Upon his father’s small farm [in Carroll County, VA], George L. Carter, the first of nine children, was born not long before the war; and though apparently physically unfitted to endure the labors of the field, he had the resolution of his father, and during the spring, summer and autumn worked on the farm, and in the winter went to a small country school.
At sixteen years, his father determined to engage him in some avocation more suitable to his condition, and secured for him a position in a store at Hillsville. In this new capacity he proved himself industrious, faithful and honest, and he found time early mornings and evenings, to gratify his taste for reading.
Among the books read in this early period of his life were: Franklin’s Autobiography, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and the Bible, which afforded him a great deal of information and valuable mental culture.
After four years spent in the store at Hillsville, he secured a position with the Wythe Lead and Zinc Mine company, at Austinville, VA. This proved to be the opening of his wonderfully successful business career, and it was not very long ere he struck out on his own financial ventures. The great opportunities of Southwest Virginia for mineral enterprises were now awakening, and Mr. Carter was one of the first to interpret the signs of the times.
He connected himself with the Dora Furnace company, at Pulaski, as vice-president and general manager. His success enlarged his views, and he aspired to victory in even wider fields. He saw that ten or more furnaces were idle and large coal fields in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee were undeveloped. He conceived the idea of uniting a number of these separate and crippled enterprises into one great organization, which should be inspired with new life and energy, and capable of carrying out the natural result.
He sought out capitalists in New York, and Moore and Schley, bankers, financiered the movement, and in a short time capital to the amount of $10,000,000 was provided. A company was organized in January, 1899, under the name of Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke company, and the name of George L. Carter, its president, became famous in all Virginia.
Besides the furnaces, two railroads were comprised in the deal, and 175,000 acres of mineral and timber land in Tennessee and Virginia. Unfortunately, there occurred what frequently happens, at some time or other, with every business corporation.
A faction developed unfriendly to Mr. Carter, and in 1901, by snap methods, the company was thrown by Moore and Schley into receivers’ hands. Mr. Carter would not submit, and an appeal to the courts was taken by him, which resulted in the appointment of Judge A. A. Phlegar, the personal friend and counsel of Mr. Carter, as one of the receivers.
Under their able direction the interests of the Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke company, which are immense, were put in first class shape, and the receivers discharged by the court in 1903.
Mr. Carter, who from his youth has been interested in farming operations, although in a very small way, in his earlier days, is very fond of agricultural pursuits, takes his only recreation by occasionally spending a day or two looking after his considerable farming interests, cattle and other live stock.
In 1902 and 1903 Mr. Carter bought two small railroads in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, and a large acreage of coal lands in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, and immediately commenced the development thereof by opening up a number of coal mines on properties, and building railroads thereto.
He is now (1906) backed by strong New York and Boston interests in a forty
million dollar company, which is making further developments of its about two hundred and fifty thousand acres of Virginia coal land, and in completing an extensive low grade line railroad from the Virginia coal field to connections with the South Atlantic coast.
In response to the question, ‘What will most contribute to achieve success in life?’ Mr. Carter replies : ” A complete knowledge of anatomy, and a proper observance of the laws of nature, with constant industry, frugality, honesty of purpose, nobility, courage, persistent energy, and the fear of God.”
In politics, Mr. Carter is and has always been a Democrat, although he has never sought office and cares nothing for it. The religious element in his character is deep and earnest, and, though he has never identified himself with any church, he prefers the Presbyterian way of thinking.
He states that his mother’s influence upon his intellectual, moral and spiritual life was very great and this is probably the source of his deep veneration for the Sabbath day, which he wishes to keep holy, no matter what may be the call upon him. This deep religious instinct was probably the governing principle of his conduct after his father’s death when made guardian to his younger brothers and sisters.
His supervision extended down even to the smallest details of their lives; and their physical, intellectual and spiritual welfare were ever the objects of his tenderest care. Feeling the inconveniences which he had encountered from lack of early mental training, he took care, at the expense of much toil and anxiety to himself, that each of his brothers and sisters should receive the best educational advantages.
“Men of Mark in Virginia: Ideals of American Life,” by Lyon G. Tyler LLD, Men of Mark Publishing, Wash DC, 1908.