The Furr Family History


"Furr" is the Anglicized version of the Germanic name, "Furrer," which means a "leader" or a "guide."

We are of Swiss origin, our ancestors having lived in the area of Lucerne, Switzerland. They spelled their name "Furrer" before leaving Switzerland and after arriving in the New World. However, the area in which they settled was under the control of King George of England, and the British took the liberty of shortening our name to "Furr" on all legal documents and references. As later generations of Furrers learned to speak and write English, the Anglo-Saxon spelling was accepted, and "Furr" has stuck with us to this day.


The Swiss were adventuresome people and were very interested in the New World, especially Carolina and Pennsylvania. They established settlements in both areas. The Pennsylvania area prospered and became by far the largest settlement of Swiss immigrants in early America.

In 1732, Jean Pierre Purry, who was said to have been a Director-General of the French East India Company, sent several hundred Swiss immigrants to settle about 28 miles north of Savannah, Georgia, in what is now South Carolina. By 1739, Purry had sent over approximately 600 colonists. They named the settlement Purrysburgh.

The colony was soon found to be in an unhealthy area. The colonists died in epidemic proportions and were buried in unmarked graves in a large graveyard near the settlement.

The surviving inhabitants began moving away, leaving the colony completely abandoned, some half-century after it was founded. There is no Purrysburgh on the map today, however, about 30 miles north of Savannah near Interstate 95 is the small town of Switzerland.

In the 1730's and 1740's, there were so many Swiss citizens becoming interested in the New World and leaving their native country that in 1744 the Swiss government became alarmed and issued mandates and decrees against immigration.

Further, they sent circular letters to the local authorities of each district demanding the name, date of birth, and date of departure of every man, woman, and child who left the country between 1734 and 1744 for the purpose of going to Carolina or Pennsylvania. The district authorities obtained this information from the individual parish pastors, who kept such records.

The original lists of Swiss immigrants in the eighteenth century to the American colonies can still be found in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and the Swiss Archives in Zurich, Switzerland. According to a letter from the Swiss Record Office of Zurich dated December 23, 1987 to Mary Ann Plumeri of Las Vegas, Nevada, some of the information is this book is incorrect.


On July 6, 1727, in the Parish of Zell, Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland, a son was born to Leonhard Furrer and his wife Babelj Zuppinger. They named him Heinrich, after his uncle who was Leonhard's brother.

Heinrich was born and grew up in the very midst of the great Swiss immigration to the New World. It was truly the subject of conversation throughout his formative years. He heard his father, Uncle Heinrich, and Uncle Ulrich exchange tales of the land that lay just beyond the ocean.

After much contemplation, Leonhard Furrer, age 46, together with his wife, Babelj Zuppinger, age 46, and his two sons, Heinrich, age 16, and Hans Rudolff, age 6, decided to leave the parish of Zell, Canton of Lucerne. On August 29, 1734, against all warnings of their friends and parish pastor, and against all petitions of their government officials, they sailed Switzerland. In 1738, they emigrated to America. Oral tradition has them landing in Charleston, South Carolina. However, according to the Swiss Record Office of Zurich, they arrived on the ship Jamaica Gallery in Philadelphia and were sworn in on February 7, 1739.

In the spring of 1743, fearing that the government would soon put an end to immigration altogether, Uncle Heinrich decided to move his family to Carolina. In May of 1743, Heinrich Furrer, age 52, his wife, Susanna Baumann, age 51, and six of their seven children (Felix, age 23, Hans Jacob, age 21, Susanna, age 19, Hans Felix, age 14, Anna Maria, age 12, and Barbara, age 8) departed their native country from Zurich. Ulrich, about 23, the son of Uncle Ulrich, went with them.

Uncle Heinrich's oldest son, Hans, age 26, who was in service with the Dutch army, chose to remain in Europe although his father wrote to him from Rotterdam that he should also make the journey with them. Therefore, the descendants of Hans Furrer, born October 10, 1717 of Heinrich Furrer and Susanna Baumann, are our closest known relatives in Europe. Uncle Heinrich and his family entered America at Charleston and proceeded to the Swiss settlement at Purrysburgh by wagon, where they settled in with hundreds of their countrymen.


After a tedious voyage of several weeks, Leonhard realized that the glamorous legend of adventure in the New World did not match its stark reality. When Leonhard and his family reached Charleston, they packed their belongings in a wagon and headed for the Purrysburgh settlement. Traveling by wagon in these low lands was very difficult, since they had to go around the many inlets in the Charleston-Beaufort area instead of in a straight line to the colony. The wagon wheels often mired in the marshes.

When they reached Purrysburgh they found not a "promised land," but a crowded settlement in the marsh lands where hot, humid summers brought droves of mosquitoes from the stagnant waters of the surrounding swamps. But the immigrants clung together in Purrysburgh because they were all of one kind, Swiss, in an English New World.

As the celebrated dream of freedom and prosperity dimmed in the colony, there was much talk about how their Swiss brothers had fared in Pennsylvania. Then the faded dream turned into a nightmare when the crowded unhealthy conditions, the hot humid climate, and the mosquitoes, brought about an epidemic of "fever" in the colony. The inhabitants died by the scores and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Virtually the entire Furrer clan was wiped out.

Heinrich the son of Leonhard, having lost all of his family to the "fever," set out on his own for Pennsylvania. Directly north of Purrysburgh lay the large German settlement of Orangeburg. Heinrich arrived there in the late 1740's when he was still in his teens. He remained in Orangeburg and married a German girl named Russena Roffor. He learned from the industrious Germans how to be a manager of land and money. He became a planter. In 1752, Heinrich and Russena's first son, John was born. In 1754, a second son was born who they named Paul.

Heinrich longed for property of his own in the woodlands of Pennsylvania and by 1757 he had accumulated enough wealth to move his family and make a new start. Also by this time Russena was expecting another child. He plotted his course for Pennsylvania, packed his wagon and left Orangeburg in the winter of 1757 traveling through the Congaree and Wateree settlements and on northward.

When he reached Cold Water Creek in the Province of Anson in the Spring of 1758, Russena delivered him another son who they named Leonard. Now Heinrich had a five year old son, a four year old son, an infant son, and a wife sore and weary from riding in a wagon. The waters of Cold Water Creek were full of fish, the fields abounded with game, the earth was rich and perfect for planting, and the weather was mild. Heinrich felled the trees, cleared the land, built a shelter, and made a permanent home for his family. At last, Heinrich Furrer, now 30 years old, having left Switzerland in 1734 and traveled over half of his life, brought our long journey to an end.


For the next three years, Heinrich planted and tended the land on the Cold Water and Dutch Buffalo Creeks, about one mile from what is now the town of Georgeville in Cabarrus , North Carolina.

In 1762, the British sub-divided Anson Province into counties. The Dutch Buffalo Creek area became a part of Mecklenburg . In 1792, Cabarrus was cut from Mecklenburg, so today, Dutch Buffalo Creek runs through the heart of Cabarrus .

When the British sub-divided Anson Province, they offered the land for sale to its original settlers. Heinrich, together with his neighbors, Paul Barringer and Valentine Weaver, went to Arthur Dobbs, the Governor of the Province of North Carolina, in the summer of 1762 seeking to be granted the privilege of purchasing their land.

Arthur Dobbs, being a rather proper Englishman, required over 1,000 words to complete the land grant for Heinrich Furrer, who he referred to as "Henry Furr"

Heinrich signed his will with his own hand in Germanic script. John was 17 and Paul was 15 when the will was drafted and were the only children to be considered "of age" at the time. Heinrich needed to insure that his plantation would continue, that his survivors would have a living, and that the land would remain in his family. So he willed the original homestead and tract of land to his eldest son John. His additional tract of land between his original homestead and Paul Barringer's land, he willed to his second son Paul.

Being an extremely fair man, he made equal provisions for all of his children. He charged John and Paul to pay an equal valuation of the property that they received to each and every child as they came of age. He willed no land to his wife. Instead, he directed that his personal estate be sold at auction and 1/3 of the value be given to her, the remaining 2/3 of the value to be divided equally among all nine of his children. As the provisions of his will indicate, Heinrich Furrer was an intelligent, fair-minded, yet pragmatic man.

On the back of this original will in John Phifer's handwriting is a curious entry that appears to be an afterthought of the will:

Be it known unto all men by these present that I Henry Forror of Mecklenburg and Province of North Carolina having made this my last will and testament


Information concerning our family's past was handed down from generation to generation, mostly by word of mouth. This condition fostered several misconceptions. However, in the light of the following documents some of these misconceptions can be clarified at last.

Lists of Swiss Emigrants in the Eighteenth Century to the American Colonies, compiled and edited by Albert B. Faust and Gaius M. Brumbaugh, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968 (Located in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC).

The original land grant from Arthur Dobbs to Henry Furr in 1762 (Located in the Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC).

The original will of Heinrich Furrer in 1769 (Located in the Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC).

There is a tradition that the name Furr was once spelled "Fehr" or "Furh" or "Efar." This misconception came about because everyone knew that our ancestor's name had been changed. But after several generations, very few people could recall what it used to be. The Lists of Swiss Immigrants and the Will of Heinrich Furrer show very clearly that our name was originally spelled "Furrer."

The Furr coat of arms has been represented by some sources as "a tree with green leaves on a white shield." This misconception arose from using the erroneous name of "Efar" to research the coat of arms. "Efar" is a Welsh name. The coat of arms of the "Furrer" name is "a blue shield with a gold fleur-de-lis resting on a green three-pointed mound." It is significant to note that at one time Switzerland was occupied by the French, and that French is still one of their four national languages. This accounts for the fleur-de-lis on our coat of arms. In fact, the Armorial General and its supplementary illustrations by J.B. Rietstap (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1965) shows three Furrer coat of arms from Switzerland: the one discussed above from the city of Winterthur in the Canton of Zurich, a second from Winterthur depicting a shoe or boot pierced by an arrow, and a third from Sion in the Canton of Valais depicting an anchor with two stars. The Dictionnaire Historique & Biographique de la Suisse discussed in the next section contains two additional Swiss Furrer coats of arms. One is from the Canton of Berne depicting a blue field crossed with gold accompanied by three stars. Another is from the Canton of Uri chiefly of blue with three stars and six rays of gold depicting two bears supporting a fir tree and holding swords.

There is a wide-spread misconception that the Furrs are of German origin. This probably came about because Heinrich wrote in German script and spoke Swiss-German, which is the native language of the Canton where he was born. Russena was probably of German heritage. It is obvious from the Lists of Swiss Immigrants that our origin is Swiss.

There has been some confusion over which Heinrich Furrer, the one born in 1691, or the one born in 1731, first settled in North Carolina. The Heinrich born in 1691 would have had to sire six children while he was in his seventies to qualify. Heinrich, born in 1727 to Leonhard Furrer and Babelj Zuppinger was certainly the man who founded the Furr family in North Carolina and other states and wrote his will in 1769.

There is a tradition that two brothers from Pennsylvania founded the Furr family in North Carolina. This misconception probably came about because two brothers, John and Paul, came to North Carolina with their parents, Heinrich and Russena, who were on their way to Pennsylvania. There is only one land grant on record to one man, and that is Heinrich Furrer. However, according to a letter from the Swiss Record Office of Zurich dated December 23, 1987 to Mary Ann Plumeri of Las Vegas, Nevada, Heinrich and his family arrived on the ship Jamaica Gallery in Philadelphia and were sworn in on February 7, 1739 together with his brother, Hans Rudolff.

There is a story that Heinrich Furrer settled in several places in North Carolina before the Cold Water, Dutch Buffalo Creek areas. This error came about because the name change from Anson to Mecklenburg to Cabarrus. However, the land did not change. The land that Heinrich first settled in 1758 was the same land that he was granted in 1762, and the same land on which he died in 1769.

There is a popular tradition that Henry I was born on board ship during his family's voyage to America. This misconception originated when Henry I lied about his age so he could join the Continental Army. He said he was born in 1758, which was the same date the Furrers arrived in North Carolina. However, he was actually born in 1762, and the Lists of Swiss Immigrants shows that the Furrers sailed for America 19 years before that date."

*The above material was extracted from "Our Story, A Short History of the Furr Family in America" written and compiled by Robert Carol Furr, Jr. and revised by Bill Furr. You can see all of his information on his website Furr Surname Resource Center . Materials used with his permission.