William Thornton Carter was born in Narragansett Pier, Washington County, Rhode Island on 14 September 1900.
He was the son of William Ernest Carter (1875-1940) and Lucile Stewart Polk (1875-1934), natives of Pennsylvania and Maryland respectively who had married on 19 January 1896. His father, a banker, was the wealthy heir to a coal and iron baron whilst his mother was the daughter of affluent insurance brokers in Baltimore.
He had one sibling, his elder sister Lucile Polk Carter (1897-1962) and just prior to his birth his family had been listed on the 1900 census as residents of an unspecified address in Radnor township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania; his father was described as having "no business."
Following a trip to Europe William, his mother, father and sister, as well as their servants Alexander Cairns and Augusta Serreplaà, boarded the Titanic at Southampton as first class passengers (the Carters travelling on ticket number 113760 which cost £120). Another servant, their chauffeur Augustus Aldworth travelled in second class. Whilst aboard the Carters occupied adjoined cabins B96-B98. A family pet, reportedly an Airedale, was also making the journey.
On the night of the sinking the Carter entourage were among a number of first class passengers who had been earmarked to leave in lifeboat 4, the party of over two dozen being shuttled between the boat deck and A-deck where lifeboat 4 had been lowered to. Lifeboat 4 had been lowered to A-deck but difficulties in opening the windows on that promenade had delayed its loading, much to the annoyance of the many affluent passengers waiting. The Carters were among the passengers waiting; if his father was present at the time is not certain.
According to lore young Jack Ryerson, just over a year older than William, had been stifled from entering lifeboat 4 by second officer Charles Lightoller on account that he was too old. Only the protestations of his father Arthur Ryerson that he was only 13-years old let him pass into the boat. Allegedly William's mother, observing the exchange, immediately rushed to her own adolescent son, taking her hat off of her head and putting it on his own to try and disguise him as a girl. The veracity of this version of events is debateable. The young Carter was forced to leave his dog behind; he wept at the prospect but was reassured by Colonel John Jacob Astor that he would look after the animal. The last he saw of his beloved dog was the sight of Astor holding the animal's leash.
William Carter, his mother, sister, father and maid Augusta Serreplaà survived the sinking.
The survival of his father had repercussions: perhaps in an already unhappy marriage his mother and father filed for divorce, she citing his survival and possibly ahead of her as a keystone to their separation. They were divorced in June 1914 and his mother remarried George Clymer Brooke Jr, a banker and steel manufacturer; through this union William gained a half-sibling, Elizabeth Muhlenberg (1916-2016).
William Thornton Carter in 1919
In 1919 he accompanied his father to Europe aboard Mauretania with the intent of studying in England, France, Switzerland and Italy; his passport, issued in October that year, described him as standing at 5' 11¼" and with a medium mouth, square chin, straight nose, oval face and with brown hair and eyes and a fair complexion.
Following his father into the banking world, William was married on 12 May 1925 in Rosemont, Pennsylvania to Cintra Hutchinson Ellis (b. 18 August 1902)1, a native of Radnor, Pennsylvania and had two children: Rudulph Ellis (b. 1926) and Cintra Helen (b. 1930). The family made their home in the affluent Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and appear there on the 1930 census at an unspecified address.
Cintra Ellis in 1920
Carter continued to travel extensively and shows up on passenger manifests for: France, Homeric, Monarch of Bermuda, Aquitania and Ile de France. He appears on passenger records as late as September 1956.
William and Cintra later divorced and he was remarried to Ella de Tréville Snelling (b. 15 April 1901), a native of Boston.
Ella de Tréville Snelling circa 1921
William Carter remained living in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania for the rest of his life; he disliked discussing the Titanic and discouraged any television, radio or newspaper outlets that wished to speak to him about the event. Although having no direct personal human loss in the disaster it has been said that he remained emotional about the loss of his dog and continued to be avid animal lover for the rest of his life.
William's daughter Cintra Helen Carter in 1948
(Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 May 1948)
William Thornton Carter died on 28 January 1985 aged 84. He was buried in the Carter family mausoleum in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
He was the last surviving member of the Carter family aboard Titanic; his death left only two surviving first class survivors of the disaster and he was survived by his half sister Elizabeth who died aged 100 in 2016 and his Ella widow who died on 15 October 1984.