Select Carpenter Surname Genealogy

Carpenter, a worker in wood, is derived from the Norman French carpentier, itself from the late Latin carpentarius, introduced into England after 1066. 

Carpenter first started appearing as a surname, rather than as an occupation, around 1120.  Some see a link with the French de Melun family.  A Melun forebear had been called "William the Carpenter" because of his prowess with a battleaxe.  This nickname stuck with the family. 

Carpenters in America outnumber Carpenters in England by a factor of two to one.  This is because the American Carpenters have been augmented by German-speaking Zimmermans (Zimmerman means carpenter in German).  Many of these Zimmermans anglicized their names to Carpenter.  But Ethel Zimmerman took the name Ethel Merman.  And a certain Bob Zimmerman decided to call himself Bob Dylan.

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England.  The Carpenter name was and is mainly to be found in the south of England, particularly in the southwest.  Further north, it was the Old English word Wright which described the workers in wood or carpenters in the medieval age.

Herefordshire  Carpenters date from the 1300's in Herefordshire.  They had come over from France and their seat was at Holme (or Homme) in Dilwyn.  They were to be found from an early time in London.  Richard Carpenter was a chandler there and John Carpenter became Town Clerk of London, and a very famous one, in 1417.  Later in the Hereford line came George Carpenter, ennobled as Lord Carpenter for his feats as a general in defeating the 1715 Jacobite revolt. 

Cornwall  The Cornish Carpenters started with John Carpenter, MP for Liskeard in 1323, and continued through naval captains to Alfred Carpenter, awarded the VC for his part in the raid on Zeebrugge during World War One.        

Elsewhere  The Carpenter name in time spread across the south of England.  Carpenters, for instance, were yeoman farmers in Berkshire from the 15th centrury.  From this family came William Carpenter, an early settler in New England.   Another William Carpenter who crossed the Atlantic came from Amesbury in Wiltshire.  There was a Carpenter family at Bradford on Tone in Somerset and Carpenters were also to be found in Sussex at this time. 

An 18th century family started with Thomas Carpenter, a carpet maker in Kidderminster.  His son Lant became an influential Unitarian preacher and his granddaughter Mary a noted Victorian social reformer who founded the ragged school movement. 
Ireland.  Henry Carpenter came from an Irish family in Enniskillen.  His marriage in 1840 to Hester Boyd later produced the Boyd Carpenters, father and son Conservative politicians. 

  Early Carpenter arrivals included:
  • William Carpenter, a preacher, who came to the New Providence plantation in 1635.  His descendants settled in Jamaica, Long Island.   The family line was traced in Daniel H. Carpenter's 1901 book The Carpenter Family in America
  • William Carpenter, his wife Abigail, and their four children who arrived on the Bevis to Rehoboth, Massachusetts in 1638.  This William, another preacher, died there in 1659.  Charles Carpenter's 1988 book The Descendants of William Carpenter covered his family history.   There is a Carpenter Road and three historic Carpenter Houses in Rehoboth today.
  • Ephraim Carpenter, a Quaker, who came to America in 1678 and settled in Long Island (his forebear was in fact a German Zimmerman who had changed his name to Carpenter in England in the 1550's).
  • and Samuel Carpenter, another Quaker, who came to Philadelphia by way of Barbados in 1683.  A friend of William Penn, he became a very successful merchant in the new colony.  Carpenter's Wharf established itself as one of the city's landmarks.
All of these Carpenters have a large number of descendants recorded.  The Rehoboth Carpenters included Captain Benajah Carpenter who founded the US Army Field Artillery Corps and the painter Francis Carpenter who lived in the White House at the time of Lincoln and published a memoir of his stay.  One Carpenter line went through to the astronaut Scott Carpenter.

Zimmerman/Carpenter.  There were hundreds if not thousands of German immigrants into Pennsylvania in the 1700's named Zimmerman or some variation thereof.   Many of them were Mennonites from Switzerland and south Germany seeking religious freedom.  From Switzerland and settling in Lancaster county came Heinrich Zimmerman in 1717, Hans Zimmerman and his family on the Pink Plaisance in 1732, and George Zimmerman in the 1740's. 

George Zimmerman later anglicized his name in Virginia to Carpenter.  As did Mathias Zimmerman in North Carolina.  And many others did as well.  Perhaps they made the name change to fit in better with their English neighbors.  Or perhaps their new name represented a growing American pride. 

George Carpenter's descendants moved inland once the Revolutionary War was over.  Carpenter's station was one of the first stations to be built across the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky.  It was established in 1780 near present-day Hustonville by three Carpenter brothers, Adam, Conrad and John, all Revolutionary War veterans.  Other Carpenters from Pennsylvania later moved onto Ohio.

Australia.  Early Carpenters were convicts, such as Charles Carpenter who arrived in 1832 and Richard Carpenter five year later.  Richard subsequently married and eked out a living in what was called "the terrible vale."  However, he had a love of horses and this love was passed down to his descendants who owned, trained or raced horses.

John Carpenter was a New England sea captain and merchant who had moved his shipping base to Sydney in Australia in the 1880's.   His sons later took over the business and Walter Carpenter founded WR Carpenter & Co in 1914, a company which traded copra with the planters in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

"Although much abused by some planters and small traders - WRC was said to stand for "would rob Christ," - Carpenters also earned the gratitude of those who survived on long-term credit and who looked to it to transact all their business."

The Carpenter business expanded in the inter-war years into a major shipping company by sea and by air.

Select Carpenter Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Carpenter Names

John Carpenter was one of the most famous Town Clerks of London and was the author of the first book of English common law.
George Carpenter was the general from Hereford who defeated the Jacobite rebels at Preston in 1715.
Lant Carpenter from Kidderminster in Worcestershire was a prominent early 19th century Unitarian minister and educator.  His daughter Mary was the founder of the ragged school movement for orphan children.
Edward Carpenter was a poet and writer, one of the founders of the Fabian Society in the early 1900's, and an early advocate of gay rights.
Walter Carpenter
, the son of a New England whaler, based himself in Australia and was a highly successful shipping merchant in the inter-war years.
Richard and Karen Carpenter are the brother/sister pop duo known as the Carpenters.

Select Carpenters Today
  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 52,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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