Carson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Carson Surname Meaning

Carson is a name of Scottish origin, possibly from a long lost place-name.  The first record of the name occurred in Dumfries in the 13th century in the form of Acarson.  The Corsans or Carsans were a long-standing Dumfries family.

Carson Surname Resources on The Internet

Carson Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Borders)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

Scotland.  Early Carsons were noted for their ferocity.  John a’Carson and his followers seized the castle of Dumfries in 1305.  They were to settle in Dumfries a hundred years later.

“Sir John Corsane, the next heir male, settled at Dumfries and was the head of a far-descending line which for eighteen generations presented an unbroken array of male heirs, all bearing the name of John.”

These John Corsanes were provosts of Dumfries during the 1600’s and wealthy.  John Corsane of Meikle Knox who died in 1777 was the last of this male line.  But the name Corsane or Corson, more often now written as Carson, is still common in Dumfries.

Ireland.  Carsons migrated across the Irish Sea to Ulster at the time of the Scottish Plantations of the 17th century or later.  They settled first in county Tyrone and then spread to other parts of the province, especially to Antrim and Derry.

Robert and Eleanor Carson left Kilmarnock in Ayrshire for Ireland sometime in the 1680’s, eventually settling in Derry.  Their son Alexander was a Presbyterian preacher there and in county Down.  His two sons emigrated to America in the 1750’s, Samuel to Pennsylvania and William to North Carolina.

A number of other Scots Irish Carsons also emigrated around this time.  But one family history traced a Carson family from Antrim who made the reverse journey back to Ayrshire in Scotland in 1873.

A Carson family had moved to Dublin from Dumfries in Scotland in 1815.  They were a wealthy Anglican family in Dublin during the 19th century. Edward Carson of this family made his name as a barrister in the Oscar Wilde trial of 1895.  He subsequently became a politician, espoused Unionism, and led the Irish Unionist party between 1910 and 1921.

“In 1932, he witnessed the unveiling of a large statue of himself in front of the Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast.  The statue was unveiled by Lord Craigavon in the presence of more than 40,000 people.  The inscription on the base read: “By the loyalists of Ulster as an expression of their love and admiration for its subject.”

America.  Carsons in America are most likely to be of Scots Irish origin.

Scots Irish.  The most famous was the trapper and Indian agent Kit Carson, born in Kentucky in 1809.  His grandfather William Carson had arrived in America in the 1750’s and received a land grant in Iredell county, North Carolina.  Robert Trennert’s 2003 book Kit Carson and His Three Wives is a recent family history of the man.

John Carson preceded him.  He was an 18th century Indian trader who founded Carsonville in Dauphin county, Pennsylvania in the 1760’s.  Walter and Mary Carson meanwhile were married in Pennsylvania in 1754.  Carson descendants here migrated to North Carolina after the Revolutionary War and then went onto Indiana.

One family history began with Thomas Carson and his family from county Down who arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in 1773.  These Carsons later migrated to Georgia, Alabama, and then to Brazos county, Texas.  Another line through Colonel Joseph Carson who died young in Mississippi was to be found there and later in Louisiana.

Andrew Carson arrived in Charleston from Antrim a year later in 1774.  He and his wife Margaret raised ten children in South Carolina.  By the early 1800’s their offspring had spread out to Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois.

Talk show host Johnny Carson was born in Iowa in 1925.  It was Marshall Carson, four generations back, who had made the move from Maine to Iowa in the 1870’s and his forebear, Adam Carson, who had arrived from Ireland in the 1750’s.

Canada.  William Carson grew up in Belfast and migrated to Canada via New York with his wife Anne in 1832.  He bought land unseen on a bend in the Ottawa river called Gore of Lock Harbor.  The land must have been all right because he farmed and lived there until his death in 1874.

John Carson was another Irish Protestant, in this case a tenant farmer from the Curragh in Kildare, who came to Quebec in the early 1830’s.  It is possible that he lost his first wife during the 1832 cholera epidemic in Montreal.  He married his second wife Mary in Montreal in 1834 and they moved to the English river area of Quebec around 1850.

Australia.  John and Elizabeth Carson arrived in Melbourne on the Robert Benn from Glasgow in 1842.  John was a horticulturist by profession.  But his sons John and William involved themselves in the wool trade; as did their nephew Norman who was knighted for his services to Australian industry in 1961.

Carson Surname Miscellany

Corsane Origins in Dumfries.  Robert Dinwiddle wrote an article in 1922 entitled Corsanes of Meikle Knox, an Old Dumfries Family in which he stated that the first Corsane in Dumfries was in fact Italian.

“Tradition asserts that this family is descended from an Italian named Corsini, reputed to be of the many artisans of skill brought from the Continent by Queen Dervorguila to build Sweetheart Abbey around the year 1280.  From the original prefix, “A” or “AP,” occurring as a routine in old writs, some authorities question this origin, considering the name to be Celtic and of Galloway origin.”

Queen Dervorguila had been very devoted to her husband, John de Balliol.  After his death she had his heart embalmed and carried it with her in a little silver casket. To his memory she then built Sweetheart Abbey near Dumfries and after her death she was buried under its altar with the silver casket on her bosom.

The Corsanes of Dumfriesshire have spelled their name “Corson” or “Corsane.”  A characteristic of them was their brown eyes and very dark hair. 

John Corsane, Provost of Dumfries.  John Corsane, the twelfth in descent from the first Sir John, was Provost of Dumfries in 1621. This Provost Corsane was one of the richest commoners in Scotland.  Besides his country estates, the chief of which was Meikle Knox, he was said to have owned a third of his native town.  At one time, many of its old houses bore the family arms, the head of a pagan pierced by three darts, with warriors as supporters, and the motto: “præmium virtutis gloria.”

The Provost died in 1629, in his seventy sixth year, and was buried near the entrance gate of St. Michael’s cemetery at a place where eleven of his ancestors had been laid before him.  His son John, the thirteenth of his line, built a monument to his memory.

Early Carson Scots Irish Emigrants

  • Samuel Carson (1700-1766), died in Chester, Pennsylvania
  • Thomas Carson (1710-1790), born in Down and died in Georgia
  • Samuel Carson (1712-1762), born in Down and died in Pennsylvania
  • Adam Carson (b. 1730), born in Belfast and died in Maine
  • William Carson (1735-1801), born in Tyrone and died in South Carolina
  • Adam Carson (1765-1842), born in Tyrone and died in Georgia
  • William Carson (1765-1834), born in Antrim and died in Nebraska
  • Samuel Carson (b. 1768), from Belfast to South Carolina in 1803
  • Eleanor Carson (1782-1821), born in Monaghan and died in Canada
  • Thomas Carson (b. 1784), from Derry to Philadelphia in 1834
  • Catherine Carson (1787-1881), born in Cavan and died in Wisconsin
  • John Carson (1798-1847), died in Illinois
  • James Carson (b. 1798), from Belfast to New York in 1848
  • Matthew Carson (1799-1885), died in Brisbane, Australia.

Carsons from Northern Ireland to South Carolina.  Thomas Carson and his family were from a small town near Newry in county Down.  They left Ireland on the Elliott in June 1773 and, after a stormy crossing, reached Charleston, South Carolina four months later.  There were about 40 people in their group, including the McGoughs and McDowells who were their friends and neighbors. The Carsons originally settled in the Abbeville district of South Carolina which at the time was heavily Scots Irish.

The Revolutionary War soon came.  Thomas and his sons enlisted on the American side.  In retaliation their home was burned by the Tories.  After the war Thomas received bounty land and moved to Wilkes county, Georgia.  He died there in 1790.  His descendants were to be found in Georgia, Alabama, and later in Texas.

Marshall Carson’s Obituary.  Marshall Carson, a long-time Iowa resident of Logan, died at his home there on May 21, 1922 at the age of 89.  He had been in failing health for some time.

He was born in 1833 near Bangor in Maine.  At the age of 21 he moved to Minnesota, working there for two years in the pine forests until the gold discoveries at Pikes Peak drew him west.  Marshall stayed only a short time and then took a claim in western Nebraska.  He married Emmeline Kellogg there in 1870.  To this union came eight surviving children.  They moved to Iowa in 1874 and to a farm west of Logan in 1882.

Mr. Carson lived a long and useful life and was honored by all who knew him.  Though he was blind and deaf for many years, he bore these great afflictions patiently and with extreme kindness toward all.

Lieutenant Joseph Carson and Miss Charlotte Briggs.  While the Civil War was raging, Major John Carson of Georgia became concerned about the education of his children.  So he hired a tutor, a Miss Charlotte Keith Briggs of Greene county in Virginia, who was seeking employment as a governess.  Major Carson arranged for his younger brother, Lieutenant Joseph Carson, to get a furlough for the purpose of escorting Miss Briggs from Richmond to the Carson home in Macon county.

The story goes that the lieutenant did not want to escort a school teacher to Georgia.  He obeyed orders; but he did not care how he looked and did not bother to change his clothes or shave when he went to meet her.  Imagine his surprise when the school teacher turned out to be a beautiful 25-year-old.  Miss Briggs took one look at the dirty soldier and made up her mind not to go anywhere with such a man.   Joseph Carson, blushing, asked her to think it over and he’d come back later.

That evening the calling card of Lieut. Joseph Perryman Carson was delivered to her room.  When she came downstairs, a handsome young officer in a new uniform and new boots was waiting for her.  She could hardly believe it was the same man that she had seen that morning.  She changed her mind and went to Georgia with Lieutenant Carson.

The lieutenant was wounded in battle in 1862 and witnessed his elder brother John dying in a hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia two years later.  But there was a happy outcome.  Joseph Carson married Miss Briggs in Macon county, Georgia on January 15, 1864. And he survived the war and was able to return to the family plantation.

The Carsons in Utah.  George and Ann Carson had begun their lives in Pennsylvania.  Later they made their home in Garden Grove, Iowa.  And it was from there that they embarked with their family in June 1851 on that great trek west to the Mormon colony in Salt Lake valley.  They all arrived there safely.  But George passed away that December.

His son John and two of his brothers established themselves at Fairfield, a growing town with a number of soldiers living there.  In 1858 John built what is now known as the Stagecoach Inn. Here his family lived and operated a hotel for travelers until its doors closed in 1947.

The Inn was subsequently restored by the Utah State Park and Recreation Commission and reopened in 1964.

Reader Feedback – Wisconsin Carsons and A Possible Irish Inheritance.  My grandfather David Eugene Carson had a dairy farm of 3,000 acres in Madison, Wisconsin. He received a letter from Ireland in the late 1970’s stating that he needed to come to Ireland to collect an inheritance.  They did not say what it was.  At that time he could not afford to go.  I am curious of what may have happened to it.  I have always been told that we are related to the Dublin Carson lineage.

David Carson (

Carson Names

  • Kit Carson was a 19th century American frontiersman.  Carson City in Nevada was named after him.
  • Edward Carson was the leader of the Irish Unionist party between 1910 and 1921.
  • Rachel Carson was an acclaimed American conservationist, the author of the seminal work Silent Spring. 
  • Willie Carson was English champion jockey four times in the 1970’s.  He also rode four Epsom Derby winners.
  • Johnny Carson was an American TV host and comedian, the long-time front of the Tonight Show.

Carson Numbers Today

  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northern Ireland)
  • 21,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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