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History of the Frarys in America

So far as is known, the earliest Frarys in America were John, his wife Purdence, and their three sons, who had settled in or near Watertown, MA by 1637.  They came from Norwich, county Norfolk, England, where John was a cordwainer or shoemaker.  The Frary name suggests that the family lived near a friary or monastery at one time.  When English commoners firsts took surnames, about the fourteenth century, the names they chose denoted occupation (Baker, Miller), places where they lived (Hill, Woods), or other characteristics to distinguish one family from another.  One historian, finding no Frary among early English names, thought that the first Frary in England might have gone there from France or Scotland.  However, Dictionary of British Surnames lists John and William Frary, freemen of Norwich, with a date of 1372.  Whatever their origin, all Frarys we have located in England, from about 1600 to the present, have been in or from Norfolk.


During John’s lifetime in America, Frary was spelled in various ways: Frairy (most often), Frayry, etc.  However, earlier English documents  show the same spelling as at the present.  John’s sons and their descendants used the present spelling, though misspellings are common on official documents.  Frary records have been found under Tracy and almost 80 other spellings beginning with F, T, or P with many vowel combinations, and sometimes with only one r.


Not long after their arrival in America, the Frarys moved inland to the new town of Dedham, where John served as a founder of the church.  Thus it is reasonable to assume that his main purpose for leaving England was  to escape religious tyranny as practiced by Wren, the Anglican Bishop of Norwich at the time.  Two other Norfolk men who came to Dedham, the Rev. John Allin and Michael Metcalf, are commonly said to have come for that reason.


No Frary coat of arms has been found, but, even if there were one, the right to its use, passed from father to son, could not extend to John’s descendants unless his father and ancestry were learned.  Thus far that information eludes us.  However, John received enough education to enable him to sign his name, instead of making a mark as many did; and, doubtless, he served the seven-year apprenticeship required in England for the cordwainer’s trade. In America he was a landowner, a church member, a freeman and a leader in civic affairs.  As such he was a respected member of the middle class, who formed the backbone of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with their high moral values, their willingness to sacrifice and work, and their dedication, to the community’s needs.  We can be proud to call him an ancestor. 

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