Carter was born most likely in England, but the date and place of his birth and the names of his parents are not known. He married a woman named Anne (surname unrecorded), had a daughter of the same name, and lived for part of his young adulthood in London. Carter settled in Virginia sometime in the 1640s or early in the 1650s. He may have been related to several of the Carters who had lived south of the James River since the early years of the colony, and he may have been engaged in commerce before moving from England to Virginia. Loss of early local records and the presence of other men of the same name during his residence in Virginia complicate and obscure family and business relationships. His kinship to John Carter (ca. 1613–1670), who resided in Lancaster County and served with him on the governor’s Council, was probably close but is unclear.
Carter acquired three plantations in Nansemond (then still sometimes called Upper Norfolk) County and was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the militia before being elected early in 1658 to represent the county in the House of Burgesses. He attended the assembly session that met for three weeks beginning in March 1658 and the session that met for one week in March 1659. Soon afterward Carter moved to Lancaster County and purchased one plantation and patented land for another. He also acquired property in Maryland.
Within a year after the March 1659 assembly, Carter became a member of the governor’s Council. Few records of the Council survive to document his service or indicate when it began and when it ceased. He was present in March 1660 when the Council and House of Burgesses elected Sir William Berkeley governor pending receipt of a royal commission from Charles II, and he attended the Council’s meeting as the Quarter Court on October 17 of that year. In 1663 Carter and other Council members joined the governor in signing a remonstrance to the Crown protesting the grant of the Northern Neck to the king’s favorites. Carter and several of his fellow councillors complained to the king during the summer of 1667 that the proprietor of Maryland had blocked an agreement to reduce tobacco production and thus to increase the crop’s price, and about that same time Carter also signed a letter that the governor and Council sent to the king concerning the colony’s defense during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667). The last meeting of the Council that Carter is known to have attended took place on September 28, 1667.
About 1668 Carter returned to England, terminating his membership on the Council. He resided at Edmonton, in Middlesex County, just outside London. Shipping records and other documents indicate that he engaged in trade between London and Virginia until the mid-1670s or later. He exported woolens and other goods to the colony and imported tobacco and furs. Carter also owned land in the parish of Chalfont Saint Peter in Buckinghamshire, England. He was one of five men who received from the estate of his fellow Virginia Council member Daniel Parke (d. 1679) money to purchase a mourning ring.
Carter married a second time, but whether before or after returning to England is unknown. His second wife’s given name was Elizabeth, and she was probably the mother of the two daughters and possibly of his namesake son whom he mentioned when he signed his will on October 18, 1682. Carter appointed his wife executrix of his estate and empowered her to sell his colonial property if necessary to support the family. Edward Carter died probably at Edmonton and was buried on November 13, 1682, presumably in the middle aisle of the Church of Saint Dunstan in the East, in London, as his will specified. In 1685 his widow named John Purvis, a noted London sea captain and publisher of one of the earliest volumes of Virginia laws, as her attorney in fact to dispose of some of the Virginia and Maryland properties. He sold one of the Lancaster County plantations in 1686. Four years later, in her capacity of executrix, Elizabeth Carter patented 764 acres of land in Nansemond County.