Carr


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The surname Carr derived from the Old Norse word kjarr meaning "copse" or "wet ground," which became kerr, meaning "marsh" and "marsh dweller," on the English/Scottish borders. 

The spelling was Carr in England and Kerr across the border in Scotland.  Asked how to say his name, Admiral Mark Kerr told the Literary Digest:

"In Scotland the name rhymes with care.  Since many of the family have come to England the pronunciation in this country rhymes with car, which we have entirely submitted to."

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England.  Carrs were border reivers, like their namesakes the Kerrs across the border in Scotland.  Many of them in fact might have been Scottish Kers or Kerrs who had crossed the border south into Northumberland and Cumberland. 

Carrs NorthFord castle in Northumberland was close to the Scottish border.  It came into the possession of the Carr family from Etal nearby in the 1520's.  But Thomas Carr was murdered in 1558 by his stepfather, John Ratcliffe of Alnwick.  Much later, the Hedgeley estate near Alnwick was purchased by Ralph Carr in 1786 and he rebuilt the earlier house which had stood on the site.  His descendants became the Carr-Ellisons.

Carrs, possibly from Northumberland, were living in the Craven region of north Yorkshire from the late 1400's. James Carr from Stackhouse was recorded as purchasing Langcliffe manor in 1591.  These Carrs were involved in the cloth trade in Huddersfield and were also "merchant adventurers" in Newcastle.

A Carr landowning family from Castle Sowerby in Cumberland in the 18th century went on to be involved with the woollen trade in the 19th.  Jonathan Carr, the son of a Quaker grocer in Kendal, founded Carr's biscuit factory in Carlisle in 1837.  Carr's is still an employer of large numbers of people in Carlisle, although it is now a part of United Biscuits.  Margaret Forster narrated the story of these Carrs in her 1998 book Rich Desserts and Captain's Thin.

Carrs South.  Carrs did make it further south.  These two Carr lines appeared in the west country:
  • William Carr was a wealthy Bristol merchant who acquired Woodspring priory in Somerset following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.  His son John Carr left funds for a hospital in Bristol in his 1586 will. 
  • Robert Kerr/Carr - of Scottish lineage but born in Somerset - was a favorite of King James I during the early years of his reign in England.  But the two had a falling out in 1615 and Carr lost his position.  His wife  Frances subsequently became involved in a scandalous murder case and both Carrs spent time in the Tower of London.
Ireland.  The Scots Kerr was often anglicized to Carr after their migration to Ulster.  But Carr also has Irish roots. In Ulster and Connacht Carr was the anglicized form of the Gaelic O'Carra, the descendant of Carra, a byname meaning "spear,"  In Donegal the name could also have come from the Gaelic Mac Giolla Chathair, meaning "‘son of the servant of Cathair."

Some Carrs were to be found in Limerick on the west coast, such as a certain sweet Billy Carr who became renowned in song for his garden.

America.  There were two important early Carr lines in New England, one in Rhode Island and the other in Bangor, Maine:
  • William Carr came to the Plymouth colony on the Fortune in late 1621 and the next year moved on with his fellow passengers to what was to become Bristol, Rhode Island.  Carr had Northumbrian Ford ancestry.  He lived on in Bristol another fifty years and died there in 1672.  William's nephews Robert and Caleb followed him to Rhode Island on the Elizabeth and Ann in 1635.  Caleb Carr became Governor of Rhode Island in 1695 but died after only six months in office.  Edson Carr's 1894 book The Carr Family Records traced these Carrs.
  • The Carr name appeared in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1677.  Francis Carr left the area a hundred or so years later for Bangor, Maine where he was a merchant and politician there.  The Carrs remained an important mercantile and political family in Bangor well into the 19th century. 
Meanwhile, Thomas Carr came to Louisa county, Virginia around the year 1700.   From his line came Dabney Carr, the great school-friend of Thomas Jefferson.  Other descendants from Thomas Carr were to be found later in Kentucky and Missouri.

But Carrs in America were more likely to be Irish or Scots Irish than English.  Joseph Carr, for instance, was Scots Irish and came to Wilmington, North Carolina around 1730.  A later Scots Irish immigrant was Nicholas Carr who came to Uniontown, Pennsylvania in the 1840's and prospered in the livestock business there.

Canada.   Richard Carr left his home in Oxfordshire in 1837 as a young man to wander the Americas. 

"From his dairies we read that he spent time in Texas, Alabama, and Illinois; he worked as a deck hand on the Columbus sailing from New Orleans to Cuba; and later left the country for New York.  While there, according to his diary, he walked from New York to Philadelphia and back in seven days – a distance of 180 miles."

He ended up on Vancouver island in 1863 where he and his family eventually settled down.  His home there - now the Emily Carr House - was where his daughter Emily, who became famous in Canada for her paintings and writings of the Pacific Northwest, grew up.   

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E.H. Carr was a left-wing British Marxist historian, best-known for his 14 volume history of the Soviet Union.
John Dickson Carr was an American author of detective stories. 
Emily Carr was a Canadian artist and writer of the Pacific Northwest. 
Vikki Carr is the stage name an American singer of Mexican ancestry born in Texas, who has enjoyed her greatest success singing in Spanish.

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  • 50,000 in the UK (most numerous in Durham)
  • 46,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Ainsworth 
Chambers Hammond 
Middleton  
Stevenson 
Andrews Chandler Hayes Morrison Stone
Arnold Cole Hodgson Norman Sutton
Atkinson Cummings Howe North Tate
Barclay Cunningham Hunt O'Leary Thorpe
Barry Dickinson Innes O'Reilly Townsend
Beattie Dillon Irvine Oliver Underwood
Beck Dodd Jeffries Payne Unsworth
Bentley Doherty Jennings Penn Vance
Bernstein Duncan Kemp Pennington Venables
Bird East Kerr Pettigrew Walton
Boone Edgar Knight Phelan Watkins
Brady Emerson Lawrence Quigley Waugh
Branson Everett Leary Quirk West
Brooks Faulkner Levine Regan Whelan
Buck Fettiplace Levy Reilly Whitney
Burke Ford Lloyd Rhodes Wolfe
Bush Goldberg McIntosh Sharp Woodward
Carr Goodman McLaren Sheehan Yates
Carson Gordon McMillan Sinclair York

For other surnames check the select surname page where there are to be found the history and genealogy of more than 800 common and notable surnames in the English-speaking world.