Carver Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Carver Surname Meaning

Carver as a surname derived from the occupation – a carver in wood or in stone (i.e. a sculptor), with the former being the more likely explanation.  The root of the name was the Middle English kerven, meaning “to cut” or “to carve.”  Gerard le Kerver was recorded in Essex in 1209 and Richard le Kerver in Lincolnshire in 1275.

Some Carvers were not from England.  There were Protestants who came from Flanders – Deryk Carver from Dilsun who took refuge in England in 1545 and John Carver who departed from Leidun for America on the Mayflower in 1620.  And some came later from Germany or Switzerland with like-sounding names such as Gerber (meaning “tanner”) that became Carver in America.

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Carver Surname Ancestry

EnglandThe Carver surname seems to have first surfaced in East
Anglia.  The name looks to have then spread north and westwards (into Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lancashire) and also southwards (to Bedfordshire, London and the southeast).

Great Yarmouth in Norfolk had one concentration of Carvers. Robert Carver, the emigrant to New England in 1638, had come from the village of Filby near Great Yarmouth. Thomas Carver, born in 1711, was a tenant farmer with a thatched cottage in Hardley, a village on the Norfolk Broads near Norwich.  He had three sons – Thomas, John, and James.  Some of their descendants have remained in Norfolk, others have emigrated.

One family line in Nottingham dates back to the marriage of William Carver and Joan Walker in 1696.  There has been some suspicion, although no proof, that John Carver, the Mayflower emigrant, came from Nottingham.

The Carvers were cattle and sheep farmers at Ingarsby in fox-hunting Leicestershire in the 1700’s. William Carver was living at his home there at Old Ingarsby in the 1840’s.  One branch of the family which had moved around this time with the Creswells to Gibraltar expanded into other areas.

As a descendant Humphrey Carver recalled in his 1975 memoir Compassionate Landscape:  “In Gibraltar, the Carver business prospered, shifting their attention from buying port and sherry for the hunt in Leicestershire to exporting cotton goods to Morocco.  This then became Carver Brothers, buying raw cotton in Egypt and exporting it to the Lancashire mills.”


Manchester.  Carver Brothers were based in Manchester, but included Benjamin Carver in Gibraltar and Sydney Carver in Alexandria.  Meanwhile the line from cotton merchant Harold Carver, who had worked for Carver Brothers after World War One, led to Field Marshal Lord Carver, a highly decorated combat veteran of World War Two who went on to hold the most senior posts in the British army.

There was a second Carver family in Manchester based on cotton. This began when two brothers Thomas and John Carver, financed by their father William, bought the Hollins mill at Marple near Manchester in 1858.  It was Thomas’s son William who married Kate Armitage, the daughter of another cotton manufacturer, and then increased the family wealth substantially.  He was able to buy the stately home of Cranage Hall in Cheshire.

The 1901 census showed that William and Kate had three children and could afford to employ eight live-in servants – a housekeeper, cook, nurse and five maids.


Two of William’s sons died in World War One, including Oswald, a rower who competed in the 1908 Olympics (interestingly his widow Elizabeth went on to marry Field Marshal Montgomery).   Joyce Donald’s 1970 booklet The Carver Family covered this family.

Sussex.  Sussex on the south coast had the highest concentration of Carvers in the 1881 census.  There were two notable Carver families there, one coming from the outside and the other apparently home-grown.

Deryk Carver was a Protestant refugee from Flanders who came to Brighton, then a small fishing town, around 1545.  However, when Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553, England was no longer a Protestant haven and Deryk was burnt at the stake.  Despite his death his descendants remained a presence in Brighton in the following centuries.

Carvers were yeoman farmers in West Sussex from about 1600 onwards, first at Sutton near Petworth and then at Tillingham near Findon.  John Carver was recorded as marrying Ann Scotcher at Sutton in 1679.  Much later, during the agricultural recession of the 1830’s, George Carver departed Tillingham for a new life in Canada.  Some of his letters home have been preserved.

Somerset.  The Carver name has also cropped up in the Somerset village of Buckland Dinham near Frome.  John Carver married Mary Ayers in 1757 and ten other Carver marriages were recorded there in the next eighty years.  The progenitor of these Carvers may have been John Carver who had moved there from Norfolk in the 16th century.

Ireland.  Carver is an Irish surname of uncertain origin found almost only in the county of Cork:

  • Thomas Carver, born in Cork in the mid-1700’s, moved to Limerick where he operated a dairy farm.  His descendants returned to Cork.
  • Cornelius Carver, born in 1802, was a bookseller in Cork city.  
  • while other Carvers were to be found in the New Market area of Cork.  

All of these families had Carvers who emigrated to New York or Massachusetts in the mid/late 1800’s.

America.  Not that much is known about John Carver who came on the Mayflower in 1620 and was the first Governor of the Plymouth colony.  He lasted less than six months in Plymouth and left no descendants.

Massachusetts There were two Carver arrivals around 1638, Richard from Norfolk and Robert of uncertain origins. Richard settled in Watertown but soon died, leaving only daughters.  Robert
made his home in Marshfield.  He was a sawyer by trade.

Although Robert Carver had only one known child (named John), he had a number of grandsons to continue the family name:

  • the eldest was William, born in 1659, who lived in Marshfield to the age of 102.  The Marshfield homestead stayed in Carver hands until the early 1900’s.  
  • Deacon Eleazer was born in 1668.  His descendant Eleazer migrated north to Vermont in the 1790’s.  This line was covered in Fred Carver’s 1971 book Genealogy of the Rev. Eleazer Carver Family.  
  • and Ensign David was born in 1669.  He later moved to Weymouth and to Canterbury, Connecticut. His son Jonathan was an early explorer in the 1760’s of the American West.  Carver county in Minnesota was later named in his honor.  

Virginia.  William Carver was a merchant mariner who was master of a ship engaged in trade between the English port of Bristol (probably his native city) and the colonies.  His name first appeared in Virginia records in 1659 when he patented land in Lower Norfolk county.  He got caught up in Bacon’s Rebellion against the Governor’s rule in 1676 and was hanged for his efforts.

However, William left descendants in Virginia, many of whom settled in Albemarle county.  Richard Carver migrated from there after the Revolutionary War to Spartanburg, North Carolina and later Carvers settled in Georgia. Morgan Carver meanwhile departed for Kentucky where he died in 1863 at the grand age of 108. 

Pennsylvania.  John Carver was a Quaker from Hertfordshire who came with William Penn on the Welcome in 1682.  A maltster by trade, he took up land at Byberry near Philadelphia.  “It was said that his eldest daughter Mary was born in a cave on the site of Philadelphia, the first child of English parents in the province.”


John Carver’s farm remained in the family for five generations, descending from father to son (all of whom were named John) until 1864.

John’s brothers William, Joseph and Jacob Carver arrived in Pennsylvania at around the same time as John.  Joseph married and moved to North Carolina near Carvers Creek; Jacob died unmarried; while William traded in his farm at Byberry for land in Bucks county.  His line was covered in Frank Caligiuri’s 2018 book The Carver Family of Bucks County.

Other Carvers.  Two Mennonite Gerber families from Switzerland came to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania around the
year 1735.  Their name was often spelt Garber and, in many cases, became Carver.

Michael Gerber did become Michael Carver sometime after his arrival in Pennsylvania in 1751. His son Christian fought in the Revolutionary War and later settled in Ohio.  Christian’s sons Moses and Richard, born there, migrated by covered wagon to Missouri in 1838.  Richard later moved onto Kansas. 

Moses Carver, however, stayed on in Missouri as a plantation owner and slave-holder.  He is remembered today because of a slave on his plantation named George Washington Carver.  After slavery was abolished, Moses and his wife Susan raised George and his brother James as their own children. George later became renowned for his work at Tuskegee University in his advocacy of crop rotation.  Moses’s farm in Newton county is now known for its
George Washington Carver National Monument.

Canada.  Nova Scotia has the largest concentration of Carvers in the country today.

Christopher Carver had arrived in Nova Scotia sometime in the 1830’s and made his home in Baker Settlement, Lunenburg county.  His son Hiram, born in 1841, was like his father a woodsman.  He married Mary Baker and, in so doing, inherited the Baker homestead.  Carvers remained at the homestead until the 1980’s.

The Carver name had spread to Queens and Shelburne counties in Nova Scotia by the time of the 1901 census.

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Carver Surname Miscellany

Deryk Carver, Protestant Martyr.  Deryk Carver was Flemish, from the area of Liege which was a stronghold of the Counter-Reformation. He was an exile in England, either voluntary or forced, and had arrived in Brighton, then a small fishing port, around the year 1545. Showing enterprise, he had started the Black Lion brewery.

Carver prospered.  He was, as recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, “a man whom the Lord had blessed as well with temporal riches as well as with spiritual treasures.”

However, by 1553 Bloody Queen Mary was on the throne with a determination to re-catholicize England. By the end of her reign in 1558 more than 300 Protestants had been burned at the stake for refusing to recant their faith.

Deryk Carver, who acted as lay preacher in his house in Brighton, was an early victim.  He was arrested in October 1554 and tried in London the following year. When questioned on his beliefs, Carver refused to recant his Protestant practices. He was thus found guilty and burnt at the stake in Lewes in July 1555.  In order to mock his profession, he was placed in a barrel prior to his death. Carver’s Bible was preserved and is on display in Lewes museum today.

The following memorial plaque was erected in Brighton in 1926.

  • “Deryk Carver
  • First Protestant Martyr
  • Burnt at Lewes, July 22, 1555
  • Lived in this brewery.”

Although Deryk Carver had died for his faith, his line continued in Brighton. Dereke Carver was recorded as a beer brewer of Brighton in his will of 1628.

Richard Carver, a Quaker, was one of the crew of Tettersell’s ship in which the future Charles II sailed from Shoreham harbour to France in 1651. When Charles became King, Carver was said to have reminded him of his assistance and was apparently able to secure the release of a number of imprisoned Nonconformists, including John Bunyan. 

Carver Marriages in Buckland Dinham, Somerset

Year Groom Bride
1757 John Carver Mary Aters
1764 Richard Ames Rachel Carver
1769 Benjamin Richards Hester Carver
1784 Matthew Carver Sarah Hall
1794 Sampson Carver Mary Gullifer
1811 William Carver Sarah Brownjohn
1830 Oliver Carver Eliza Millgrove
1835 William Greenland Jane Carver
1835 Aaron Carver Ann Maggs
1835 James Cayford Bethesda Carver

Carvers were involved in just over 5% of all the marriages recorded at St. Michael in Buckland Dinham over this period.

The Carvers and Creswells in Gibraltar.  The Carver and Creswell families had known each other for generations.  It was Edmund Creswell with his family who first came to Gibraltar in 1822 where he established himself as a packet agent and later as a postmaster there.

His son Edmund succeeded him as the postmaster.  Another son William later became a vice-admiral and was known as the father of the Royal Australian Navy; while Frederick became a Labour Party politician in South Africa and its Minister of Defence in the 1920’s.

However, it was another son Thomas who had married Martha Carver in 1844 that brought the Carvers to Gibraltar. Thomas and Martha began by trading wines and spirits back to England.  Martha’s brother Benjamin Carver came from Manchester to develop further business there.   Gibraltar in fact became the hub for the Carver Brothers’ export trade.  Cotton, after processing at the Lancashire mills, was sent by Ellerman Line ships to Gibraltar and thence onwards to North Africa.

In Gibraltar Benjamin and his six children lived in a Spanish villa known as the Palace; while the Creswells lived nearby above the post office.  Benjamin became the first President of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce in 1882. He later returned home, “taking his family to live under the grey skies of Manchester.”

Who Was the John Carver of Mayflower Fame?  John Carver had chartered the Mayflower and, with 101 other Pilgrim colonists, set sail for America in September 1620.  Two months later, when in sight of the American coastline, he signed the Mayflower Compact (which he is thought to have written) and was elected to a one-year term as the governor of the new Plymouth colony.  But very little is known about this John Carver.

We don’t know, for instance, when he was born or where.  Some have speculated Nottingham as his birthplace, others Doncaster.
He was supposedly a wealthy London merchant, although no details of his time in London are available.

He was in Leiden in Holland by 1609, or maybe earlier.  John Carver first appeared in Leiden records with Mary de Lannoy, a French Huguenot, in February 1609.  This was the same month that John Robinson and the rest of the Pilgrims had sought permission from the Leiden magistrates to take up residence there. Mary died sometime thereafter, probably during childbirth, and Carver was then married, perhaps around 1616, to English-born Katherine Leggatt from Nottinghamshire.

What can be said is that John must have been one of the more prominent members of the Pilgrims’ church as he was chosen as their agent to secure a charter to establish a colony in America and to contract for the charter of the Mayflower.  He had some wealth, possibly coming from his wife.

There is very little to record about John Carver after his arrival in America. He only lasted five months before his death in April 1621.  He supposedly collapsed while working in the fields.  His wife Katherine died soon afterwards. They left no children.

The Trees at John Carver’s Farm at Byberry, Pennsylvania.  A large chestnut tree on John Carver’s farm, six feet in diameter, was cut down by Watson Conly in 1885.  It made ten cords of wood and 180 posts, the largest tree of any kind saving perhaps the old elm which stood in from of Carver’s house.

On account of its size, Old Elm was a curiosity.  It stood alone in all its majesty, away from surrounding trees, and was a noble specimen.  Measuring twenty-five feet in circumference, it was forty feet up to its branches and topmost limbs were 110 feet high.  Mahlon Carver stated that the tree made more than 25 cords of wood.

On John Carver’s farm were also two pear trees which had been brought over from England by the first John Carver in 1682 and were still alive and bearing fruit in 1856. 

Moses and George Carver.  Moses Carver and his wife Susan moved to Missouri from Illinois in the 1830’s.  They settled on land near Diamond and built a log cabin. Moses worked to acquire more land and grew many crops, including Indian corn, oats, wheat, and flax.  He raised livestock, such as cattle, horses, and sheep. He also planted an orchard and had beehives. His farm became one of the most valuable in the area.

In 1855, when he was in his forties, Moses purchased an enslaved girl named Mary, about 13 years old.  Around 1859 Mary gave birth to her first son, James. Near the end of the Civil War, Mary gave birth to her second son, George.  During the Civil War, Moses Carver’s farm was a target of the outlaw gangs that frequently terrorized the area. One story handed down through time says that outlaws once hung Moses in a tree by his thumbs in an attempt to steal his money.

When George was a baby, he and his mother were kidnapped.  A band of outlaws took them.  His older brother Jim may have hidden during the raid. Moses Carver hired a man to bring Mary and George home.  The man found George, who was very sick from whooping cough.  His mother Mary was never seen again.

This meant that George and his brother Jim were orphans.  The Civil War ended and so did slavery.  Moses and Susan Carver raised the boys.  After George traveled eight miles to enroll in a school in Neosho, Moses built a new house that still stands at the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri.

Although George never lived with Moses and Susan Carver again, he stayed in touch and went back to the farm for occasional visits.  He visited Moses Carver for the last time in 1908. Moses died in 1910 and was buried in the Carver Family Cemetery at the George Washington Carver National Monument.

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Carver Names
  • Deryk Carver was a Protestant martyr who was burnt at the stake in Lewes in 1555. 
  • John Carver who arrived in America on the Mayflower in 1620 was the first Governor of the Plymouth colony.  He died less than a year later. 
  • George Washington Carver, born a slave, became famous in America for his work as a botanist and his advice on crop rotation. 
  • Michael Lord Carver was a highly decorated combat veteran of World War Two who went on to hold the most senior posts in the British army. 
  • Raymond Carver was an American short story writer of the 1980’s.

Carver Numbers Today
  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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