Select Fry Surname Genealogy

Fry started out as a nickname of someone being free, that is not a serf and not belonging to a lord.  The root was the Old English frig, meaning "free born."  This surname appeared mainly in the west country.  Another Old English word free, also meaning "free born," was the derivation of the surname Freeman that was to be found more in East Anglia and the north of England.

Fry in America has a greater likelihood of being German or Swiss rather than English.  The name Frey or Frei - becoming in later generations in America Fry - was first recorded in Germany in the 13th century.  As in England, it meant free and reflected a freed status.  

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Select Fry Ancestry

England.  Thomas le Frye was recorded in the Wiltshire rolls of 1273 and the region of north Wiltshire, around Malmesbury, provided some early sightings of the name. 

Wiltshire  The Fry chocolate family trace their roots to the Wiltshire village of Corston, according to John P. Fry's 1906 book, Pedigree of the Family of Fry.  They became Quakers there in the mid-17th century before starting a chocolate factory in Bristol in the mid-18th and establishing a family dynasty of Quakers that extended into the 20th century:
  • Cecil Fry sold the chocolate business to their rivals Cadbury in 1919, much to the anger of fellow-members of the family.  
  • another line of these Bristol Frys, via Joseph Fry, started a type-foundry business in London in the 1780ís.  This business continued into the 19th century with Edmund and Henry Fry. 
Other Frys from Wiltshire were to be found in sizeable numbers in the villages of Lacock and Castle Combe near Corston.  One Fry family from Chippenham in Wiltshire emigrated to New Zealand in 1841. 

Somerset   Frys from Somerset departed for America and Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries.  William Fry married Ann Ogborn in Winscombe in 1770.  Charles and Ann Fry left Taunton on the Harry Lorrequer for Australia in 1849.  Another Fry family which had farmed in the Somerset village of Rooksbridge from the late 1700's went to Australia in the 1850's. 

Devon  The Fry name was also long-established in Devon.  The oldest line appears to have been in Membury near Axminster, where the Frys had become masters of Yarty House in 1406.  William Fry of Membury was described in the 1580's as "a man of large possessions and ancient family."  These Frys built the Deer Park Mansion near Honiton which stayed in family hands until the end of the 18th century.  

SW England  By the 19th century, the Fry name had spread a bit across England, but was still to be found mainly in the west country.  The five counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Devon accounted for just about half of all the Frys recorded in the Victorian censuses.

Ireland.  Frybrook House was built for Henry Fry in Boyle, Roscommon in 1753.  Henry Fry from a merchant family in Somerset had been invited to Boyle to set up a local weaving industry.  Frys have remained at the house since that time.

America.  Early Fry arrivals to New England in the 1630's were John and Anne Frye from Hampshire and George Fry and his wife from Somerset. 

A later Fry arrival from Somerset into Virginia. Joshua Fry, made more waves.  He married into money in 1737 and set himself up as a mapmaker, surveyor, and a landowner of an 800 acre plantation along the Hardware river.  He was friends with the Washingtons and Jeffersons, later to become famous in American history.  His descendants were early settlers in Kentucky.  His line was covered in the Rev. P. Slaughter's 1890 book Memoir of Colonel Joshua Fry.

Frey/Frei  However, the greatest Fry immigration - and the largest number of Frys today - was in Pennsylvania.  Most were of German stock.  Their Frey/Frei names would become Fry after two or three generations. 

Heinrich Frey reached Philadelphia in 1680, prior to William Penn's arrival, and was believed to have been the first German immigrant to that state.  He and his family are credited with holding the first charter for the land that became Philadelphia and for building what is considered the historical "Old Town" section of that city.    

Frey was a Swiss Mennonite family name and more Freys began arriving in the early 18th century because of the religious tolerance that William Penn afforded.  Johannes Frey, for instance, came with his family in 1731 and settled first in Berks county, Pennsylvania and later in Burke county, North Carolina.  Johann Valentine Frey arrived in 1733 and also settled in North Carolina, this time in Rowan county.

Some of these Freys became Amish Mennonite ministers.  Others such as Daniel and Catherine Fry who had married in Huntingdon county in 1822 integrated more into mainstream society.  Curiously one Frey family, whose forebear was a fifer in the Revolutionary War, changed their name to Fry and then, much later, back to Frey.

Australia.  The first Fry to arrive in Australia was a convict, James Fry on the Pursan.  He served his sentence in Tasmania and then moved to Jamison, Victoria with his family.  Later came Fry settlers, such as:
  • William and Elizabeth Fry from West Farleigh in Kent in 1839
  • Francis Fry from Rooksbridge in Somerset in 1850, followed by brother Isaac and his family
  • John Brock Fry and his wife Harriet from Broadstairs in Kent in the 1850's.
Edith Fry arrived with her sons from London in 1894 and settled in Donnybrook, Western Australia.  They acquired Crendon farm in 1904 and the family now sells farm machinery there. 

Select Fry Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Fry Names

Joseph Fry was the forebear of the Fry chocolate family, starting his chocolate factory in Bristol in 1756.
Joshua Fry was a suveyor and mapmaker in 18th century colonial Virginia.
Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker relative to the chocolate Frys, was an early 19th century prison reformer.  She is depicted on the back of the English £5 bank note.
Charles Burgess Fry was a larger-than life cricketer, educator, and writer of the Edwardian era.
Stephen Fry is an English comic writer and TV personality.

Select Frys Today
  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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