Caspar Surber (Sarver) and Barbara Merkj

Casper Surber was born or baptized on 5 March 1719 in Switzerland.He married Barbara Merkj, and shortly afterwards, on 18 April 1741 left from the German-speaking parish of Schoefflisdorf in Oberwenigen (near Zurich) for “Carolina.”

Caspar and Barbara may have been Mennonites or other religious dissidents such as Anabaptists, as these formed the majority of Swiss emigrants.They were certainly Protestants, as Casper’s will mentions a “Book of martres.” This refers to a specifically Protestant tract originally published in 1583 that lists all the Protestants who died in various nasty ways at the hands of Catholics.

Book of Martyrs, early edition.
Book of Martyrs, early edition.

Swiss emigrants had it especially hard among Europeans emigrating to America.The Swiss government, attempting to stem the tide of people leaving the country, did everything to discourage emigration, from forbidding the return of emigrants to Switzerland, to forbidding the sale of property before leaving. More information can be found in this online book. It’s safe to assume that Casper and Barbara arrived in America with nearly nothing to their names.

The Surbers moved to Botetourt County, Virginia by 1779, where Casper was apparently a distiller, at least as a sideline, leaving his “still and still Vessels” to one of his sons in his will, dated 15 January, 1782. Barbara died before that time, as a second wife, Elizabeth, was named in the will.

The name was quickly converted to Sarver in censuses–maybe that is how other Virginia settlers pronounced it.

Two of Casper’s sons, Henry (our ancestor) and John, moved to Orange County, North Carolina, and then by 1810 to Sumner County, Tennessee, where according to oral history they continued to speak Swiss German (closely related to the German dialect of the Amish people) in the family for at least two more generations.

John apparently never learned to speak English very well, and lived to be over 100 years old.

Henry married Thamer Halle, who according to oral history, was from Alsace-Lorraine, the German-speaking area of France. They are both buried at Old Fountain Head Cemetery in Sumner County. Their daughter, Elizabeth, married Jacob Harder, from another German immigrant family, most likely from the largely Protestant Rhineland (I am still working on pinning that down). Perhaps they attended the same Mennonite or Lutheran church in Sumner County.

Casper is the same name as Jasper, so Papa Kelly, my great-grandfather, was apparently named after his Swiss German immigrant ancestor. As Marinda Harder, his grandmother, was of 100 percent German-speaking ancestry, we can say that Papa Kelly was at least a quarter German.

7 thoughts on “Caspar Surber (Sarver) and Barbara Merkj

  1. Hello. I’ve been hooked on recently and if I did everything correctly I traced my lineage as far back as Casper Surber. Then I saw this article via Google and if it’s all true. We are distant relatives. Do you have any more information so as I can confirm other relatives I found? Hopefully this reaches you. You did some extensive research.


  2. I am researching my family history and Casper is as far back as I can trace it as well, thank you because this provided additional information. Your relative was Henry, mine was his brother John.


  3. Your site just broke one of my walls in my husband’s genealogy regarding Jacob Harder and Elizabeth Sarver! Thank you!


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