Early Emigration from Switzerland to the American Colonies-The family of Leonhard Furrer


Research by Charles Franklin Furr, Wilmington, NC.  In collaboration with Georges Segal, PhD, Basel, Switzerland


Members of my family (father, Max Franklin Furr and brothers, James Wilson Furr and Max Todd Furr) are direct descendents of Heinrich Furrer, a Swiss emigrant who settled in the piedmont of North Carolina in the mid-1700’s.  Max Furr had a passion for family history and spent most of his retirement years searching his roots.  I recall that much of his findings resulted in more questions than answers.


Over the years there has been much speculation in the compilation of the Furr family history.  Most of the early conclusions from the works of Rev. Albright and Albert B. Faust were based on misinformation.  While some of the misinformation about the earliest Furrs has been corrected, some misconceptions still persist.  As an example, most of the information still states that the earliest Furrers originated in Lucerne, Switzerland.  That is not factual.


A conversation with friends several years ago stimulated my interest in finding out more about the original Furr emigrants.  Dr. Georges Segal, a Swiss historian and antiquities dealer in Basel, was the catalyst who prompted me to investigate further. Georges is a friend and is married to Margaret Atkinson Segal, one of my high school classmates.  When Dr. Segal learned that my family had Swiss roots, he asked where the family originated.  When I told him that the original settlers came from Lucerne, he told me that he did not think so.  His reasoning was that most of the residents of Lucerne were Catholic and that most emigrants to the colonies were Protestants from other parts of Switzerland.  He took a personal interest in my search and offered to contact the Swiss archives on my behalf.


Dr. Segal went to Staatsarchiv of the Canton Zurich and talked with Hans Ulrich Pfister, who researched the history of 3,000 emigrants who left the Canton Zurich between 1729 and 1755 and moved to the British Colonies in North America. The accounts from Hans Pfister’s research clear up much of the misinformation that has been handed down for generations.  He found only two Furrer families that could be our direct ancestors, and only one family had a son named Heinrich.  Both were natives of communities close to Wetzikon, which is approximately 16 miles southeast of Zurich.  The family of Hans Heinrich Furrer moved from Gossau to the community of Stegan (also near Wetzikon) before leaving for the colonies in 1743. 


This family was likely related to the other family (Leonhard Furrer of Oberlangenhard, Community of Zell, that moved earlier and certainly our direct ancestors).  In September 2007, I traveled with Dr. Segal to both Wetzikon and Oberlangenhard Zell, visiting the town hall of both communities.  In route we drove through Gossau, which was the residence of the other Furrer family, further evidence that our ancestors did not live in Lucerne.


In Albert B. Faust's publication "Lists of Swiss Emigrants in the Eighteenth Centuries to the American Colonies, volume I: Zurich, 1734-1744", Washington DC 1920, one finds some major errors.  The name of the father of the family was Leonhard and not Bernhard.  The birth year of his son Heinrich was 1727 and not 1631. The family immigrated to America 1738/39. That date is stated in the list of the emigrants of the:  A Church Community Zell (Staatsarchiv Zürich 174, Nr. 98).  This Furrer family is the only known Furrer family of the Canton Zurich naming a son Heinrich.  Arriving in Philadelphia, Leonhard Furrer signed the list of the "Jamaica Galley", 7 February 1739, as "Linhart Furer.


Following is the correct information (in German) from the Swiss Archives in Zurich including the paternal and maternal grandparents of Heinrich Furrer:


Leonhard Furrer, von (from) Oberlangenhard/Zell

~ Zell 19.9.1697 (Eltern (parents): Hans Jakob Furrer, von Oberlangenhard/Zell, kop. Zell 11.1. 1687 Mag­dalena Schickli, vermutlich (presumably) von Seen); Lieni“(nickname) 1735;

kop. ...

Barbara Zuppinger, von Oberlangenhard/Zell, ~ Zell 8.8.1697 (Eltern: Jakob Zuppin­ger, von Oberlangenhard/Zell, kop. ... (vor (before) 30.11.1684) Barbara Wettstein, wohl (probably) von Oberlangen­hard/ Zell)

     Heinrich, ~ Zell 6.7.1727

     Hans Konrad, ~ Zell 26.12.1728, † Oberlangenhard 19.3.1729

     Anna, ~ Zell 14.3.1730, † Zürich (Spital) 21.11.1734 (KB Zell)

     Hans Rudolf, ~ Zell 14.12.1732, † Oberlangenhard 19.3.1735

     Hans Rudolf, ~ Zell 27.1.1737 


 While it is possible that wanderlust was the motivation to emigrate, it is very unlikely.  Dr. Segal’s explanation makes more sense.  Many families left Switzerland for financial and economic reasons.  In Canton Zurich, the emigration in large numbers started with an organized group in 1734 and continued through the mid 1740’s.  Due to inheritance laws, leaving everything to the eldest son, younger siblings from large families had difficulty finding enough farm land to make a living.  The terrain in Oberlangenhard/Zell is very beautiful, but mountainous and more suitable for cows and goats than growing crops.  Even today, the community of Zell is rural and sparsely populated.  In the 18th century, many Swiss families sought opportunities to improve their financial state and the American colonies offered an apparent solution. 


     The emigrants usually traveled in groups coming out of the same region. They relied on written publications and especially on people coming back from America who could give descriptions of the settlements in Pennsylvania, Carolina etc.  In many cases earlier emigrants communicated with their relatives in Switzerland and encouraged them to emigrate as well.  Family members in the colonies organized the journey of further members of their family or relatives.  There was also an active recruitment of emigrants by the owners of emigrant vessels such as the Jamaica Galley.  For them, emigration became a profitable business. 


     Dr. Segal mentioned that most of the emigrants from the Canton of Zurich traveled the 100 miles to Basel on foot or wagon.  It was there that they set sail down the Rhine River to Rotterdam, where they boarded vessels that took them on the long voyage to the colonies. 


     While we now know much more about our ancestors, some questions remain.  How long did Leonhard and family live in Pennsylvania?  Did Heinrich leave the rest of his family and head south on his own to acquire land?  Where did parents, Leonhard and Barbara, settle and what happed to brother, Hans Rudolf?   Did Heinrich really go to the Charleston?  It seems more likely that he traveled a popular dirt road that ran from Pennsylvania through the Piedmont of North Carolina and led thousands of Pennsylvania settlers to greener pastures.