An Introduction to Carswell in the USA


Timothy Wyatt Robbins (



Published genealogical and historical research about the Carswell surname has, heretofore, been mainly that of the Carswell family of Kirkgunzeon Parish in Kircudbrightshire, Scotland, a Carswell family group immigration to Quebec, Canada, in 1846, and the Georgia, United States, Carswell family of Alexander Carswell and Isabella Brown who immigrated there in 1773 (please see references section).  Additionally, some of the history of the Carswell family in North America, and particularly in the Southeastern USA, is found in the now defunct "Carswell Chronicle," a publication of the Carswell Family Association.  The Chronicle was published twice a year between 1972 and 1995 as the official newsletter of the Western Florida Branch of the Carswell family, descendants of Alexander and Isabella Carswell.

The purpose of this abbreviated report, taken from my paper in DeBoo and Robbins (2008), is to contribute to the wider distribution of knowledge of the Carswell family in the United States from the time of earliest immigrants through the period of the Federal Census of 1930.  It is not a genealogical accounting, but rather an effort to place the Carswell family within the context of historical events through which they lived.  In the main, the Carswell families of the Southeastern United States appear to be descendants, and part of, the Scotch-Irish (Leyburn 1962), a people with unique traits who first migrated from Scotland to Ireland (17 th & 18 th C), and then migrated in several waves to the United States.  Other Carswell families moved to the USA directly from Scotland and England or came via Canada.  Overall a patriotic group, their service in the US military was common, and that history of the Carswell family from the American Revolution (1785-1783), the Civil War (1861-1865) and World War I (1914-1918) is documented here.  A determined people with firm opinion sand always prepared for action, the attitude of the Scotch-Irish to abusive authority has been nicely described by McEnteer (2004).

Much is known about the Alexander Carswell family of Georgia, especially through publication and distribution of the well-researched history by Bond and Bond (1977).  Some of these southern USA Carswell families were slaveholders.  According to a practice of the time, many of the unrelated Black slaves adopted the Carswell surname at the end of the Civil War (1865), and certainly by the time of the 1870 Census.  The Civil War had a harsh impact on the White Carswells of Georgia during the War (1861-1865) and the difficult Reconstruction period (1865-1877).  Significant changes in their lifestyle (e.g., loss of wealth) were the result of the end of slavery and the demanding political environment of Reconstruction.

The findings here are mainly the result of research on the Internet and discussions with some of the currently-active Carswell family historians.  This includes, mainly, individuals in Australia, Canada and the USA, and the websites and  The periodic U.S. Federal Census records were the source of the bulk of the technical and demographic data on the Carswell family.

This report is presented as the beginning of an effort to develop and share knowledge of the Carswell family in the United States, and as a step towards better integration of information with the international Carswell community.  It provides some insights that heretofore have not been assembled elsewhere.  Among future goals should be (1) improved communication amongst living Carswells, both Black and White, and (2) continuing efforts to document and share contributions on Carswell family history in the United States.

Immigration of the Scotch-Irish

Millions of Americans have Scotch-Irish ancestors, for when the country gained its independence at least one out of every ten or fifteen Americans was Scotch-Irish.  The term "Scotch-Irish" is an Americanism, generally unknown in Scotland, and rarely used by British historians.  In American usage it refers to people of Scottish descent who, having lived for a time in the north of Ireland, migrated in considerable numbers to the American colonies largely in the 18 th Century.

The recent newcomers began to intermarry with their neighbors, in a way that was to become characteristically American, with no particular concern about whether they were descended from Scots or Englishmen or any other national group.  The first Scotch-Irish went to the frontier regions of the colonies, especially to the back-country of Pennsylvania southward to Georgia.  They were enthusiastic supporters of the American Revolution, and thus were soon thought of as Americans, not as Scotch-Irish; and so they regarded themselves.

But the story of the Scotch-Irish in America begins with movements several hundred years before the American Revolution.  Men move to new homes because of the attraction offered and because of the unsatisfactory life they are presently living and sometimes for both reasons as well as personal ones.  So it is that the story of the Scotch-Irish in America is the result of several emigrations; from the Lowlands of Scotland to Northern Ireland, especially Ulster, and thence to the American colonies.  In general, the causes for movement were a combination of economic conditions, religion in part, and especially repression and persecution from the English , both in Scotland and Ireland.

The Carswell Family

A total of 195 databases in the US Immigration Collections were examined.  Several contained significant numbers of Carswells. A few records were found of the early (before 1800) Carswell immigrants.  The earliest found was Ann Carswell in 1679 to Maryland.  Others were early immigrants to South Carolina, Maryland, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Louisiana.

In the period of 1820-1957, the New York Passenger Lists show 269,407 immigrants.  Of these, 1,027 were Carswell individuals. Of the latter indicating their ethnicity, 261 were Scottish, 172 English and 30 Irish. The common port of departure for Scots was Glasgow, Scotland, for English Liverpool, and Queenstown, Ireland, and for Irish, Londonderry, Ireland, or Glasgow, Scotland. For the Scottish and English Carswells, many immigrated in the decades of 1920-1940.

Thus, the original Carswells to immigrate to the United States were mainly from Scotland, Ireland or England.  They were White by race.  In the 1870 U.S. Census, the first to list Blacks along with their surname, we find Blacks with the Carswell surname. Many of these Carswells were former slaves (born before 1865).  Because of these findings, the census data has been treated on the basis of there being a White Carswell Line and a Black Carswell Line.

White Carswell Line

From 1790 through 1840, relatively few Carswells were found in the U.S. Census, and these were mainly in New England and the Middle Atlantic States.  By 1850 and through 1930, the Upper and Deep South were significant home states for Carswell families.  They were mainly found in Georgia and North Carolina.  Many in Georgia were descendents of Alexander and Isabella Brown Carswell.  The origin of the North Carolina group is not known, but this population is significant because virtually all lived in Burke County, North Carolina, and were mainly descendents of the original settlers there.

The presently known distribution of Carswell families in the United States between 1790-1930 is mainly in the Southeast ( North Carolina and Georgia) and the Middle Atlantic ( New York).  Carswell representation in the Mountain West (e.g., Wyoming, Colorado) and Western United States (e.g., California, Oregon and Washington) appears to be sparse, relatively speaking.  Beginning in 1860, it appears that the Carswells began to migrate westward, becoming more common in the Central States (East, West and South).  This might be attributed to the fact that the main occupation of most Carswells was as farmers and the Central USA provided lands of new opportunity. By 1880, Carswells were found living in 25 states and by 1930, this had increased to 46 states.  At least one Carswell was attracted to California during the Gold Rush.  An "F. Carswell", born in Maine, age 25, was found living in Sutter, California where gold was first discovered.

Black Carswell Line

Beginning in 1870, with inclusion of Blacks in the census, the number of Carswells increased substantially, especially in Georgia.  This is attributable to the number of Blacks giving their surname as Carswell.  From 1870 to 1930, most Black Carswells were found in Georgia and in the Upper South and Deep South.  It is believed that most of these Carswells were former slaves or their descendents.

In 1870, the Black Carswell population was larger than the White Carswell population in Georgia, especially in Wilkinson County.  Here, 11 Carswell slaveholders held 300 slaves in 1860.  The records show that the White Carswells were slaveholders beginning with Alexander Carswell in the late 1700's.  The apparent peak of slaveholding was 24 slaveholders with 562 slaves in seven Georgia counties in 1860. That so many Black Carswells adopted the surname is understandable based on their numbers, but how this came about requires more research.  An ultimate goal of this project is to begin communication with present-day Black Carswell individuals interested in, or conducting genealogical research into, their families.  Perhaps then we will find answers about the Black Carswell surname.

Black and White Carswells of Georgia

The White Carswell family of Georgia has been well researched and documented (Bond and Bond 1977).  Significantly absent from the Bonds' accounting of the Georgia Carswells is the history of the family association with slavery.  Thus, the written record and history of the many Black families in Georgia remains basically unknown at the present time.

Alexander Carswell (1733-1807) was purportedly born in Ireland and married about 1754 to Isabella Brown of County Clare, Ireland.  However, Alexander's roots in Ireland are unproven.  In November 1772, Alexander and Isabella, with their six children, the oldest not quite seventeen and the youngest only four, took passage on the ship Elizabeth, for the colonies.  They arrived in Savannah, Georgia, in the middle of January 1773.

Alexander probably brought with him a grant of land from King George III.  It conveyed to Alexander a tract of land in St. George's Parish [now Burke County], Georgia.  Alexander, leaving his family in Savannah, went up the Savannah River to claim his land and to begin the building of a home there.  According to tradition, the family remained in Savannah for two years, and he lived in a tent on his own land while their home was being built.

The family was scarcely settled in their new house when the American Revolutionary War began.  The War provided Alexander with additional land.  In 1781 the Georgia State Government passed an act providing for land grants to those who served in the War.  The amount of the grants was to be 250 acres with tax exemption for ten years, or 287 ½ acres without exemption.  On 19 April 1784, General John Twiggs certified that Alexander Carswell was entitled to a grant. Between 1783 and 1797, Alexander received nine additional other grants of land from various sources. The latter, excluding the King George III grant, amounted to 1,676 ½ acres (287 ½ acres in Franklin County, 889 acres in Burke County and 500 acres in Richmond County).

At his death, it is known that Alexander bequeathed 572 acres between his son John, his daughter Agnes and his wife Isabella.  What did he do with the other 1,104 ½ acres granted him by the State and the unknown number of acres given him by King George?  Probably, he divided his land as evenly as he could and gave to each son his share when the son married and left home to establish his own place.  Regardless of how the land was divided, it was the beginning of the White Carswell heritage as landowners and farmers in Georgia.

John Carswell (1760-1817), Alexander's third child, who served in the American Revolutionary, also received a land grant.  Additionally, he and his heirs received other grants of land.  These grants totaled 2,936 acres by 1819.  It included 1,790 acres in Burke County, 896 in Screven County, 121 in Washington County and 129 in Effingham County.

The Carswell Wealth

As large landholders, the Georgia Carswells were mostly farmers or planters.  In the United States, a planter was a person who owned 20 or more slaves.  Census records reveal that the value of Carswell estates was substantial.  Financial data were available for 1850-1870. The wealth of four Carswells exceeded $1 million dollars (in 2000 dollars), with the richest being William E. Carswell of Wilkerson County whose estate was valued at $6,081,469.  The estates of Matthew James ( Whitefield County), John W. ( Burke County, Matthew I. ( Wilkerson County) and Edward R ( Jefferson County) exceeded $1 million dollars each.

And how did the Carswells amass such relative wealth?  In the main, it was through their participation in the institution of slavery.  Beginning with Alexander, the patriarch of the family, many Georgia Carswells were slaveholders.  We know that Alexander (1733) and Alexander III (1791-1847) passed slaves on in their wills as follows:

Will of Alexander Carswell

"I also bequeath my negro mary to be left to my wife [wife] During hur life [life] and at hur disceas to be given to my youngest sun Mathew and the Children from meary to be equally divided amongst my legotees..."  I also leave and bequeath to my sun alixander Caswell one Negro man neamed mundy---"  I also leave and bequeath to my sun Mathew Caswell that Negro Cawled meary at my wiefs Diseas [&] if any Child or Children after my diseas to be my sun mathews propertity."  I also leave and bequeath to my daughter agness templeton my Negro man neamed Gilbert..."

Deed of Gift: Alexander Carswell, III to Nathaniel A. Carswell

"....I do give alien and convey unto the said Nathaniel A. Carswell upon the trust, herein mentioned the following Negroes, Slaves, to wit John a man about twenty five years of age, Sarah a woman about twenty seven years old & her three children.  Ellen a girl ten, David a boy four and Silver a child two years old, Caroline a girl about nineteen years old, Rosannah about eighteen years old and Julia a girl about sixteen years old together with the increase of said negroes.  And it is herein expressly intended that one fourth part of the above negroes with one fourth of their increase is the absolute property of the said Nathaniel A. Carswell in fee and that the other three fourths are to be held in trust for the said Penelope J. Carswell [daughter], Matthew Carswell & Beniah S. Carswell [sons] Share and Share alike until the said Matthew and Beniah S. respectively attaining the age of twenty one years - then the trust herein created So far as they are concerned is to determine & they respectively to have their portion of said property - but it is further herein expressly intended that the fourth part of the negroes & the fourth part of their increase herein conveyed shall remain & be held for ever in trust by the said Nathaniel A. Carswell for the sole use & benefit of the said Penelope J. Carswell which is never to be subject or liable to the debts....[words not legible] trusts or liabilities of any husband which She may at any time marry"

Carswell Plantations

We know of two properties owned by Carswells that bear the appellation "plantation".  They were Hopeful Plantation and Bellevue Plantation:

Hopeful Plantation. The original 250 acres in Burke County, Georgia, which Alexander left to his son John and on which John was already living in 1803 when Alexander signed his will was known as Hopeful Plantation (Bond and Bond 1977).  John made his home there and on his death in 1817, in accordance with the provisions of Alexander's will, it passed to Alexander, IV, John's oldest son, and he lived there until his death in 1848.  It was probably Alexander, IV and his wife, Mary Palmer who gave the name Hopeful to the Carswell Plantation.  It was occupied by a Carswell (William Davis Carswell) as late as 1945.

Bellevue Plantation. Bellevue Plantation, also in Burke County, was still owned and operated by a member of the Carswell family as of 1977.  Porter Carswell still lived in the old plantation home, the central portion of it dating back to 1768.  The first owner was Samuel Eastlake. In 1833 Bellevue was inherited by Sarah Devine, a 21-year-old of New England parentage and background, who came to Georgia against the wishes of her relatives to claim her inheritance.  Sarah married John Wright Carswell, who had become her attorney and adviser.

Crops. It is not clear what crops the Carswell farmers and planters raised, but most likely cotton was the major crop.  For almost the entire eighteenth century Georgia's plantation economy was concentrated on the production of rice, a crop that could be commercially cultivated only in the Low Country. During the American Revolution, planters began to cultivate cotton for domestic use.  After the war, the explosive growth of the textile industry promised to turn cotton into a potentially lucrative staple crop-if only efficient methods of cleaning the tenacious seeds from the cotton fibers could be developed.

By the 1790's, entrepreneurs were perfecting new mechanized cotton gins, the most famous of which was invented by Eli Whitney on a Savannah River plantation in 1793. This technological advance presented Georgia planters with a staple crop that could be grown over much of the state. As early as the 1780's, White politicians in Georgia were working to acquire and to distribute fertile western lands controlled by the Creek Indians, a process that continued in the nineteenth century with the expulsion of the Cherokees.  By the 1830's, cotton plantations had spread across most of the state.

More About Slavery

Some of the Carswells of Georgia could be classified as large slaveholders by 1860, the largest being William Edward of Wilkinson County. A total of 24 Carswell slaveholders in seven Georgia counties held 562 slaves.  The value of slaves owned by three Carswells (William Edward, John W. and Edward R.) ranged from $1,915,305 to $5,859, 183, with a total value of more than $8,000,000 (in 2000 dollars).  It illustrates how significant the dollar value of slaves related to the dollar value of Carswell estates.

Although slavery played a dominant economic and political role in Georgia, most White Georgians did not own slaves.  In 1860, less than one-third of Georgia's adult White male population of 132,317 were slaveholders. Only 6,363 of Georgia's 41,084 slaveholders owned twenty or more slaves. The planter elite, who made up just 15 percent of the state's slaveholder population, were far outnumbered by the 20,077 slaveholders who owned fewer than six slaves. In other words, only half of Georgia's slaveholders owned more than a handful of slaves, and Georgia's planters constituted less than 5 percent of the state's adult White male population.

Age composition of Carswell slaves shows that few were older than 35 years of age. From recent historical research, we now know that slaves suffered extremely high mortality.  Half of all slave infants died during their first year of life, twice the rate of White babies. And while the death rate declined for those who survived their first year, it remained twice the White rate through age 14. As a result of this high infant and childhood death rate, the average life expectancy of a slave at birth was just 21 or 22 years, compared to 40 to 43 years for antebellum Whites. Compared to Whites, relatively few Blacks lived into old age.  Between 1830 and 1860, only 10 percent of U.S. Black slaves were over 50 years old.  Slaves began work on the plantation as early as six years old.  Those from 6-8 years were employed in watering crops while those 8-12 years old pulled weeds and did light work.

It may be instructive for those not familiar with slavery in the United States to introduce here a brief history of the institution, with emphasis on Georgia.  When the Georgia Trustees first envisioned their colonial experiment in the early 1730's, they sought to avoid the slave-based plantation economy that had developed in other colonies in the American South. The profits from slavery, however, proved to be too powerful for White Georgia settlers to resist.  By the era of the American Revolution (1775-83), African slaves constituted nearly half of Georgia's colonial population.  Although the Revolution fostered the growth of an antislavery movement in the northern states, White Georgia landowners fiercely maintained their commitment to Black slavery even as the war disrupted the plantation economy.  In fact, Georgia delegates to the Continental Congress forced Thomas Jefferson to tone down his critique of slavery in his initial draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Likewise, at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Georgia delegates joined with South Carolina's to insert clauses protecting slavery into the new federal charter. In subsequent decades slavery would play an ever-increasing role in Georgia's shifting plantation economy.


Reconstruction (1863/1865-1877) was the attempt by the federal government of the United States to resolve the issues of the American Civil War (1861-1865), after the Confederacy was defeated and slavery ended.  Reconstruction addressed how secessionist Southern states would return to the Union, the civil status of the leaders of the Confederacy, and the Constitution and legal status of the NegroFreedmen. After the Civil War, violent controversy erupted throughout the South over how to tackle such issues.

Among the impacts of Reconstruction on the Carswells was the loss of their labor with the end of slavery.  By 1870 the family fortunes of the Carswells of Georgia where greatly diminished.  Especially hard hit was William E. Carswell of Wilkinson County whose estate went from a value of more than $6 million in 1860 to about $200,000 in 1870 (in 2000 dollars). The estate of John W. Carswell of Burke County, valued at $1.2 million in 1860 fell to a value of $88,000 in 1870.  Other Carswells had similar losses.

Presently, we know little of the history of Blacks with the surname Carswell.  In the 1870 U.S. Federal Census only 10 of 438 Blacks with the Carswell surname were from a state other than Georgia.  One was a family of six Carswells in which all were born in Delaware and found living there in 1870.  Further research is needed to understand the history of the Black Carswells in the United States. An ultimate goal of this project is to begin communication with Black Carswell families.

Carswell Patriots

The Scotch-Irish has previously been identified as patriots.  That is nowhere more exemplified than their participation in various wars that have been part of the American/United States history.  For the Carswell family their most significant engagement may have been the Civil War (1861-1865), although a relatively large number also served in World War I (1914-1918):

The American Revolution
Alexander Carswell (1727-1803) and his son John Carswell (1760-1817) each served in the Revolutionary War.  Both served under General John Twiggs in the 4 th Georgia Regiment of Infantry.  Other Carswell soldiers were Andrew and James ( Virginia), George, George and Joseph ( South Carolina), Joseph ( New Hampshire), Abner, John, William, and Richard ( Massachusetts), David ( New York) and Joseph, Samuel, William, and John ( Pennsylvania).

The War of 1812
A total of nine Carswell men were found that served in the War of 1812.  Alexander Carswell II served as a Private in the 3 rd Regiment Georgia Militia (Wimberly's Regiment).  Other Carswells also serving were Eli (Private, 3 rd Regiment, Copeland's, West Tennessee Militia), Ezra (50 th Regiment, McCleary's, New York Militia), Samuel (1 st Regiment Riflemen, Irwin's, Pennsylvania Militia), Samuel (1 st Regiment, Sutton's, Ohio Militia), Samuel (5 th Regiment, Lewis', Kentucky Volunteers), Simeon (Colonel McComb's Regiment, U.S. Volunteers), William (Dudley's Mounted Battalion, Kentucky Volunteers), and William (1 st Regiment, U.S. Volunteers).

The Civil War
The "brother versus brother" concept is especially true with the Carswell family.  Records have been found of 81 members of the Carswell family fighting in the Civil War.  It includes 61 for the Confederate States Army (CSA) and 20 for the United States of America, or Union Army (USA). The latter includes two Black Carswells.  Of the total Confederates, some 34 Carswells were from Georgia.  In the 24 families from Georgia found in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, 15 families sent either fathers (8) or sons (7) to the War. All but two families were slaveholders.

Details of the military service of Carswells in the Civil War have been found.  It includes records of those that were prisoners of war, killed in action, died of disease, provided a substitute, deserted, captured or discharged with a disability.  These were sustained at such famous battles as Manassas, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and the Wilderness in the Eastern Theater, and Vicksburg, Chickamauga and Atlanta in the Western Theater.

World War I
Some 442 Carswells have been identified as veterans of World War I.   They were both Black and White and came from 33 states.  Most (95%) of the Black Carswells were from the Deep South, especially Georgia.  White Carswells came mostly (54%) from the Upper and Deep South, especially North Carolina and Georgia.


Carswells are known in the USA since at least 1679.  Records of immigration from Scotland, Ireland and England are documented. The family of Alexander Carswell of Georgia is the most well known.  Lesser known, but significant, are the Carswells of North Carolina, most of whom lived out there lives in Burke County.  The populations of Carswells in the latter two states were among the largest in number until populations developed in Central United States in the late 19 th Century.

The Georgia Carswells were slaveholders from the time of Alexander until Emancipation of slaves and the end of the Civil War (1865).  There wealth was based on participation in the institution of slavery.  It appears that only the Carswells of Georgia owned slaves. The value of the slaves owned by three Carswells exceeded $8 million dollars (in 2000 dollars).  Two plantations owned by the Carswell's are known, Hopewell and Bellevue.  It is believed that cotton was the main crop. With the end of slavery and during the period of Reconstruction (of the South) following the Civil War, the Carswell wealth declined considerably.  One estate valued at $6 million fell to $200,000.

There are two lines of descent of those with the Carswell surname - White and Black.  The former are of European origin while the latter are of African origin.  The latter, when former slaves, often adopted the surname of their owner when Blacks were allowed to have a last name (after the Civil War).  In the first U.S. Federal Census to census Blacks as USA citizens (1870), almost all lived in Georgia.  This was still the case as late as 1930.  Little is known of the family history of the Carswell line of Black descent.

Like most Scotch-Irish, the Carswells were very patriotic.  They fought in all U.S. wars from the American Revolution through World War I.  It is for the Civil War that we have the most details of their service. 

This research effort is the beginning of understanding the Carswell family in the United States.  Continued research is needed to understand the family history outside of Georgia and post-1870 in all states.


Bond, M.M.,  and G.D. Bond.  1977.  Alexander Carswell and Isabella Brown - their ancestors and descendants.  Carswell Foundation, Chipley, Florida, 569 pp.

DeBoo, R.F.  1999.  Carswell of Torkirra.  Self-published, Victoria, B.C., 139 pp.

DeBoo, R.F.  2007.  Carswells in Kirkcudbrightshire.  Carswell Connection 5: 1.

DeBoo, R.F., and T.W. Robbins.  2008.  Carswell family history, Part V.  Self-published, Victoria, B.C., 189 pp.

DeBoo, R.F., and J.N.C. Searle.  2002.  A Carswell family of Kirkgunzeon Parish, Scotland, Part II.  Self-published, Victoria, B.C., 55 pp.

DeBoo, R.F., and J.N.C. Searle. 2004.  A Carswell family of Kirkgunzeon Parish, Scotland,  Part III, Self-published , Victoria, B.C., 194 pp.

DeBoo, R.F., and J.N.C. Searle.  2007.  A Carswell Family of Kirkgunzeon Parish, Part IV, Self-published, Victoria, B.C., 146 pp.

Eastwood, T.A.  2002.  A Carswell family saga - An account of the Carswell family that immigrated from Scotland to Quebec in 1846.  Self-published, Deep River, Ontario, 54 pp.

Johnson, W.  1999.  Soul by soul - Life inside the Antebellum slave market.  Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass., ISBN 0-674-00539-2, 283 pp.

Leyburn, J.G.  1962.  The Scotch-Irish - a social history, Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, ISBN 0-8078-4259-1, 377 pp.

Manning, C.  2007.  What this cruel war was over - Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War.  Alfred A. Knopf, New York,  ISBN 978-0-307-26482-4, 350 pp.

McEnteer, J.  2004.  Deep in the heart - the Texas tendency in American politics, Praeger, Westport, ISBN 0-275-96306-4, 294 pp.

Rothman, A.  2005.  Slave country - American expansion and the origins of the Deep South.  Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass., ISBN 0-674-02416-8, 296 pp.