Sunday, 6 August 2017

Robert Carter- Earlston Lad to A New York Businessman: Part 2.

Part One of the Robert Carter (1807-1889)  story related his early memories of growing up in Earlston - as a child helping at the harvest, working at the loom and    witnessingan  execution of a murderer, before  studying to be a teacher,  Here Part Two tells of his journey to New York, his career as a teacher and publisher, and returning on holiday to Earlston with his family.

Robert's  daughter Annie Carter Cochrane wrote his life story and  in 1899 presented a copy of the biography  to Earlston Reading Room.  Her writings form the basis for much of  the article here. 

Arriving  in New York
Having said goodbye to his family and friends in Earlston, Robert walked via Peebles and Edinburgh to Greenock where he sailed on the ship "Francis” in April, 1831. Forty-five days were spent on the voyage, not an unusual time in the days which preceded the steamship. Robert helped to hold religious services on board ad many of the passengers that he met on the voyage became life long friends. 
New York, with its 200.000 inhabitants must have been a daunting experience after Earlston. But the letters of introduction Robert carried from Scotland secured him teaching posts, before
 he took over a small  insolvent bookseller, buying his stock. He soon moved into larger premises on Broadway  and then started up a business  as a publisher, which proved the beginning of successful  commercial career.  

Everything was read by him before he undertook to publish it. He focused mostly on religious works, and was instrumental in making Americans conversant with much of the best religious literature in Britain.

A Life Based on Christian Principles 
On the morning of his first Sabbath in America, Robert  sought out the Scottish church.  He  became a Sunday School teacher, superintendent and then an elder.   He was a leading man in many New York organizations. For 17 years he was a delegate to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America;  he became vice-president of the Bible Society, a trustee of the Board of Foreign Missions and  helped to found the New York Sabbath Committee.

A Family Man 
Robert never forgot his Earlston roots and quickly had saved enough money to bring his parents  and their large family out to settle in Saratoga, New York State, where there was a small Scottish community.  His father Thomas died after twelve years in America, leaving eleven children and fifty  grandchildren.  Two of Robert's  brothers,  Walter and Peter,  joined Robert in the publishing business in 1848.  

It was at the church that Robert met his wife Miss Jane Thomson, one of ten children of a wealthy businessman. They married in 1834, at 6am in the morning, so that the bridal pair might reach Philadelphia before nightfall. In 1836 their first child was born and named after his maternal grandfather Samuel Thomson. Sadly he died at the age of three.

Five  more children were born and they spoke warmly of their childhood and close family life.  However it was not a household where playing cards and dancing were indulged in;   the theatre was not a place to be visited and the practice of the house was not to drink anything  intoxicating.   Yet Robert was known for his hospitable nature and the regular gatherings of extended family and friends.

Robert supported the cause of the native Indians and the fugitive slaves, remembering his father's words 
 "This government has a fearful  record to meet someday  from its treatment of the Indian and the Negro. If ever you can do a kinds service to the red man or the black man, be sure to do it."

Returning to his childhood home in Earlston
Robert was a great believer in the value of travel as a means of education and made regular visits to Europe and back to Earlston. 

His biography  gives a graphic description of  a stormy sea voyage returning  to America in 1856:

"It was impossible to move about and no meals were served.    I never witnessed so severe a storm   Each  time a sea of such magnitude and power came at the ship, I thought it was all over for us.    For 36 hours,  the wind raved  with a fury and power unknown.  thundering loudly and unceasingly around us. The sails on the fore-yards clewed down, burst from their fastenings and  roared and flapped furiously  breaking over and against the ship.  The sea broker over the main deck and into the engine room.  Portions  of wreckage rolled   deep and dark over the quarter deck  One of these struck the captain on the head  and the wave drove him insensible and  he was barely saved form an ocean grave. "
In 1856 the family spent a month in his beloved Earlston, and his daughter recalled:
 "He greatly enjoyed taking his children to the scenes of his childhood, and showing them the house where he was born, the arbor where he sat with his books overlooking the path along which his cousin walked to aid him in his studies, the old kirkyard where his forefathers slept, Rhymer's Tower, and "the bonnie, bonnie broom of the Cowden Knowes........the beautiful scenery of Berwickshire became very familiar to all. Kelso, Melrose, Dryburgh, Abbotsford, were visited.  No view that he enjoyed more was  that on Bemersyde Hill (Scott's View)  His two sons later preached in the  church of their forefathers.
 Ivy covered Rhymer's Tower and Rhymer's Cottages, c.1900


 Robert died on 28th December 1889  at the advanced age if 82, "after a life of activity and usefulness" with large numbers attending his funeral     Three sons and two daughters survived him – one son joined the family business whilst the other sons became Presbyterian ministers.  One daughter also married a clergyman.

Left -
Part of a lengthy obituary that appeared back in the Scottish Borders in "The Southern Reporter":  4th July 1895.  

Robert Carter today is remembered as  one of the many self-made men  who began life in humble circumstances,  to leave  their home in Scotland and make their mark in countries abroad.  

  • Robert Carter:  His Life and Work, 1807-1889,  by Annie Carter Cochrane.
    The full text is available HERE on the Library of Congress Internet Archive.
  • Obituary in "The Southern Reporter":  4th July 1895.
  • David McConnell - a descendant of Robert's cousin,  Elizabeth Carter.  

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing man!! So single minded, highly principled and with such fortitude. I knew nothing of him at all. I've copied his daughters book so will give it a go shortly. Thank you.
    Ps Did you see the article I sent about Jackie Staffords mini?


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