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American National Biography Online Carr, Elias (25 Feb. 1839-22 July 1900), North Carolina governor, Farmers' Alliance leader, and planter, was born at "Bracebridge," the family plantation near Old Sparta, Edgecombe County, North Carolina, the son of Jonas Johnston Carr and Elizabeth Jane Hilliard, planters. Within four years both parents died, and with his sister Mary and brother William, Carr moved to Warren County to live with his mother's sister, Temperance, and her husband, John Buxton Williams. Carr's first education was at a school established by Williams. Later Carr attended the Bingham School in Orange County, spent two years at the University of North Carolina, and took courses at the University of Virginia, but he did not get a college degree. In 1857 he returned to Bracebridge, and in 1859 he married Eleanor Kearny; they had six children. In September 1861, after the Civil War had started, Carr enlisted as a private in Company G, Forty-first Regiment, North Carolina Troops, known as the Scotland Neck Mounted Riflemen. In June 1862 he left the army to supply the Confederacy with farm products. Though the South's defeat deprived Carr of his slaves and Confederate bonds, neither his house nor his farm were damaged, and this fortune as well as his scientific farming practices enabled him to operate profitably. Carr produced cotton principally, but he also grew pale peas, peanuts, and in the 1890s, tobacco. He operated a commercial dairy, and Bracebridge plantation produced most of the food consumed by Carr's family and employees. An overseer supervised Carr's workers, whether share tenants or wage earners. His laborers received top wages, but he exacted cash penalties from those workers who abused any of his properties, crops, animals, or land. A commissary he ran sold goods at near cost levels, earning for him a reputation for fairness and honesty with his employees and the public. Carr purchased quality seed and modern farm equipment and practiced diversification, rotation, and fertilization of crops. In his continuous search for efficiency, he consulted authorities such as the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station, established in 1877 under the newly authorized Department of Agriculture. He kept detailed records of his operations and wrote articles and made speeches on farm subjects. His most popular article, entitled "Plan for a Silo," was first published in the Raleigh Progressive Farmer (12 Feb. 1889). Not only interested in farming, Carr invested in the Rocky Mount Mills, a textile manufacturing company, serving at one time as chairman of its board of directors. In 1888 he became part owner of the Farmers' Co-Operative Manufacturing Company, a cottonseed oil mill, and he invested in the Tar River Navigation Company, which operated a boat on the Tar River. From 1877 to 1892 Carr served on the Board of Commissioners of Edgecombe County. In 1887 the North Carolina Farmers' Association, of which he was president (1887-1889), secured passage of a bill establishing the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Raleigh. Carr became a charter member of its board of trustees. Carr's leadership of the Farmers' Alliance in North Carolina brought him state and national attention. He became active at all levels of the hierarchical organization, known as the Southern Alliance, whose purpose was improving social and economic conditions for farmers. In 1887 he joined the North Carolina Farmers' State Alliance (NCFSA) and served as chairman of the executive board (Oct. 1887-Aug. 1889). He is credited with founding the Alliance Business Agency, through which members bought and sold merchandise. Carr was the first president of the Sparta Sub-Alliance (Dec. 1887-Jan. 1890) and the Edgecombe County Alliance (Mar. 1888-Mar. 1890). In August 1889 he was elected president of the NCFSA and served two, one-year terms. As president he guided the organization through its most active period, answering inquiries about its operation, especially membership requirements, devised to keep the alliance closely knit and effective. He directed its educational work, primarily the activities of lecturers, who instructed members in modern farming methods and about alliance legislative demands. After his term as president ended, Carr continued to manifest interest in the flourishing national farm movement. He opposed the St. Louis platform adopted by the alliance and other reform groups in 1892 because it advocated government ownership and operation of railroads, ignored the tariff issue, and propelled the organization toward a third party. His moderate position on issues won him support from both alliance and straight-out Democrats, who in 1892 nominated him for governor. Carr won election with a plurality of the votes. Ironically Carr, who detested political controversy and possessed little political experience, served as North Carolina governor during the most turbulent period after Reconstruction. Still he achieved a number of reforms. His proposal for financing roads received modest support, but he did persuade the general assembly to increase the school tax from fifteen to eighteen cents on property valued at $100. The State Board of Health was redefined in an 1893 law and given increased funding and expanded functions. Carr advocated modern facilities and practices in the care and treatment of inmates in charitable and penal institutions. At the end of 1896 the penitentiary had become self-supporting, a long-sought goal, and North Carolina was a model in treatment of the mentally ill. Carr sought to make North Carolina more attractive to both settlers and investors. He attended a convention of southern governors in Richmond, Virginia, in April 1893 for the purpose of encouraging immigration. Afterward he published a pamphlet, Resources and Advantages of NORTH CAROLINA (1893), and attracted the Waldensians, who planted a colony at Valdese in Burke County that year. During Carr's term the North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey assessed the state's mineral, timber, and water resources, and its many publications encouraged both conservation of resources and capital investment in the state. The Fusionists, a coalition of Populists and Republicans, won control of the general assembly in 1895, and Carr looked with disfavor on their attempts to expand their patronage. Distrust of the Fusionists and memories of railroad scandals during Reconstruction probably motivated him to support a 99-year lease of the North Carolina Railroad to the Southern Railway System in 1895, before the existing lease expired. This action proved the most controversial of his governorship, since it enabled enemies to portray him as a friend of railroad corporations even though in 1893 Carr had made the railroads surrender their tax-exempt status. Modest and reserved, with no flair for oratory, he proved a strong administrator. Retiring from office in January 1897, Carr returned to Bracebridge, where he died. Bibliography Carr's papers, numbering more than 7,000 items, are located in the East Carolina Manuscript Collection, Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C. The Governor's Papers and Letterbooks (1893-1897), located in the Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, are quite extensive. Three other collections in the archives illuminate Carr's childhood and family life, the papers of John Buxton Williams, the Polk family, and Thomas Merritt Pittman. Some correspondence is in the Zebulon B. Vance Papers in the archives and in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Printed material on the alliance includes the North Carolina Farmers' State Alliance Proceedings (1888-1893) and NCFSA Constitutions (1888-1893). Study of government documents is requisite for Carr's governorship. Informative newspapers include the Tarboro Southerner (1866-1900), the Raleigh Progressive Farmer (1887-1897), and the Raleigh News and Observer (1887-1900). Secondary sources on Carr include articles written by Lala Carr Steelman, "The Life-Style of an Eastern North Carolina Planter: Elias Carr of Bracebridge Hall," North Carolina Historical Review 57 (1980): 17-42; "The Role of Elias Carr in the North Carolina Farmers' Alliance," North Carolina Historical Review 57 (1980): 133-58; and "Elias Carr: A Profile," Journal of the Association of Historians in North Carolina 1 (1993): 29-60, which is a synopsis and assessment of the subject. Two works by the same author, although not focused on Carr, include information on his alliance activities. The North Carolina Farmers' Alliance: A Political History, 1887-1893 (1985) treats Carr's political philosophy and his activities in the 1892 campaign. "Leonidas Lafayette Polk, North Carolina Alliancemen, and Some Conflicts of Agrarian Leadership, 1887-1892," in Of Tar Heel Towns, Shipbuilders, Reconstructionists and Alliancemen, ed. Joseph F. Steelman (1981), discusses controversy and conflict within the NCFSA with Polk as the central figure. An obituary is in the Raleigh News and Observer, 24 July 1900. Lala Carr Steelman Back to the top Citation: Lala Carr Steelman. "Carr, Elias"; http://www.anb.org/articles/05/05-00128.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Note: This email has been sent in plain text format so that it may be read with the standard ASCII character set. Special characters and formatting have been normalized. Copyright Notice Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the American National Biography of the Day and Sample Biographies provided that the following statement is preserved on all copies: From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. 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