William Ernest Carter was, according to most records, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 19 June 1875, although it has also been stated that he was born in Paris, France1.
He was the son of William Thornton Carter (1827-1893) and Cordelia "Nellie" Miranda Redington (1846-1934). His father was English by birth, having migrated from Cornwall around 1854, whilst his mother was from Vermont and they had married in Ohio in November 1868.
His coal and iron baron father owned and operated mines in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, amongst several other business interests, and he amassed a considerable fortune. He had originally been married in Cornwall, England in 1854 to Jane Jewill (1830-1864) and with her had two children: Annie Editha (1855-1908, later Mrs Thomas Chester Walbridge) and Charles Jewill (1858-1906). Following widowhood in 1864 his remarriage to Cordelia Redington produced three children besides William: Helene Redington (1870-1933, later Mrs Joseph Leidy) and Alice (b. 1878, later Mrs William Carter Dickerman). Another daughter named Grace Alice died after only two months of life in 1876.
William first appears on the 1880 census living with his family at 2116 Walnut Street in Philadelphia which would be the family home for many years. Upon his father's sudden death in February 1893 the younger Carter reportedly inherited a large fortune.
A member of the class of 1896 at the University of Pennsylvania, Carter dropped-out prior to graduation to devote his time to polo and hunting. A keen sportsman, he later worked as a stockbroker and was a member of the Newport Reading Room, later maintaining a summer residence on Narrangansett Avenue after marriage. Known as Willie to friends and family he was also a member of the Pennsylvania Society Sons of the Revolution, of the Radnor Hunt, Philadelphia Country and St. Anthony clubs.
He was married at Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland on 29 January 1896 to a native of that city, Lucile Stewart Polk (b. 1875), described universally as one of the most beautiful young women in Baltimore social circles:
... The Bride wore a handsome Princess gown of heavy white satin with train, a Marie Antoinette point lace collar and tulle veil, and carried a bouquet of white orchids. There were no bridesmaids, and Miss Alice Carter, sister of the groom, was the maid of honor. Edgar Trotter Price, of Philadelphia, acted as best man... A wedding breakfast followed at the Mount Vernon Hotel, after which Mr and Mrs Carter started for Florida for a short trip, when they will return to Philadelphia. In the spring they will sail for Europe. - Philadelphia Times, 30 January 1896
At the beginning of their marriage the young couple settled at 1910 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, but after their country residence, “Gwedna"2 in Bryn Mawr became their main home and the location of numerous magnificent receptions and dinners. Quickly William and Lucile Carter became part of the fashionable and cosmopolitan circles in Newport, Baltimore, New York, Washington and Philadelphia, which included the Astors, Vanderbilts, Wideners, Goelets and Drexels. The Carters usually spent the summer in Newport, Rhode Island, where in 1901 they purchased their cottage “Quatrefoil” in Narragansett Avenue.
The family travelled extensively in Europe, especially in England where they sojourned for protracted periods. Passenger lists furnish proof of their voyages in 1902, 1904-1906, 1907, 1908-1910. On 20 February 1906, at the first Royal levee of the season, Whitelaw Reid, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, presented William Ernest Carter to King Edward VII.
In May 1911 the Carter family sailed aboard the Lusitania for England once again. They participated in the Coronation celebration of Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary and the London season. In winter William Carter rented Rotherby Manor in Melton-Mowbray district, Leicestershire to attend the hunting season.
In March 1912 the family decided to come back to America and made reservations on the Olympic, departing from Southampton on 3 April. At the last minute, they changed their plans and booked cabins on Titanic.
Mr Carter boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger together with his wife Lucile Carter and their children Lucile and William. They held ticket number 113760 (which cost £120) and occupied cabins B-96 and 98. Also travelling were Mrs Carter's maid Augusta Serreplaà, Mr Carter's manservant Alexander Cairns and, travelling in second class, Carter's chauffeur Augustus Aldworth. Two family pets were also making the crossing, an Airedale terrier and Mrs Carter's Pekinese spaniel, probably named Me Too3.
Resting in the forward hold of the Titanic, and listed on the cargo manifest, was Carter's 25 horsepower Renault automobile. It is listed as a case so perhaps the car was not fully assembled. Mr Carter was a car enthusiast and in 1907 he possessed a 45 horsepower Mercedes limousine and a large Mercedes touring car. He would later claim $5000 for the car and $100 and $200 for the family pets who were also lost.
On the night of 14 April the Carters joined an exclusive dinner party held in honour of Captain Smith in the à la carte restaurant. The host was George Widener and the party was attended by many notable first class passengers. Later, after the ladies had retired and Captain Smith had departed for the bridge, the men chatted and played cards in the smoking room.
On the night of the sinking Mr Carter awakened his wife, advising her to get dressed and head up top; she claimed she never saw him again after that and she eventually left in lifeboat 4 with her children.
William Carter joined Harry Widener and advised him to try for a boat before they were all gone. Harry replied that he would rather take a chance and stick with the ship.
Late in the proceedings, Carter ended up in the vicinity of collapsible lifeboat C which had been fitted to lifeboat 1's empty davits. At one point a group of men desperately tried to rush boat C; Purser Herbert McElroy fired his pistol and the culprits were removed. Loading with women and children progressed but eventually no more could be found and as the boat was released for lowering Carter and another man stepped in. The other passenger was Joseph Bruce Ismay.
William Carter arrived at the Carpathia ahead of his family and waited on the deck, straining to see boat 4 which held his wife and two children. When it finally arrived William did not recognise his son under a big ladies hat and called out for him, according to some sources John Jacob Astor had placed the hat on the boy and explained that he was now a girl and should be allowed into the boat, other sources suggest, the more likely scenario that it was his mother in response to Chief Second Steward George Dodd's order that no more boys were to enter lifeboat 4.
Upon reaching New York Carter telephoned his mother to advise her that he and the family were safe and well; she immediately fainted after hearing her son's voice.
Carter got caught up in the finger-pointing associated with being a male Titanic survivor and was forced to defend not only himself but Mr Ismay from the vitriol that they received.
Mr Ismay and myself and several officers walked up and down the deck, crying 'are there any more women?' We called for several minutes, and there was no answer... Mr Ismay called again, and getting no reply, we embarked... I can only say that Mr Ismay entered the boat only after he saw that there were no more women on deck. - Illustrated London News, 27 April 1912
Not long after the disaster on 5 June 1912 Carter was seriously injured at a polo game in Bryn Mawr when his horse threw him off and landed on top of him, he being knocked unconscious and receiving a concussion and internal injuries. Although he made a recovery he never played the game again.
The marriage between he and his wife, however never recovered and by June 1914 they were divorced. The reasons for the divorce were initially impounded but by early the next year details emerged that Mrs Carter applied for divorce proceedings on the grounds that Mr Carter had deserted she and their children aboard Titanic and that he had since shown signs of unpredictable behaviour and physical and mental abusiveness:
"When the Titanic struck," declared Mrs Carter in her testimony, "my husband came to me and said, "Get up and dress yourself and the child." I never saw him again until I was put aboard Carpathia. He was leaning over the rail as we climbed up from the boats to the deck, and all he had to say to me was, "I have had a jolly good breakfast, but I never thought I would make it."
In addition, Mrs Carter said her husband had subjected her to cruel treatment and showed the greatest ingenuity in devising ways and means to abuse her.
"One one occasion," she declared, "my husband picked up a grasshopper and began pulling out its legs, and when I remonstrated with him, he dashed into the house and procured a horsewhip and proceeded to lash me with it." - The Boston Post, 21 January 1915
William Ernest Carter in his 1921 passport photograph
Following the divorce Mrs Carter was swiftly remarried and had another daughter. The family home in Bryn Mawr was sold and Mr Carter later lived at Ivy Cottage in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. He never remarried and remained working in banking, later with Cassatt & Company based in Philadelphia and continued to travel around Europe on business. His 1919 passport describes him as standing at 5' 10½" and with a medium mouth (with moustache), a square chin, high forehead, oval face, prominent nose, brown/grey hair, grey eyes and a ruddy complexion.
In May 1921 he sailed aboard Olympic.
Whilst he remained wealthy Carter spent much of his later years at his farm in Unionville, Pennsylvania where he reared prize-winning Black Horn Angus cattle. He died aged 65 whilst on vacation in Palm Beach, Florida on 20 March 1940 following empyema of the gallbladder. Two days later, and following a service at Second Presbyterian Church, he was buried in the Ashland section (plot 30) of West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania with this parents.