Carver was by the mid-1650s an experienced merchant mariner of uncertain age who was master of a ship engaged in trade between the English ports of Bristol (probably his native city) and London and the colonies. His name first appears in extantrecords on June 15, 1659, when he patented 500 acres of land on the South Branch of the Elizabeth River in Lower Norfolk County. By then Carver was already married to a woman named Elizabeth, maiden name unknown, and father of a ten-year-old son. Carver became a justice of the peace in June 1663 and in the following summer secured renewal of his original patent and acquired 890 acres of additional land nearby.
Elected to a vacant seat in thein 1665, Carver represented Lower Norfolk County until 1669. During the session that met in October and November 1666 he served on the Committee for Propositions, and on September 26, 1667, at the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) he was appointed to a committee to inquire of the governor and whether there was enough money available to erect a fort. Carver was a tax collector for Lower Norfolk County in 1669 and 1672, took his turns overseeing the county roads in 1669 and 1671, and was sheriff in 1670. He continued to own trading ships but by 1668 described himself as a merchant rather than a mariner. In 1667 Carver placed management of all his property in the hands of his eighteen-year-old son. His wife evidently died about that time, and he probably remarried not long thereafter to a woman whose name is unrecorded.
Carver engaged in several serious quarrels with his neighbors late in the 1660s and in the 1670s. He possessed a volatile temper and may have indulged too frequently in drink. On July 25, 1672, while suffering from severe abdominal pains and perhaps taking alcohol to relieve the symptoms, Carver stabbed to death Thomas Gilbert, who was sitting beside him at dinner. Several witnesses described Carver as behaving irrationally, and Carver later stated that he did not remember anything about the incident or the several days before and after the stabbing. A General Court jury acquitted him of murder, presumably persuaded that he had been deranged and not responsible for his actions. Soon after Carver’s return home from his trial in Jamestown, his treatment of his neighbors led the General Court to order his arrest. During a legal dispute three years later, he retaliated against his adversary by accusing the man’s wife of practicing.
In June 1676 Carver appeared in Jamestown while the assembly was in session and requested a commission from Nathaniel Bacon to lead forces in a campaign against the Indians. Instead, Bacon appointed Carver and Giles Bland commanders of a naval force and in August ordered them to capture Governor Sir William Berkeley, who about that time had retreated to the Eastern Shore. The two men organized a flotilla of small boats and with several hundred men sailed into the lower Chesapeake Bay, where they captured several small vessels and ships, including Thomas Larrimore‘s 265-ton Rebecca. They found Berkeley on September 1 at Arlington, the Northampton County estate of(d. 1696). Carver went ashore with a force of more than one hundred men, leaving Bland on board the Rebecca. Accounts of what happened next contain inconsistencies. Carver may have negotiated with Berkeley, the governor’s men may have plied Carver with wine, or both, but Berkeley suddenly found himself with the upper hand. On the next day the governor seized Carver, Bland, and the Rebecca and its crew. Bland and Carver apparently blamed each other for Berkeley’s success, but a later commentator speculated that it was not Carver’s treachery but “the ju[i]ce of the Grape” that betrayed him and Bland into Berkeley’s hands and doomed the expedition. Of the event, Berkeley wrote that Carver was a “valiant stout seaman, taken miraculously.”
The governor hanged Carver and four other men within three or four days, then moved swiftly to retake Jamestown, which he achieved on September 7, 1676. The five were among the first men the governor executed. Carver’s burial place is not recorded. Early in November, Berkeley ordered that Carver’s property be confiscated and sold and later specifically excluded him from the proclamation of pardon issued to Bacon’s lesser followers. Carver’s widow reportedly died of grief shortly after he was hanged. A year later Carver’s son petitioned the Crown for restitution of the estate, a part of which he recovered and sold in 1681. On that landestablished the town of Portsmouth in 1752.