There was not much mentioned about "Pharaoh" John Carter, but there was plenty about his son "Pharaoh" Robert "King" Carter.
How and when Robert received the title "King" is unknown by me, but it certainly wasn't a joke. The family of Robert "King" Carter was actually treated like royalty. Even when they attended Sunday worship service at Christ Church near their home plantation of 'Corotoman' in Lancaster county, Virginia, the entire congregation waited until Robert "King" Carter and his family arrived and were seated, before they entered the church. Around 1701, Robert "King" Carter married his second wife Elizabeth Landon, the mother of Robert Carter Jr..
Naturally the problem of slaves running away was an ever present concern to every slave owner. "King" Carter dealt with his runaway slaves by cutting off the fore parts of their feet! Except for various house servants, "King" Carter's slaves lived and worked on several large plantations scattered across eastern Virginia. Most of these plantations were situated along estuaries of theYork, James, Rappahanock, Potomac Rivers, in the Chesepeake Bay region. This gave easy access to the Atlantic Ocean for shipping tobacco to Europe.
Each of Carter's plantations had a white manager to look after business affairs, and a white overseer to look after the daily supervision of the "field hands". It is doubtful if many of "King" Carter's slaves had close contact with him and few, if any, would have ever had direct dealing with the "King". During the months when tobacco wasn't being cultivated, Carter slaves were detailed out to do public works, like building roads and draining swamps. It was Robert "King Carter's belief that "idle hands bred mischief", so except for Christmas or "Yule Time", his slaves were always kept busy.
The "Kings" son Robert Carter Jr. died so young that he didn't play much of a role in our saga, but his son Robert Carter III, who was raised by his grandfather Robert "King" Carter, turned out to be the "Pharaoh" with the biggest role. As the story goes Robert Carter III took over a large part of his grandfather's estate, about 78,000 acres and 500 slaves, in 1750. In 1785, while on his ship returning from England, he encountered a tremendous storm at sea. Fearing for his life, Robert Carter III promised God, that if he could live, he would free all of his slaves. He lived and in 1791, he kept his promise to God and freed nearly 500 slaves!
One of the slaves was named Winny Burke. Winny had a son named Joseph Burke (Moses) who led his children to the Ohio River (River Jordan) in 1854. Unlike the real Moses, Joseph Burke crossed the river then died one month later. Nimrod Burke, (Joshua) son of Joseph Burke, went back to the South to fight in the Battle of Appomattox (Battle of Jericho) during the American Civil War, and ("The Walls came tumbling down")- the end to Slavery in the United States!