Fry Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Fry 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.
Select Fry Resources on The Internet

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

Wiltshire The
Fry chocolate family trace their roots to the Wiltshire
of Corston, according to John P. Fry’s 1906
book, Pedigree of the Family of Fry.
They became
there in the mid-17th century before starting a chocolate

in Bristol in the mid-18th and establishing a family dynasty of
extended into the 20th century:

  • Cecil Fry sold the chocolate business
    to their
    Cadbury in 1919, much to the anger of fellow-members of the family.
  • another line of these Bristol Frys, via Joseph
    started a type-foundry business in London in the 1780’s.
    This business continued into the 19th century
    with Edmund and Henry Fry.

Other Frys from Wiltshire were
be found in sizeable numbers in the villages of Lacock and
Castle Combe near Corston. One Fry family from Chippenham in
emigrated to New Zealand in 1841.

Somerset Frys from Somerset departed for America and Ireland
during the 17th and 18th centuries. William
married Ann Ogborn in Winscombe in 1770.
Charles and Ann
Fry left
Taunton on the Harry
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
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

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
industry. Frys have remained at the house
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.

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

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

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  

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 Ancestry of Stephen Fry.  Stephen Fry – the English actor, comedian and writer –
was born in Hampstead, London
in 1957.  He was the son of Alan and
Marianne (nee Newman) Fry.

Alan Fry was a British physicist and inventor.  His Fry family had originated in Dorset.
His ancestor William Fry was born in Shillingstone near
in 1687.  William’s grandson Samuel Fry moved to Surrey in the
early 1800’s, with
his descendants settling in Middlesex.  Many of these Fry
Quakers and they were related to Joseph
Fry and the Fry family who founded the chocolate company.
An ancestor John Fry had signed the
death warrant for Charles I in 1648.

Alan’s wife was Jewish.  Her
parents, Martin and Rosa Neumann, were
Hungarian Jews who emigrated to Britain in 1927.  Rosa’s parents
had lived
in Vienna and were sent in 1942 to a concentration camp in Latvia where
they were
murdered by the Nazis.

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.

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 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
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
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

name (in their understandable move to integrate into our
welcoming society), should be listed together with their original name
former nationality? Surely that could save researchers a lot of time

Tony Fry, a Derbyshire–based Fry (



Fry Names

  • 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.

Select 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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