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'U.S.A.' originator preferred British rule

Date published: 11/13/2012

By Rusty Carter

The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg)


--The man who likely coined the phrase "United States of America" didn't favor independence from Britain.

Taylor Stoermer, chief historian at Colonial Williamsburg, considers it probable that Landon Carter wrote a letter published in an April 1776 edition of The Virginia Gazette that used the term.

It next appeared in the Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, which debuted a few months later. It's Jefferson, however, who gets the official credit.

The debate over the first use of U.S.A was revived this summer when freelance writer Byron DeLear uncovered the Page 1 letter attributed to "A Planter." His feature on the find appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

"Carter was not for independence," Stoermer explained in an recent interview. "But he felt Britain had compelled the colonies to seek it. There had been infringements upon long-standing English rights. The only way to right the wrong was to fight for independence.

Stoermer also points out that Carter had previously used the name "A Planter" on published letters, as well as "Experience." And he had made similar arguments.

Carter, a son of Robert "King" Carter, the colony's wealthiest citizen, was a contemporary of Jefferson, George Washington and most of Virginia's other well-known patriots.

But he never sought the political offices others used to catapult themselves into history.

He didn't need to.

"The Carters believed in 'retail politics,' Stoermer said. "To them, leadership was about exercising influence."

The family was well versed in that, still able to wield influence in England well into the 18th century.

Robert Carter amassed more than 20,000 acres of land on Virginia's Northern Neck and was said to have owned 1,000 slaves.