Never politically ambitious, Elias Carr represents what some scholars have called the last in a “fading tradition of planter governors.” The Edgecombe County native and Democrat with Populist tendencies served as governor from 1893 to 1897. During the last two years of his administration, Carr’s vision was tempered by Fusion politics.
Born at Bracebridge Hall, a 2,000-acre plantation in Edgecombe County, Elias Carr seemed destined to be a planter. The young Carr was orphaned at age four, and he went to live with his aunt and uncle in Warren County. Although he earned degrees from the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia (law), Carr planned to live a planter’s life and purchased his brother’s interest in Bracebridge Hall.
Carr earned a reputation for championing farmers’ interests. After the Civil War, he served as an officer in several organizations, including Farmer’s Institute of Edgecombe County, the North Carolina Farmers Association, and Farmer’s Alliance. Serving in the latter position during the 1880s brought national attention. As time went on, many farmers considered political participation a necessity to sustain their livelihood.
As talk of third parties abounded in the early 1890s, Carr was considered to be the man who could unite the splintering industrial and farming interests in the North Carolina Democratic Party. Some consider his gubernatorial election as a foreshadowing of the Fusion Era: He received a plurality of the votes and beat Judge David Furches (Republican) and Wyatt Exum (Populist) to be the 48th governor of the Tar Heel State.
As Governor, Carr continued advocating for farmers’ and rural interests. He championed funding of rural schools, he approved of a geological survey, and he wanted to improve roads across the state. After the 1895 election, Carr’s vision was not seen as enthusiastically by a Fusion legislature. He was criticized strongly for leasing the North Carolina Railroad.
After his term, Carr returned to Bracebridge Hall and lived out the rest of his days.