‘The Carter Bed’— the story of the bedroom set my mother slept on her entire life and that was originally owned by the family of President Jimmy Carter.
‘The Carter Bed’— a phrase I have heard throughout my life.
Actually, ‘The Carter Bed’ is a full bedroom suite; not just a bed. It was a set my mother used for her bedroom furniture for almost 70 years. ‘The Carter Bed’ is an ornate and beautifully carved set of mahogany Victorian furniture once owned by the extended family of President Jimmy Carter and augmented by a couple of other miscellaneous pieces of furniture from the same era.
So what’s the story of this bedroom set?
Well, Neill Ray was the manager of a very large peach plantation in a small community near Americus, Sumter, Georgia called “Arles.” Neill was my ancestor.
In 1873, Neill married his first wife– Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Annie Carter, President James Earl Carter’s great aunt. Ann, or Annie, was the sister to President Jimmy Carter’s grandfather, William. Of course, the Carter family resided in Plains, Georgia—a sleepy town right up the road. Neill and Ann were to have five children prior to her death about a month after the birth of their sixth child.
In 1896, Neill re-married, with his second wife being a Miss Lona Mattie Tinsley; a widower herself. Jimmy Carter’s grandfather, William Carter, was the best man at the wedding, which was held in Alabama where Lona was a school teacher. Neill and Lona went on to have three children.
In 1912, Neill moved the family from Arles, Georgia to a new, and much larger, home in the quaint and growing city of Americus.
The bedroom set being discussed consisted of a double bed with a carved headboard and footboard, and either one or two dressers. Two night stands, which had been chamber-pot cabinets in their Victorian heyday, were kept with the set but it’s not known whether or not they were originally part of it. One of the two dressers may or may not have been part of the original set but are believed to have been so.
This lovely set of furniture was owned by Neill’s first wife, Annie Carter, prior to their marriage and she brought it into their home. Upon Annie’s death in 1891, her husband retained it in the home that he later shared with his new wife, Lona.
Then came the stock market crash. Neill Ray lost the new home in Americus and all that he owned in the Great Depression. The home went into foreclosure in 1931 and was later purchased by a family that still owns it to this day.
A grandson of Neill Ray later wrote in a document, “I remember well the crash of 1929– my grandfather Neill Ray lost his farm. He could not make the payments on the loan. In those days banks made you a loan on an annual basis…. My mother [the daughter of Neill] had inherited a fair amount of money from her mother and loaned Papa Ray $25,000 dollars to help save the farm but he lost it anyway. Mother never did get her money back. Papa Ray did give her is first wife’s bedroom furniture, the furniture belonging to Annie Carter as payment. Of course, the furniture was not worth that amount of money but that is all Papa Ray had that may have been worth anything.”
Over the years, that set was passed from his daughter to his granddaughter, who was my mother. Mom told me the following story several times over the years: “The wooden carving at the top of the bed’s headboard is so large in scale that it gave me nightmares when I was young. I often dreamed that the carving was a live goblin out to eat me.” It wasn’t until she was much older that she grew to appreciate the beauty of the bed!
Eventually the set was inherited by me and, currently, it is split between my brother and me. I have the bed and side tables. He has the dressers.
So that’s the story of how ‘The Carter Bed’ came into my family.