Carter Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Carter Surname Meaning

Carter, an occupational name for a transporter of goods, derived from the Middle English carte and from the Anglo-Norman carretier and cartier.  Supporting the Norman origin of the name would be the present-day French surname Cartier.

Carter Surname Resources on The Internet

Carter Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England.  The earliest references to the use of Carter as a surname are in the south of England, in Sussex and Essex in the 13th century.  Carters also came from an early time from Kent.

Bedfordshire  The first traced family, from the 1450’s, is probably the Carters from Kempston in Bedfordshire.  The local church has a memorial to the seven sons and ten daughters of William Carter, placed there by his wife Maria in 1605.

Thomas Carter from this family embarked for America in the 1650’s.  One of his descendants is thought to be the former US President, Jimmy Carter.  Another branch of the family moved to Yorkshire and settled in Knottingley near Pontefract.  Mark Carter founded a family brewing business there in 1803.  Thie business prospered and continued as an independent brewery until the 1930’s.  The Carter home at Lime Grove in Knottingley still stands.

Hampshire  There was a larger cluster of Carters in the south in Hampshire.  John Carter became a successful merchant in Portsmouth in the early 1700’s.  His son John Carter was nine times mayor of Portsmouth.  From this family has come Violet Bonham Carter, the matriarch of the old Liberal party, and Helena Bonham Carter, the present-day actress.

Elsewhere. Despite these Carters from the south, the distribution of the Carter name in England suggests a northern bias.  Some 20 percent of the Carters in the 1891 census were to be found in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

AmericaThe Ransom of Mercy Carter tells the story of the Indian attack on the village of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704 and the forcible taking of the Carter family three hundred miles north to Quebec.  However, their father Samuel was absent on the day of the attack and he was able to establish a new Carter line in Norwalk (one that is recorded to Samuel Carter’s 1980 book Descendants of Samuel Carter).

Virginia  The first Carter arrival (or near-arrival) in America was in fact recorded in 1615 when a man named Carter was one of three men shipwrecked off Virginia.  The earliest actual arrivals were:

  • William Carter from London who first appeared in Jamestown in 1623.  His son Thomas started the Nanticote plantation in Isle of Wight county.
  • John Carter who came in the 1630’s from Hertfordshire.  His son Robert, known as “King Carter,” built the Shirley plantation on the James river and invested his farming profits in a merchant banking empire.  He became one of America’s first millionaires.
  • Captain Thomas Carter who arrived around 1650 from Bedfordshire and started his Barford tobacco plantation in Lancaster county.  Later Thomas Carters were to be found in Pittsylvania county (until Thomas V moved to Missouri in 1835).  This line was covered in Joseph Miller’s 1912 book Captain Thomas Carter of Barford.   
  • and another Carter family in Virginia which traced from Joseph Carter in Spotsylvania in the early 1700’s.

The Carter name spread from Virginia to Tennessee, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.

Carters in the South.  The following have been Carters in Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky:

  • Kindred Carter, a descendant of Thomas Carter, came to Georgia in the 1790’s.  The US President Jimmy Carter is the seventh generation Carter of this family to live in Georgia.
  • Landon Carter was a prominent early pioneer in Tennessee.  He established his Landon Carter plantation on the Watauga river.  The frame mansion that he built in 1775 in Elizabethton (a town named after his wife) still stands.  Charles Carter was one of the first settlers in Martin’s Creek.
  • while other Carters settled in Bell and Knox counties, Kentucky.

Amon Carter, the long-time publisher of the Fort Worth Telegram Star in Texas, had Tennessee roots. During his heyday of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Carter personified the image of the Texas cowboy in the national mind; an uninhibited story-teller, gambler, and drinker.  The well-publicized hospitality of his Shady Oak Farm was open to any major celebrity or businessman who was passing through Fort Worth.

The Carter family cut their first country music record in a makeshift studio in Tennessee in 1927.  They continued recording until the 1950’s and were an inspiration to a subsequent generation of country music singers.  June Carter of this family married the country singer great Johnny Cash in 1968.  The Carters were said to have been distantly related to the former President Jimmy Carter.

Another country singer of this era was Will Carter, from Canada.

A more remarkable singing story has been that of James Carter, an inmate at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison who had recorded the chain-gang song Po Lazarus.  His rendition became an unlikely American chart-topper forty years later in 2002.

Hawaii.  Joseph Carter was a New England sea captain who traded in the Pacific and made his home in Hawaii before his death in 1850.  He was the forebear of one of its most influential early families.  He himself was a descendant of the Thomas Carter who had been ordained as the first minister of Woburn, Massachusetts in 1640.

Caribbean.   Edwin and Elizabeth Carter were early planters in Barbados, arriving there in the 1660’s.  The Carters ran the fertile Valley plantation in St. George parish and were closely tied to the Lascelles slave trading family.

Canada.  Robert Carter arrived in Newfoundland from Devon in the 1740’s.  His family prospered at Ferryland as one of its leading fish merchants. His descendant Frederick Carter was a prominent Newfoundland politician of the mid/late 19th century and was knighted for his services.

The Rev. Henry Carter, a Baptist minister, came to the Canadian Maritime provinces from Surrey sometimes in the 1890’s.  He and his wife Rose raised nine children there.  One of their sons Alvah was killed on the Western Front in 1917 during the First World War.  Another son Wilf fell out with his father and left home.  He later became famous as Canada’s first country music star.

Australia.  Western Australian author and historian Bevan Carter has spoken about his convict ancestry.  He numbers thirty in his family tree, including Robert Carter, a poacher sent to Australia after a gun battle with game keepers.

Charles Carter arrived in Tasmania in the late 1820’s.  He later moved to Victoria and successfully fought off hostile Aboriginals, bushrangers, droughts, and bush fires as a pioneer Wimmera settler.  Later Carter arrivals in the 1850’s included George and Jane Carter from Scotland and miner Joseph Carter who headed for the Victoria goldfields.

The Carter brothers of Werribee in Victoria were the leading egg producers of Australia in the first half of the 20th century.

New Zealand.  Charles Carter from Cumbria and John Carter from Cornwall were pioneer settlers in New Zealand:

  • Charles arrived in Wellington in 1850 and was one of its prominent early citizens.  He took a keen interest in astronomy and the Carter Observatory in Wellington was named after him.
  • John Carter and his wife Elizabeth came to New Zealand in 1863 and farmed at Moutoa (near Wanganui).  Their fourth son Frank built up a large timber business which, after his death in 1949, became amalgamated as the Carter Holt Harvey Company.

Dan Carter, the great New Zealand rugby player, is descended from John Carter who was born in South Australia in 1857 and emigrated to Canterbury, SI in the 1880’s.  His great uncle Bill Dalley was also an All Blacks rugby player.

Helena Bonham Carter’s Ancestry

The actress Helena Bonham Carter’s ancestors came from Portsmouth on the south coast of England.  They rose to national prominence in Victorian England.  Later Bonham Carters were active in the affairs of the Liberal party.

Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Carter Surname Miscellany

Early Carters.  Francis L. Berkeley of the University of Virginia gave this account of Carters in his introduction to Currer-Briggs book, The Carters of Virginia: Their English Ancestry.

“Carters, originally by trade as well as by name, were craftsmen, artisans, and yeomen farmers during the medieval centuries, becoming landowners in early Tudor times.  Always fecund, they sent many of their younger children to nearby London, where in the Elizabethan and early Stuart reigns. they became commercial venturers.  Some of them were mariners and an extraordinary number of them were vintners and freemen of the great Vintner’s company.

The Fate of the Carters at Deerfield.  In 1704, an Indian tribe attacked the village of Deerfield in northern Massachusetts and force-marched the captured inhabitants in winter three hundred miles north to an Indian village in Quebec.  The novel The Ransom of Mercy Carter provides an account of this harrowing journey.

The family of Samuel Carter lived at Deerfield and the following was the fate of the Carters taken:

Name Age
Hannah Carter  30 Killed en route
Samuel Carter  12 Died in Canada in 1714
Mercy Carter  10 Remained in Canada and married
an Indian
John Carter   9 Remained in Canada, as John
Ebenezer Carter   7 Ransomed in 1707 for £24
Thomas Carter   5 Killed in the village
Marah Carter   3 Killed en route
Hannah Carter  7 mos. Killed en route (died of

The Carters who survived ended up in the protection of Jesuits at their mission on the Prairies river.

Samuel Carter had been away from Deerfield on the day of the attack.  He returned a day later to find his village burnt and his family gone.  A year later, he moved to Norwalk in Connecticut and married again.

Edmund Carter and Racial Prejudice.  Edmund Carter was born on the Landon Carter Plantation on the Watauga river in 1790.  He was the son of a Negro slave and an unknown white man.  He took his name from Landon Carter who is suspected to be his father.  Edmund’s grandmother had been a native of Africa and came to America as a victim of the slave trade.  She was called “Togo” and when she arrived in Virginia she was presumably placed on the auction block and sold to John Carter, Landon Carter’s father.

At birth Edmund Carter was a free person of color as it was the law of the land that children born of Negro slaves and white fathers were deemed free persons.  Not much is known of his childhood years and the date of his marriage to Susanna has not been established.  Their son Alexander was born in Tennessee in 1816. Edmund and family migrated to Arkansas territory and thence to Texas.

The Carters were one of only 397 free Negroes in Texas.  Here they carried on various businesses of dry goods stores, freight and grocery, supply wagons and livestock, and eventually started their Carter ranch.  However, in 1857, both Edmund and his son Alexander were murdered by a white man named Draper for reasons of prejudice, wealth and jealousy.  Alexander died instantly, Edmund lingered for about 28 days.

Amon Carter and Dallas.  Carter’s disdain for Dallas, Fort Worth’s larger and richer neighbor, was legendary in Texas.  One of the best-known stories about Carter is that he would take a sack lunch whenever he travelled to Dallas so that he wouldn’t have to spend money there.

Another story relates to a ceremony at the county line to bury the hatchet between the two cities.  Carter and other leaders from Fort Worth and Dallas were each presented with hatchets and with shovels to bury them.   As the ceremony was wrapping up, a young reporter said to Carter that the handle of his hatchet was still sticking out of the ground.  Carter replied that he was well aware and that he might need his hatchet later.

The Carter Family: Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  In August 1927 three musicians arrived at a makeshift recording studio in Bristol, Tennessee, to audition for a talent scout from the Victor Talking Machine Company.

The songs A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and her cousin Maybelle recorded that day drew upon the rich musical traditions of their native rural Appalachia.  The Carter Family sang of love and loss, desperation and joy, and their music captured the attention of a nation entering the darkest days of the depression.  In the coming years, with the release of songs such as Keep on the Sunnyside, Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Wildwood Flower, Carter Family record sales exploded.

The film The Carter Family: Will The Circle Be Unbroken draws upon rarely seen photographs, memorabilia and archival footage to tell the bittersweet story of these influential musical pioneers whose songs and style laid the foundations for American folk, country and bluegrass music.

Jimmy Carter’s Line in Georgia.  Kindred and Mourning Carter came to Georgia with their three children from North Carolina in the early 1790’s.  The US President Jimmy Carter is the seventh generation Carter of this family to live in Georgia.

  • Kindred Carter (1750-1800) m. Mourning Hickman (1745-1804)
  • – James Carter (1773-1858) m. Eleanor Duckworth (1778-1820)
  • — Wiley Carter (1798-1864) m. Ann Annsley (1801-1848)
  • — Walker Carter (1832-1873) m. Mary Ann Seals (1838-1863)
  • —- Billy Carter (1858-1903) m. Nina Pratt (1863-1939)
  • —– James Earl Carter (1894-1963) m. Lilian Gordy (1898-1983)
  • ——Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) m. Rosalynn Smith (1927-2023).

Jimmy Carter’s grandfather Billy lost his mother when he was five and his father when he was fifteen.  He then met an untimely death at the age of forty-four one evening in 1903 when he was shot and killed by Will Talliferro following a skuffle outside of his house, his eldest son William witnessing the tragedy.

Afterwards his widow Nina and their four children moved from their home in Arlington, Georgia to the small town of Plains 50 miles away where Nina lived until her death in 1939.

Jimmy Carter’s father James, a farmer and fertilizer dealer, and his wife Lilian, a nurse who famously applied to the Peace Corps in 1966 at the age of sixty-eight, brought up their family in Plains, their eldest son Jimmy being born there in 1924.

The Carter Brothers of Werribee.  The Carter brothers of Werribee in Victoria (near Melbourne) numbered four, James, Walter, Roland, and John.  In 1911, they had bought their first egg incubator, a Petaluma of 100 egg capacity.  In 1919 they installed an Austral Mammoth incubator of 6,000 egg capacity and in 1924 a Buckeye I-lot water incubator of 10,300 egg capacity.

By the 1930’s, the four brothers were the largest egg farmers in Australia and, for many years, they had the largest egg-producing farm in the world.  They specialized in egg production for the table, for both the Australian market and for export to the United Kingdom. They had an all-white Leghorn flock and hatched their own replacement chickens each spring.

With a laying flock of 250,000 birds, the saving for the Carters financially in being able to separate the pullets and cockerels at a day old was considerable.  Before they employed a Japanese chick sexer (Mr. Kataoka) in 1935, all of their cockerels had to be reared until they were about six to eight weeks old and then sold at Melbourne poultry auctions – for well below the cost of the feed that they ate.

Carter Names

  • Robert or “King” Carter was one of America’s first millionaires.
  • Violet Bonham Carter, daughter of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, was the matriarch of the British Liberal Party in the 20th century.   Her granddaughter is the actress, Helena Bonham Carter.
  • Howard Carter was the English archaeologist who discovered the tomb of Tutankamon in 1922.
  • The Carter Family, following their recordings in 1927, were the first of country music’s singing stars.
  • Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States.
  • Daniel Carter was the recent star fly-half for the New Zealand rugby team.

Carter Numbers Today

  • 124,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 131,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 53,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Carter and Like Surnames

The surnames found here cover most of the US Presidential surnames since the first President, George Washington.  Click on the surname below if you wish to know more of that particular President and his name.

ClintonJacksonNixonVan Buren

Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *