Carson, Alexander (1776–1844), nonconformist minister, was born c.September 1776 at Annahone, near Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone, eldest son of William Carson. His mother's name and his father's occupation are unknown. Intended for the ministry at an early age, he was educated at Mr Peebles's classical school at Tullyhogue, near Cookstown, and at Glasgow University, where he became an accomplished classical scholar, graduating BA and MA. In May 1796 he won a prize at Glasgow University for a Latin oration on ‘The claims of the catholics of Ireland and the expedience of the union of Irishmen’ but on his return to Ireland he generally steered clear of political controversy. Licensed to preach in May 1798, he was ordained (11 December 1798) as presbyterian minister of Tobermore, Co. Londonderry. In 1804 he seceded from the presbyterian general synod of Ulster with two-thirds of his flock and formed his own independent congregation at Tobermore. In his Reasons for separating (1804) he claimed he had seceded because of the prevalence of Arianism among his fellow ministers, the impossibility of maintaining a pure congregation under the presbyterian system, and his belief that congregational church polity was laid down in the New Testament. In 1807, while attempting to refute Robert Haldane's New views of baptism, Carson converted himself to believer's baptism and identified his church with the baptist community. However, he waited until 1831 before publishing his influential Baptism in its mode and subjects. His secession led to a lengthy legal dispute between Carson and the synod over possession of the Tobermore meeting-house, which the synod won; he was expelled in 1810. In 1814 his followers built a small church at Tobermore, on the site of the present-day Carson Memorial Church; two daughter churches were later founded. He published several works of theological disputation and biblical criticism from the doctrinal stance of an evangelical Calvinist. Regarded as one of Irish dissent's leading theologians, he was described as ‘a pastor of ardent piety and high scholarship’ who ‘in point of intellectual vigour far exceeded almost all his contemporaries’ (Reid, 417). His works were widely read in America, where in 1841 Bacon College, Kentucky, and Jackson University conferred LLDs on him. His forthright views also attracted some hostility. He was involved in a bitter controversy with Samuel Lee, professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, and published The incompetency of Professor Lee for translating the holy scriptures (1830?); and his uncompromising denunciations of ‘Romish errors’ offended local catholics, who on one occasion invaded his meeting house. After completing a preaching tour of baptist congregations in England, he fell into the quay at Liverpool and died a few days later in Belfast from his injuries (24 August 1844). He was buried near his chapel in Tobermore, where six months earlier he had buried his wife. His collected works were published in five volumes (1847–53).
He married Margaret Ledlie, daughter of a wealthy linen bleacher, George Ledlie of Coagh, Co. Tyrone. They had at least three sons: William Carson (1800–51); Robert Haldane Carson, who succeeded him as pastor of Tobermore; and James Crawford Ledlie Carson (1815?–1886), MD, who was sanitary engineer at Coleraine and published several theological works and a pamphlet opposing capital punishment (1866).