Fry Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Fry Surname Meaning

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.

Fry Surname Resources on The Internet

Fry Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England and from Germany and Switzerland (Frey)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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 traced 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 Joseph Fry started a chocolate factory in Bristol in the mid-18th century and established a family dynasty of Quakers that extended into the 20th century.  Cecil Fry sold their chocolate business to rivals Cadbury in 1919, much to the anger of fellow-members of the family.

Joseph Fry’s brother William had moved to London in the 1770’s and started a company there dealing in tea.  His daughter-in-law was the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.  She hailed from the Gurney Quaker family in Norfolk.

A line of these Frys from Joseph Fry ran a type-foundry business in London from the 1780’s.  This business continued into the 19th century with Edmund and Henry Fry.  Meanwhile Sir Edward Fry had a legal career which culminated in his appointment as Lord Justice of Appeal in 1883.  His son Roger Fry, a painter, was a member of the Bloomsbury group.  

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.

Dorset.  John Fry, born in Iwerne Minster in 1609, was the man who signed the death warrant for Charles I in 1648.  William Fry was born in Shillingstone near Blandford Forum in 1687.  It is thought that the broadcaster Stephen Fry may be a descendant from him.

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 six counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Devon accounted for more than 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.

Canada.  Jacob and Elizabeth Fry were Mennonites from Bucks county, Pennsylvania who resettled in the Niagara section of Ontario in 1800 in order to evade the draft.  Their Pennsylvania Dutch style farmhouse, built in 1815, has been preserved in the village of Jordan.

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.

New Zealand.  Henry Fry from Wiltshire came to Nelson with his wife Ann on the Will Watch in 1841.  He was a pioneer farmer in Riwaka.  Richard Fry from Bristol was another early settler, arriving on the John Wickliffe in Port Chalmers in 1848.  Richard found work in Waikouaiti, SI and he and his wife Agnes settled there.

“In 1894 Agnes was on a trip into Dunedin to pick up medicine for Richard.  While crossing Princes Street she stepped out in front of a tram and was dragged along by it for several meters before the tram could come to a standstill.  She died in Dunedin Hospital several hours later.”

Stephen Fry’s Family Ancestry

The broadcaster Stephen Fry has paternal roots going back to Dorset; while his mother’s side were Hungarian Jews.  Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Fry Surname Miscellany  

The Fry Quaker Meetings at Sutton Benger.  It was in Sutton Benger that the Fry family established themselves as leading Quakers in Wiltshire.  William’s son Zephaniah was the first member of the family to fully embrace the Quaker faith.   A record of one meeting held in his house was given in George Fox’s Journals

“At Frye’s in Wiltshire we had a very blessed meeting and quiet, though the officers had purposed to break it up by thieves, and they were required to go back again with speed, to search after and pursue them; by which our meeting escaped disturbance and we were preserved out of their hands.” 

However, private meetings of more than five persons were forbidden at that time.  Once arrested, Quakers would be ordered to take the oath of allegiance, which they would often refuse to do.   Zephaniah was arrested in 1683 and sent to Ilchester jail for three months, but “emerged unscarred.” 

A Quaker Burial Ground.  A Quaker burial ground, visited by members for centuries, lies amid the 1,130 acre Ashcombe estate of Madonna and her film director husband Guy Ritchie on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.  The site was established in 1663 when William Fry, the then owner of the estate, became a Quaker.

At that time Quakers were being persecuted and they had no other safe place to lay their dead to rest.

Ms. Acton, a member of the Quaker group in Shaftesbury, said: “We are not interested in Madonna’s estate as such, we are only interested in the burial ground.”  The Quakers scatter ashes of the dead during funerals at the site.  They also stage a pilgrimage and worship gathering there once every ten years.

The Fry’s home in the nearby village of Sutton Benger had been the Quaker meeting house.  It is now the Vintage Inn.

Joseph Fry and His Chocolate.  In 1756 Joseph Fry started making chocolate at a factory in Bristol. 

In those days eating chocolate was unknown.  Consumers would make a chocolate drink by placing a chocolate tablet at the bottom of a cup and adding hot water or milk.  Chocolate production, often handicapped by an inadequate supply of raw materials, was small.  Heavy import duties excluded all but the richest people from its purchase.  One pound of Fry’s famous chocolate retailed for 35p, roughly a week’s wages for an agricultural laborer at the time.  

Fry’s introduced their first eating chocolate in 1848.  Demand for cocoa and chocolate increased, particularly after the heavy duty on cocoa was repealed.  From 1860 to World War One, factory after factory was built to meet the increased trade.  By 1907 the company had eight factories in Bristol around Union Street and two more in Princes Street and Cannons Marsh.  They were employing 4,500 people.

Edward Fry and His Offspring.  While Joseph Storrs Fry, the eldest son, headed up the Fry’s chocolate business after 1886, his brother Edward was a judge on the British Court of Appeal.  He became known worldwide for his skilled work as a negotiator at the Hague Tribunal in 1907.

Sir Edward’s children were equally impressive:

  • son Roger, artist and member of the Bloomsbury group
  • and daughters Joan, Margery, and Ruth, all Quakers and prison reformers, pacifists and peace activists.

Another daughter Agnes was a co-writer with him on several scientific treatises and later wrote a biography of him.

Charles Fry and The Salvation Army.  Brass bands were introduced into the Salvation Army by Charles Fry, a builder from Salisbury.  Born in 1837, he led the local Wesleyan Methodist choir and had been a cornet player with the First Wiltshire Volunteer Rifle Band.

Fry and his three teenage sons played at an open air Salvation Army meeting in 1878.  They performed, it would appear, to deflect the attention of hooligans from other Salvationists rather than for any musical reason.  However, Booth got to hear of their exploits and the Fry family subsequently accompanied him on some of his most challenging and important campaigns.

The Fry Source of Colon Cancer.  George Fry married in Somerset in 1615 and he and his wife had four children in England between 1615 and 1624.  The couple, along with two of their children, arrived in New England some time before 1640.  According to a study recently published, this family almost certainly brought with them a unique genetic mutation for colon cancer.

Scientists have traced two branches of the family from the two children, one in upstate New York and the other in Utah.  The family in Utah, with more than 5,000 people, has been the focus of scientific study for 14 years because of their unfortunate high rates of colon cancer.  The mutation has not been found in England, meaning that it most likely originated with either Mr. or Mrs. Fry.

Dr. Albert de la Chapelle at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center commented:

“It is a neat story of so-called founder mutation, that is one that from its origin in a single individual has multiplied in a given population so that today it is carried by members of ostensibly unrelated families who yet descend from the one founder.  It is usually a matter of chance whether such a mutation becomes more and more widespread with time, or whether it disappears.  This phenomenon is called genetic drift.  In this case the mutation appears to have spread, but perhaps not excessively so.”

Heinrich Frey and His Descendants.  According to the historian Abraham M. Cassel, Heinrich Frey and Joseph Blatenbach were to first two German emigrants to Pennsylvania.  Heinrich came from Altheim in the Palatinate in Germany and was a wood worker; Joseph came from Bruchsal and was an iron worker.  They arrived in Philadelphia in 1680.

Heinrich and Joseph lived among the Indians at a point where three Indian trails met.  The story goes that the Indian chief took them to the top of one of the hills and told them he was giving them all the land they could see.  It amounted to 1,000 acres.  When William Penn’s agent arrived in 1682 to found Philadelphia, he honored the claim.

Heinrich married Anna Levering in Germantown in 1692 and they had nine children.  The family was among the earliest settlers of Towamencin.  They were important citizens and large landowners there in colonial and later times.

George Fry The Legend.  George Fry, Superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, began keeping a daily diary as a 14 year old schoolboy in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.  His writings have resulted in a 329 page memoir entitled George Fry The Legend. Selectively edited by his daughter Georgiana Fry Vines, it details events from his childhood and college days in Pennsylvania until his retirement in 1973.  Most of the manuscript is devoted to documenting experiences with the National Park Service.

Reader Feedback – Fry to Frye in Oklahoma.  My paternal grandfather farmed in Ada, Oklahoma in the mid-1900’s. He died in 1957. His name was Andrew Jackson Fry. He added the “e” sometime in midlife.

Jimmy Frye (

Reader Feedback – Fry Confusions.  I am trying to trace back my own Fry family name ‘legacy’ with the assistance of one of my sons and, during my latest explorations which have been quite challenging I came across a Fry name listing which seemed to me to be a potentially confusing inclusion.

If you feel that I am ‘nit-picking’ I apologise in advance.  But, as a semi-retired journalist, it struck me that any Fry Family names listed ought to be soundly-based on a foundation of ‘genuine’ Fry family history, from whichever Fry branch they originate – if they are to be useful to researchers in years to  come.

Accordingly wouldn’t it reduce the possibilities of confusion in the future if those who have decided to assume the surname of Fry, or indeed of any other traditional British name (in their understandable move to integrate into our generally welcoming society), should be listed together with their original name and former nationality? Surely that could save researchers a lot of time and effort.

Tony Fry, a Derbyshire–based Fry (

Henry Fry, Pioneer New Zealand Settler.  Henry Fry came to Nelson in 1841 on the ship Will Watch which brought out the New Zealand Company’s expedition party.

He was born in Wiltshire in 1817 and was brought up to farming. As he saw no prospect of bettering his position in the Old Country, he decided to try his fortune in New Zealand.

After a short stay in Nelson, he settled down at Riwaka in 1842 and was the second white man to take up land in the district. Originally, he secured sixteen acres, but he added to his area from time to time until he owned 153 acres.  During his long residence in the district, many of the settlers experienced hard times, although he personally had not suffered in the same way. He served on the local school committee and road board and had been an Oddfellow for nearly sixty years.

He survived his wife, and had a grown-up family of six sons and three daughters, seven of whom were settled around him.  He died in 1903.

Fry Names

  • John Fry signed the death warrant for Charles I in 1648.
  • Joseph Fry was the forebear of the Fry chocolate family, starting his chocolate factory in Bristol in 1756.
  • Joshua Fry was a surveyor 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.

Fry Numbers 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).


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Written by Colin Shelley

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