Finished Levy's book this morning. An interesting read if you find the Revolutionary period facsinating or the most challenging puzzles of the human heart to be simultaneously enriching and depressing. In the last chapter Levy lays out his reasons for why Carter's story is virtually unknown. Among those are the academic tendency to flatten religious experience and motivation--Carter moved from Epicopalian to Baptist to Swedenborgian in his journey to become a former slaveholder.
Levy also writes:
In addition to controverting pro-slavery claims that emancipation was impractical, for instance, Robert Carter's story offended nineteenth-century Northern pride as well, which was founded, as the historian Joanne Pope Melish has recently written, in the belief that Northerners stood for "liberty," Southerners stood for its abstract opposite, and during the Civil War "New Englanders had marched south to end slavery," conquering a region infected by what George Washington Parke Custis called "a deadly diesease . . . entailed upon them by the fault of their fathers." At the very least Robert Carter stands as the exemplar of a group of men and women lost to history, whose heroic efforts undermine both Southern claims that emanicipation was impossible and Northern claims that emancipation was something that only Northern morality and Northern will could make happen, through persuasion or by force: between 1782 and 1861, white men and women in the state of Virginia freed more than one hundred thousand slaves without compensation, and without the support of a public consensus that showed much patience for their efforts. During that same time period, gradual emancipation legislation throughout the Northern states liberated approximately only sixty thousand slaves, providing in most cases financial compensation (as well as political cover) to the masters (182-83).
What I believe Levy finally rests upon is the utter lack of imagination of White Americans in dealing with the problem of slavery. Robert Carter was only one a few Virginia emancipators who didn't require that his former property move either to Africa or north. Washington only freed his slaves after his death and Jefferson didn't do it at all. Today, many of us, I imagine even Southerners, look back on our benighted ancestors and cluck our tongues. But if the brightest and best wouldn't do it, what makes us think we would do any better?