Published in the September 2007 issue of the Southern Genealogist’s Exchange Quarterly


Researched by Valerie Humbert Braddock
Written by J. G. Braddock Sr.

James Oglethorpe sailed up the Savannah River on February 12, 1733 and founded Georgia. Three months earlier, in mid-November 1732, Colonel Jean Pierre de Pury, sometimes spelled “Purry,” arrived from Switzerland with the first boatload of German and French-speaking Protestant Swiss immigrants. They were bound for the new settlement of Purrysburg thirty-five miles up the Savannah River on the South Carolina side. This and successive boatloads of Pury-led settlers began their journey from Neuchatel, near Switzerland’s border with France. Some were natives of Neuchatel. Some came from other parts of Switzerland. That some of these settlers spoke French and some spoke German is not indicative of their nativity. They were Swiss. Even today, Switzerland is made up of French, German, and Italian speaking people. These Swiss, seeking a better life in the New World, made their way from Neuchatel overland to the nearest seaport, Genoa, Italy. From there they sailed for America.

Pury laid out the town bearing his name in a six mile perimeter along the northern side of the river. By the end of five years, the town contained some 600 Swiss settlers. They brought to South Carolina integrity, a work ethic, and names that have found their way from Purrysburg into every community of the state, and beyond.

Purrysburg eventually dwindled into nonexistence as a town, its inhabitants gradually drifting off to the nearby towns of Beaufort and Savannah and adjacent settlements. The book The Moving Finger of Jasper puts the demise of Purrysburg  eloquently: “Compared to other townships more fortunately situated, perhaps the Purrysburg experiment was a failure. But if it were so considered, how is one to explain the roster of distinguished names it furnished for the pages of history? Among these are Brabant, Henry, Bourquin, DeSaussure, DeTreville, Huguenin, Strobhar, Verdier, Humbert, Holtzendorff, Dominick, Mingledorif, LeBorde, Gourdin, and others. English settlers came later to the locality, and beside the Swiss names, Zant, Brebner, Buche, Kieffer and Keller in the old cemetery, one finds Blake, Raymond, Jones and Cooper.”

Before its demise, the town had its moments in history. Long before John Wesley became the John Wesley, he came from England to Savannah in 1736 as an apprentice minister in the Church of England. He soon fell in love with a parishioner. Alas, she married another. As a consequence, he refused to give her sacraments of the church in which he ministered. Her influential uncle had Wesley charged with defaming her character. Seeing no way he would be vindicated of the unjust charge, he had friends row him across the river to Purrysburg one cold December night. The next morning, following directions of an old man of the town, he and some of the friends set out for Beaufort, some 20 miles away, to catch a boat to take him to Charleston. From there, he would board a ship to England. Somewhere along the way, a turn in the path was missed. Wesley and his friends ended up at nightfall at the edge of an impassable swamp. After spending the night sleeping on the ground, they backtracked to Purrysburg and found an inhabitant to lead them to Beaufort. During the Revolutionary War a large contingent of American troops encamped at Purrysburg, and the town figured in a historic battle of that war. Also, an hour long naval engagement known as the Battle of Yemassee Bluff took place between American and British vessels on the Savannah River near Purrysburg on April 17, 1779. And George Washington ate breakfast in Purrysburg in 1791 on his trip southward after the Revolution. According to The Moving Finger of Jasper, “The story goes that, despite hardships, depletion and reverses, these partisan Swiss presented the General with a beautiful gold watch.”

Although it no longer exists as a town, Purrysburg still appears on modern maps, sometimes in its several other spellings: Purysburg, Purisburg,  Purisburgh, Purrysburgh, Purysburgh. And it is very much alive in the hearts of the multitudes who can trace their roots back to its inhabitants. In 1986, this deep and abiding love of the town manifested itself in the first of an every five year commemoration of its founding. The event alternates each five years between Neuchatel and Purrysburg. The first commemoration at Purrysburg Landing was held in 1991 at the site where the Huguenot Society of South Carolina erected a stone Cross marking the town’s location. A South Carolina historical sign stands a hundred yards or so away along the edge of the state road running through the town. The October 1991 edition of South Carolina Historical Magazine ran a special section on Purrysburg.

Valerie’s research found that her first Swiss ancestor in America was David Pierre Humbert, born January 14, 1705 in Corcelles, Neuchatel, Switzerland to David Humbert and Suzanne Colin. He is the earliest known Humbert in America. No record giving the date of his arrival at Purrysburg or the vessel on which he came has been found. However, if a grant’s location was predicated on order of arrival, he must have been one of the first ashore: an article titled, “Notes On the History of the Giroud and Allied Families of Purrysburg, South Carolina,” by Sara S. Ervin, in vol. 48, 1943 issue of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina magazine states, “The spot where the Huguenot cross now stands to mark the original site of Purrysburg was once part of the original Humbert Plantation.”

Numerous public records testify of his presence in South Carolina. He is sometimes referred to in them as David Pierre, sometimes as David Peter, and sometimes simply as David. The earliest American record found of him is as a witness of a deed dated November 25, 1738 of a 150 acre lot being sold in Purrysburg.

David Pierre's marital status at the time of his arrival sometime before he witnessed the deed is not known. A brief family history written many years ago states that at some point after his arrival he married Ursula Melchior. Her parents had come from Wales, by way of New Castle, Delaware, to the Pee Dee area of South Carolina. Several records confirm that Ursula was his wife’s name. Before his marriage to Ursula he may have had a wife who came with him from Switzerland as he was around 30 years old when he arrived in Purrysburg. An article published in the October, 1991 issue of South Carolina Historical Magazine says that the vast majority of immigrants came to Purrysburg in family units averaging five to seven persons per family.

Valerie , who has spent half a lifetime researching her Purrysburg roots, contends that in spite of several stonewalls all Humberts in South Carolina before 1800 and most born since are descended from David Pierre through his children. His will, written October 2, 1766 and probated in March, 1769, and other records definitely identify six: Maryann, Susanna. Sofia, Jane, Catey (Catherine), and Melchior, as being children of David Pierre and Ursula. Sofia and Melchior were under age when the will was written. Of the three for which evidence of marriages could be found—Susannah, Maryann, and Melchior—Valerie identified 210 descendants resulting from intermarriages involving 82 different surnames, none of them in her line.

Sometimes, in spite of intensive efforts by numerous researchers, historical records just aren’t there to conclusively link a person to a family to whom there is no way he or she could not be connected to them. This was never truer than in researching South Carolina Humberts. They could just as well be called the Stonewall Humberts. Their genealogy is littered with stonewalls that have defied for years the ramrod efforts of Valerie and several other expert researchers to knock them down. The first stonewall is Godfrey Humbert. Finding the records needed to piece together the genealogy of the above mentioned 210 descendants was child’s play compared to trying to connect Godfrey to David Pierre. Godfrey lived in near vicinity of Purrysburg in a time period that makes him a perfect fit for being another son, an older one, of David Pierre, the only other known Humbert in the New World at that time to which he can be connected.

First appearance of Godfrey Humbert’s name in public records is as a witness to the will of Sigismund Biltz, tailor, of Savannah, Georgia, July 18, 1765. Biltz had earlier resided in the Swabian German colony of Bethany settled in 1751 twelve miles up and across the Savannah River from Purrysburg.  The Bethany colony was much like Purrysburg in character and destiny in that it was settled by persecuted Europeans and eventually dwindled into a dead town within a few years.

Godfrey advertised in the October 13, 1765 issue of the Georgia Gazette in Savannah that he was leaving Georgia and desired for those indebted to him and those who he owed to send in their accounts.  In 1763, Florida, which had been Spanish territory since its discovery by Europeans in the 1500’s, was ceded to Great Britain. The British divided it into two provinces, East and West Florida. Tradesmen were recruited from the northward colonies to transform the flavor of the newly acquired provinces from Spanish to English. The Georgia Gazette, in January 1764, mentioned that a great many blacksmiths and house carpenters and 15 bakers from Savannah were being engaged to go to East Florida. Godfrey was one of the house carpenters.

He is listed on a census of East Florida made between 1665 and 1771 as “Godfried”  Humbert and is shown as a house carpenter. In a letter in the Peter Force Collection that was written from St. Augustine on September 29, 1775 to Brigadier General Grant, former governor of the province of East Florida, the writer states “Humbert, the carpenter, the other day asked me if you were coming here.” A mention in the book, Loyalists in East Florida, indicates his presence in the old city as late as 1786, three years after Britain retroceded Florida back to Spain: “Mr. Humbert, carpenter, paid 300 for work done for Mr. Drayton.”

Searching for the name Humbert in East Florida Papers turned up an index record mentioning the name Juana Humbert y Perpal. Perpal being a Minorcan name, the find caused a flurry of excitement. Because Valerie and many in her family have dark hair and olive complexions and never sunburn, I have always halfway suspected she had Spanish blood in her. Knowing the reputation Minorcans earned through hard work and self reliance—a strong trait in her family—Valerie became excited about the prospect of having some of their blood in her. A trip to the St. Augustine Historical Society quickly squelched that hope. A record there revealed that Juana Perpall had married Bernhard Humbert August 17, 1780. Bernard, who had arrived in America shortly before, was a native of Lower Alsace.

Valerie found no further records of Godfrey Humbert, house carpenter, of St. Augustine. However, a Godfrey Humbert, house carpenter, of Charleston seemingly dropped from the sky into a brief wedding announcement in a 1792 issue of the Charleston Gazette. It would be too much a coincidence for two men of the same profession to have the same given and surname in a period of history when there were so few men with the surname Humbert,  not only in the Southeast but in the entire New World, and not be connected. The two Godfreys could not have been the same man. The 1800 and 1810 Censuses show the Charleston Godfrey being between 26 and 45, which means he was born no earlier than 1765. The St. Augustine Godfrey was witnessing a will in Savannah by then. Valerie sees only two reasonable possibilities of the Charleston Godfrey’s origin. One is that he is a son of the aforementioned Melchior. The other is that he is the son of the St. Augustine Godfrey. Based on the trade of both Godfrey’s being house carpenter, Valerie, using logic to step around the second Humbert stonewall, ruled out Melchior, whose occupation is not known, and declared the first Godfrey to be his father.

The Charleston Godfrey married Sarah Gilbert October 18, 1792. She descended from the Screven family who founded Georgetown, SC in 1729 and the oldest Baptist Church in the South in Charleston in 1682. The 1810 Census shows they had two daughters and four sons. Valerie definitely identified the two daughters and one son—Eleanor, Mary Louisa, and William Godfrey. She tentatively identified two of the three other sons, John and James. John appears in the 1822 Charleston city directory as a carpenter and James is listed in the 1850 Charleston Census as a 60 year old carpenter. Other than Godfrey, there were no other Humberts in Charleston at that time from whom they could have come. But “tentatively” doesn’t tear down stone walls.

Although many records of Godfrey’s son William Godfrey were found, all but one were of his business activities in Charleston. That one revealed that he married Emma Middleton and had two daughters, Susan and Jane.  

Godfrey’s daughter Eleanor married William Riley and had two sons and a daughter, William, West, and Ellen. William and West died young and Ellen married Edwin Pringle.

Godfrey’s daughter Mary Louisa married John Jeffords and had Samuel, William Godfrey, Susan and Basil. Samuel Jeffords died at sea, unmarried. William Godfrey Jeffords married Anne Mary King and had Eliza Annie, Victoria, Robert, and Alice Amelia. Ann Mary died and William Godfrey Jeffords married her sister Elizabeth. Four children resulted from this marriage: Elizabeth Ann, William Godfrey Jr., Arthur Irving, and Ernest Hart. Records reveal that six of the eight children intermarried with members of the Thompson, Copes, Austin, Tucker, and Seabrook families. Susan Jeffords married a Caldwell and had: William, Frank, Jessie, Lucy Lee, Charles, and Harrie. Valerie found no record of Basil being married.

The earliest record of the next male Humbert chronologically in Godfrey’s line, William Charles Humbert, progenitor of the largest branch of South Carolina Humberts, is in the 1850 census. He is shown as a 30 year old laborer living in Berkeley County, adjacent to Charleston County, with another family, John C. and Christiana Welch. A deed he signed January 7, 1854 shows he had a wife named Laura Jane. By the 1860 census, on which he is shown as a carpenter, Laura Jane had died and the two sons by her, Benjamin (James) and Charles (Seth), and his second wife, Amanda, are listed in his household. He enlisted in the Confederate Army September 3, 1861 and was discharged for medical reasons June 18, 1862. His discharge states he was born in Charleston, SC, was thirty-eight years old, five feet eight inches tall, dark complexion, dark eyes, dark hair, and a carpenter, an almost identical description of Valerie’s grandfather, father and several uncles, who were all carpenters. Although it is not known what her first and second great-grandfathers looked like, they were carpenters.

Censuses and other records reveal that William Charles and Amanda had Adella, William Edward, Alice, Lena, Wade Francis, Lucy Adeline, Jesse Gordon, Sarah, Cobert, Loretta Francis, and Harry.

Valerie’s research found 354 descendants of William Charles Humbert, most of them in Charleston and Berkeley Counties of South Carolina, who were allied with 147 families of other surnames. None of the numerous records found of William Charles indicate his origin other than he was a carpenter born in Charleston, South Carolina. These two facts are ample enough to conclude he was the son of one of Godfrey’s sons, but not ample enough to obliterate the stone wall between him and his rightful father.