The Fancher Family Origins

                                           The Origin of the Fancher Surname in America                        

                             The Spellings Of The Fancher Surname In The Original Colonial Documents
           Presented As Evidence Of The Surname Origin

This work establishes that our American Fancher surname originated as a variant spelling of the English surname Fanshawe, and provides evidence of our surname origin through the original Colonial records in many locations. The first known documented surname spellings appear as variations of Fancy, Fancie, Fansey, etc. in the New Haven Colony in 1643. In the next generations, the original surname spelling of Fanshaw was predominant in the Connecticut Colonial records of our ancestors. It was at this same time that the variant Fancher spelling made its first appearance in 1717 Connecticut, and by the end of the 18th century had developed into the most common spelling of our surname. Even then, some branches of our family continued to use Fanshaw, a spelling they sustain to this day.

It would be ideal if every instance of a Colonial surname spelling was written precisely and legibly, and the spellings were always uniform and reliable. Today the spelling of a word, or of a family surname, is standardized and is not questioned. But this was not the way of the world at the time of our ancestors William Fancy/Fanshaw in Connecticut and Long Island, New York in the mid 1600’s, and the six Colonial Fancher/Fanshaws in Connecticut in the 1700’s.  

(In an effort to differentiate between them, in these pages we will refer to our Fancy/Fanshaw ancestors in Long Island as Fancy, and our Fancher/Fanshaw ancestors in Connecticut as Fancher. The spelling Fanshaw will be used to denote American references, while the Fanshawe spelling of the surname will signify references to the English family. A surname spelling appearing in italics is the actual spelling that appears in the original record.)

William Shakespeare was said to have taken pride in his ability to spell every word in the English language five different ways. When Noah Webster published An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1806, it began the standardization of our spelling. Standardization did not completely take hold until well into the end of that century. Prior to that time, spellings in England and America were not uniform, and sometimes so creative that the words are unrecognizable by today’s standards. Our Colonial ancestors could have given Mr. Shakespeare stiff competition; it was not unusual to find a surname spelled more than twenty different ways.

In Colonial times spelling and punctuation varied widely, even within a single document. Writers shortened words and left no indication of the missing letters, and employed words and expressions that are no longer in use. Vowels seemed to be interchangeable, and it didn’t much matter which vowel was chosen to fill the space between consonants. i, ie, ey, and y were often interchanged, as were o and oe, a and ay, and other similar vowel combinations. Vowels were dropped out of the middle of a word, leaving several consonants bunched together. Letters that were silent were simply dropped from spellings.                     

A portion of the population in the Colonies was illiterate, and they depended on others to read and write documents, or even to show them how to spell and write their own surnames. Many people who were able to write spelled even their own surname in a variety of different ways. The only known signature of any of our earliest Colonial ancestors is on John1 Fancher’s Last Will and Testament in 1779. The original document has been lost, so we only have the modern typewritten transcription to indicate he signed his name as Fansher – and are left with no example of an American Fancy/Fanshaw or Fancher/Fanshaw signature. (The handwriting samples appearing in this work are from the Fanshawe family in England, dating from 1600 to 1700.)


Primary sources during the period of English settlement in America were handwritten in script that varies in many ways from today's handwriting. Individual handwritings and the variety of handwriting styles also lend a degree of difficulty to the interpretation of surname spellings. Like spellings, the formation of letters was not uniform. The


double f  in ffanshaw was the way a capital F was written in earlier English and Colonial times, and gradually the ff faded from use. A handwritten ffanshaw can, and has been, mistaken for Hanshaw.

Also during this period the handwriting styles included writing a lower case s in such a way that it resembles our lower case f.  Fansher and Fanshaw could appear in documents looking something like Fanfher and Fanfhaw.

Signature of John Fanshawe of Parsloes, Deed                                                                  

Spellings of Fanshaw, Fanshar, Fanshew and Fansher look very similar in handwritten records, and account for some errors found in the later transcriptions of the original records. Some indexes recorded the surname as Fansher, but an examination of the original documents revealed it was actually written Fanshaw.  These types of transcription errors can lead to an erroneous impression of the spelling of our surname, if the more easily accessible typewritten transcriptions are the only records consulted. Modern transcribers did not labor over each and every letter of a surname spelling, as we might do.

                                                                                                   Signature of Sir Henry Fanshawe, Fanshawe Papers  P.R.O. 

A thorough study of these original Colonial documents also necessitates an examination of the formation of the handwritten letters and words in the entire document. Source material contains evident stylized endings to words or sentences characteristic of an individual writer, which is particularly important to our study because the most variation in spelling occurs at the end of our surname spellings.

                                                                                                           Signature of Thomas 1st Viscount Fanshawe, Parsloes 

Individual style in original handwriting has the potential for erroneous interpretation of the "flourishes" that could occur anywhere within a word or surname. Rounded lower case letters such as a, o, and u  could appear identical, as could i and e. The lower case u often was written as v. The handwritten capital F could look like a T, P, R, S , L , I, or a J.      
                                                                                             Signature of John Fanshawe, Fanshawe Papers P.R.O.                                          
Letters were often confused in surnames due to verbal miscommunications, the accent of the person who was saying it, and the person who was writing it down. Inkblots, the age and deterioration of the material, and the quality of a microfilmed copy add other dimensions of complexity to reading and interpreting these old documents


Because the Colonials' spelling was determined by what they heard and was inherently inconsistent, it would be difficult to attempt to guess what a surname may have been originally, based only on the way these earliest records were actually spelled. Although Fanshaw emerged as the predominant spelling in the Stamford Connecticut Colonial records, more corroborating evidence is required.

Phonetics was the major basis of Colonial spellings, and a person would spell a word or surname using the sounds they heard as a guide. Although sometimes challenging to interpret, such spelling tells us much about pronunciation. In this case, understanding the pronunciation of our surname is a vital key to understanding the origins of our Fancher surname.  

Most Americans today would probably pronounce Fanshawe as FANSH-awe or FANCH-awe. The English, however, historically have pronounced it as FAN-shur. Approximated by shur, the last syllable is the result of the blending of the sounds sh-ah-ur, with the inherent slight ur sound heard at the end of the final syllable in the pronunciation - FAN-sha-ur or FAN-shur. This pronunciation has been verified by numerous English sources, including the Derbyshire Records Office in England (Fanshaw Gate in Derbyshire is the ancestral seat of the Fanshawe family) who opined that Fancher is a locational spelling of Fanshawe. 

This English pronunciation of Fanshawe was the one naturally carried over into the English Colonies, where Colonial spellings of Sarer for Sarah, Rebeker for Rebecca, Anner for Anna, Hanner for Hannah, Susanner for Susannah, Berther for Bertha, Amander for Amanda... all make it clear the pronunciation of ah or uh sounds at the end of a word or name apparently were sometimes pronounced and heard as ur and typically spelled as er. Like John F. Kennedy’s famous pronunciation of Cuba as Cuber, the ur sound reflected in the pronunciation of words and names ending in ah or uh vowel sounds can still be heard in speech today in New England, the South, and along the Eastern seaboard. A Colonial, not knowing the spelling, but hearing the Fanshaw surname pronounced as FAN-shur would then invariably spell it according to what he heard - as Fansher, Fancher, Fanchar, Fanshur, Fanshire, etc. 

H.L. Mencken noted in The American Language that as the English pronunciations, including vowel sounds, were facing change in the Eighteenth century, the American Colonists remained faithful to the original pronunciations much longer. Even though we speak the same language, today there still remain many differences between English and American pronunciations of the same word. It has been said that the Colonial New Englanders spoke with what today could be described as somewhere between an English accent and an American southern twang. It may be hard for us to imagine how this accent would have actually sounded, but it does illustrate the point that, in the study of Colonial spellings, we can never presume that our modern American accents and pronunciations were the same as the Colonists centuries earlier. 

Mencken also relates that “The sensitive ear of Henry James detected an unpleasant r-sound in the speech of Americans, long ago got rid of by the English… he even charged that it was inserted gratuitously in innocent words.”  While the Fancher variant spellings give us verification that the r sound Mr. James spoke of was heard at the end of the Fanshawe colonial pronunciation, it also could explain another variant spelling that contains the r sound in the beginning of our surname. Most Fanchers today can probably relate an occasion when they have been called Francher.  

In the Colonies the English surname Henshaw developed Hansher, Hancher, Hanshier, Hensher, Hancy, Hansey, Hancie, Hansy (and numerous other) well-documented spelling variants. This large variety of spellings was typical of any surname at that time. With the exception of the first letter, Henshaw is ideally close to Fanshaw in spelling and pronunciation for comparison purposes. Each of these Henshaw surname variants in the Colonies is an eye-opening replication of our own documented Fanshaw surname variant spellings in Colonial records: Fansher, Fancher, Fanshier, Fensher, Fancy, Fansey, Fancie, Fansy, etc.

Nugent’s Cavaliers and Pioneers gives us another glimpse into the pronunciations and spellings of the time, as evidenced in the earliest English Virginia Colony records. There are several English surnames ending in shaw recorded in these volumes, and each has a spelling variant ending with an r sound. We see Crensharr for Crenshaw, Rancher and Ranshare for Renshaw, and other examples, like the Henshaw variants, which leave little 


doubt to the pronunciation and the typical variant spellings of an English surname ending in shaw. In two different English Colonies, separated by several hundred miles, the spellings and pronunciation of the shaw surname ending are identical.

In one way the Fanshaw surname variant spellings in the Colonies are consistent, they rarely began with anything other than Fan. This gives us a reliable indication that the Colonists were consistently hearing Fan, and a definite F and N sound at the beginning of the surname.

The majority of our surname spellings contain either an sh or ch. The use of sh versus ch in the spelling variants of our surname is only indicative of the spelling idiosyncrasies of the time. The letters c and s were used interchangeably without any thought to the differences in sound we perceive. sh and ch were also the same thing as far as they were concerned, and the usage of one over the other is not indicative of the letters contained in the original surname spelling.

The H was typically dropped at the beginning of a word or surname because it really wasn’t heard. But the h in the middle of a word or surname could also be dropped, even though we would consider a sh sound to be different from just an s sound, and a ch sound to vary from the sound of a c. Later (after 1780 in other areas of the country) our surname variants include Fancer and Fanser as examples where the h was not used in the Fancher spelling variants.

The one aspect of the Colonial surname spellings that contained the most variation was the spelling of a surname ending. An unaccented suffix was particularly susceptible to change. This type of  “suffix confusion”, as it is called by Colonial surname experts, is clearly evident in the documented spellings of the Fanshawe surname in English Court Records and family papers for more than five hundred years, and in the Fancher Colonial records after that time, which all show the majority of variations in the spellings are to be found in the our surname suffixes.

Contrary to one theory, the rare shier and chier suffix variants of our surname do not in any way indicate a French surname, heritage, or pronunciation. These spellings were typical English Colonial spelling variants for the sound shur, with shier giving a bit of a twist to the order of the letters of another more typical spelling for the shur sound - shire. (Unlike our American pronunciation, the English pronounce the word shire as shur.) Like Fanshier for Fanshaw and Hanshier for Henshaw, there can be an occasional variant shier or chier suffix spelling found for the majority of English surnames ending in shaw, just as there can be found shire spellings.

Although Fancher is the most common spelling of our surname today, there are branches of the family that retain their Fansher, Fanshier and Fanchier spellings. The Fancher and Fansher spellings date back to the first colonial records in Branford and Stamford, Connecticut, and earlier in England. The Fanshier spelling does not appear in England, and only occurs once in the first 130 years of Colonial records, in the transcribed text of John Fancher’s 1779 Will. (The Will was written by someone else who, according to the modern transcription, used this Fanshier spelling. The original Will has not survived and so it cannot be verified that the spelling of the surname is correct in the transcription. The loss of the original Will is particularly unfortunate because it contained the only known signature of a Colonial Fancher. The transcription indicates that John signed his name as Fansher, but the spelling cannot be verified.) There is no record found of the Fanchier spelling in any of the early records of our family, or in England.

The Fanshier surname appears to be a locational variant spelling begun around 1790 in the Sevier County, Tennessee family. The spelling probably originated with Jacob3 Fancher (Benjamin2, Richard1) who took up the Fanshier spelling, although his brothers did not. As far as can be ascertained at this time, all Fanshiers descend from this man. Jacob3’s son, Calvin Morgan4 Fancher, adopted the Fanchier spelling that continued in that particular branch. In the present day area of Pigeon Forge in Sevier County, the part of the Sevierville Road that ended on the land grant of Jacob3’s brother, Job3 Fancher, was once called “Fanshiers”. In Sevier County in 1795 there are records relating to a Cherokee Indian killing a Thomas Black. Jacob3 and Job3’s brother Richard3 gave a deposition in which his name is recorded twice as Richard Fanshaw. A letter from Col. Samuel Wear to Gov. Blount regarding this same event also refers to him as Richard Fanshaw. It is interesting to note that Col. Wear’s son was the clerk in the East Tennessee Land Office in Knoxville, and is the person who used the Fanshiers spelling for that portion of the Sevierville Road.


There is no data that can tell us exactly how our ancestors pronounced their surname. The only guide we have to the pronunciation is the original spellings of the surname, as written by other people. Our study concerns the earliest records of our family from 1643 to 1780 concentrated in one geographic area. This is as close as we can ever come to the original sources.

Far removed in time and place from the original source, later pronunciations and spellings of our surname were dictated by the local accents of that particular place. By the early 1800’s Fanchers had begun to spread out North, South, East and West, and the pronunciation of the surname by every family would have been influenced by the accents of speech in the immediate area they resided. In each region across America, a family could pronounce their surname slightly different. The way the surname was pronounced in the North could differ from how it was pronounced in the South.

Early researchers of the family were told of a family tradition that the Fanchers were French Huguenots, but extensive research has found no evidence to support that particular tradition. Beliefs, such as the idea that a more modern pronunciation of our surname as FAN-sheer in a single place indicates French heritage, have no basis. There is little difference between the English and Colonial pronunciation of Fanshaw as FAN-shur, and that of FAN-sheer so many years later. More than one hundred years after the fact, a small nuance in one family’s pronunciation is not a credible indicator of the country from which the surname originated. As David A. Avant Jr. states in Some Southern Colonial Families Vol. 5 – “Persons may spell and pronounce their names as they choose, but are not allowed the privilege of selecting the country of origin of their ancestors”. It is necessary to measure all of the available evidence, and weigh it on a much greater scale in making a determination regarding the origin of our Fancher surname.

By Colonial times, back in England the spelling had more or less settled down to Fanshaw or Fanshawe, after centuries of transitions from Faunchall, Fanchall, Fauncher, Fawncher, Fanchard, Fanche, Fanchoe, Fantchard, Fawnsha, Fanshew, Fansha, ffanshaw, ffanchaw, etc. The differences in spellings of the English surname occur primarily in the surname suffixes. These earliest surname spellings have been well documented in H.C. Fanshawe’s 1927 work The History of the Fanshawe Family.  In another earlier work, Court Rolls Of The Manor of Holmesfield (Dronsfield), H.C. Fanshawe painstakingly documented the dates and spellings of the earliest Fanshawe records in the Court Rolls. His work includes the translation and abstract by Rev. Charles Kerry, and the re-examination and correction of same by Mr. H. I. Jeayes of the British Museum. These two works give us an especially authoritative account of the earliest spellings and the documented evolution of the English Fanshawe surname spellings.

     In the Court of 13 Nov. 17 Hen.VII the name is spelt ffaunchall and not ffounchall as in the
     printed transcript, and in the Court of the Monday before St. Andrew,
14 Hen. VII it is spelt
not ffaunchall.
(pg. 175) (The reign of Henry VII was 1485 to 1509.)

The ancestral seat of the Fanshawe family was Fanshawe Gate, located in Holmesfield, Derbyshire, England. It remains unknown if the surname of the family was taken from the name of this place, or if the place was named for the family. In Basil Fanshawe’s Fanshawe Gate, Holmesfield, Co. Derby, he records Fauncher as one of the more common spellings in English Court Records up until 1500: 

The name of the place was variously spelt Faunchall, Fauncher, ffaunchelle, until finally it was spelled ffanshawe. The spelling of the family name varied in like manner…


From these Court Rolls it would appear that from about 1260, successive John ffaunchalls and Faunchers, from father to son, were admitted to Fanshawe Gate and resided there and farmed the land… until the time of John ffanshawe (b. 1504 d. 1578).

Other sources indicate that the first spelling of the Fanshawe surname was Fauncher, for John Fauncher born about 1370 (living 1417), the first known Fanshawe in England. Basil Fanshawe's work indicates that the Fauncher spellings may have occurred many decades earlier. These earliest recorded English spellings offer very valuable clues, insight, and corroborating evidence to the origin of the Fancher surname in America and to the pronunciation


of the Fanshawe surname in England that led to the subsequent Colonial Fancher spelling. Merely dropping the u from Fauncher gives us Fancher five hundred years later. Of course, it’s not quite that simple, but it does suggest that the origin and evolution of our surname spelling has a basis and a predictable pattern. 

There are striking similarities between the patterns of the English Fanshawe spelling variants and the Colonial spelling variants of our Fancher surname. Both inevitably begin with F_N, consistently contain some form of the sh or ch sound spelling, and the surname suffix is where the most variety in spelling is found. 

Although Fanshaw or Fanshawe had become more or less the most established, or popular, spellings by this time in England, H.C. Fanshawe also gives us very valuable evidence as to how the surname was still being spelled later in England, in 1685, on page 241 of The History of the Fanshawe Family, relating to the Jenkins Branch of the Fanshawe family:

The exact date when Sir Thomas married his second wife, the Hon. Elizabeth Fanshawe is not known. In December 1685, the Hon. Bridget Noel, writing to her sister  the Countess of Rutland, from “Ingkens” speaks of “Lady Fancher”

The Hon. Bridget Noel reported in an earlier month (Rutland MSS., Vol XIX) that “at Cotchmore
Sir Tomes Fansher is laying in a grat dell of wine and bruinga bundane of strong drink” against the occasion”.

In this work, H.C. Fanshawe recorded the two most popular variant spellings of our Fancher surname for prominent members of the English Fanshawe family.  

The majority of the earliest Colonial records for Richard1 and John1 Fancher in Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut spelled their surname predominately as Fanshaw. During this time the name was spelled Fansher 1 time, Fancher 5 times, but the occurrence of these spellings is far outweighed by the 15 Fanshaw/Fanshawe spellings in this variety of original early records. Taking these spellings into consideration with all of the other evidence, the Stamford records corroborate Fansher and Fancher as variant spellings of Fanshaw.

            1728                         Richard Fanshaw                    Stamford, CT Tax List
            1730                         Richard Fanshaw                    Stamford, CT Tax List
                1734                         Richard Fanshaw                    Baptism of children Richard and Martha, Canaan Parish Church

            1735                         Richard Fancher                      Stamford, CT Tax List
            1735                         Richard Fanshaw                    Baptism of children William and Benjamin, twins, Canaan Parish
            1736                         Richard Fancher                      Stamford, CT Tax List
            1737                         Richard Fanshaw                    Baptism of daughter Abigail, Canaan Parish Church
            1735                         John Fancher                           Stamford, CT Tax list
            1736                         John Fansher*                          Married Eunice Bouton/Button, Stamford Town Records
            1737                         No Surname Entry*                   Birth of son John, Stamford Town Records
            1737                         John Fanshaw                         & wife Eunice Own The Covenant, Canaan Parish Church
            1739                         John Fanshaw                         Baptism of son William, Canaan Parish Church
            1739                         John Fanshaw                         Eunice and John convey interest in real estate of Mercy Bouton
            1741                         John Fanshawe                       Purchase of land from Ebenezer Seeley
            1742                         John Fanshaw                         Baptism of son Nathaneal, Canaan Parish Church
            1744                         John Fanshaw                         Baptism of daughter Abigail, Canaan Parish Church
            1744                         John Fancher                           Stamford, CT Tax list
            1748                         John Fanshaw                         & wife Eunice become members of Canaan Parish Church
            1749                         John Fanshaw                         Baptism of Joseph and Eunice, twins, Canaan Parish Church
            1752                         John Fanshaw                         Baptism of daughter Mercy, Canaan Parish Church
            1754                         John Fancher                           Stamford, CT Tax list
            1755                         John Fanshaw                         Baptism of son Daniel, Canaan Parish Church
            1747                         Joshua Fanshaw                     Baptism of son David, Canaan Parish Church  

(The Joshua Fanshaw entry in the Canaan Parish Church records is thought to be an error for John Fanshaw.)

*The 1737 birth of Eunice and John’s son John in the Stamford town records is entered underneath their 1736 marriage entry, on the same page, in which John’s name is spelled as Fansher. There is no separate surname entry for the 1737 birth of their son.


These original Stamford records establish a pattern in the earliest recorded spellings, and also are of interest because they all were written by town clerks, who out of necessity had to be literate to some degree, and the minister of Canaan Parish, the Rev. John Eells, who was an educated man. Analyzing these records, we might then come to the conclusion that these Fanshaw and Fanshawe spellings were written by educated men familiar with the English spelling of the surname, and that the Fancher and Fansher records were written by town clerks who spelled the name phonetically. Based on other evidence, this conclusion seems logical. But given the very nature of the Colonial spelling, it remains a theory that can never be proven one way or the other.

In his 1947 book, The Fancher Family, William Hoyt Fancher states that John1 Fancher's grandson, Samuel3 Fancher’s children all, “except Rufus, took the name of Fanshaw”. He also states that some of Rufus’ sons also “took” the Fanshaw name. In light of the evidence it seems unlikely that some individuals in Samuel’s branch “took” the Fanshaw name, while others did not. Mr. Fancher may have come to this conclusion because he was just unable to find an instance of the Fanshaw spelling for Samuel or Rufus in a family where the rest of the spellings were predominately Fanshaw. These statements by Mr. Fancher could also be interpreted as the Fancher spelling was established for this branch, and they changed the spelling back to Fanshaw – or that this branch preserved the original surname spelling, possibly because of their own immediate knowledge of their surname. Whatever the true explanation was, the Fanshaw spelling did continue in the descendants of this branch of the family.

Other corroborating evidence that the Colonial Fanchers were of English origin was provided by extensive examinations of the histories of the Colonies, settlements, religions and churches, migration patterns and the close interaction between Long Island and Connecticut, the families they married into, the families associated to each ancestor and those families own origin and migration patterns, other families living in the same settlements, our ancestors given names and the given names and naming patterns of their children.

Briefly, our Colonial ancestors all lived in English settlements; they married into English families. (It has never been determined that Eunice Bouton, the wife of John1 Fancher, actually was of French descent. Several American Bouton surname authorities believe that the surname was Boughton, and the family was of English descent.) Our ancestors given names were all English, as were the names of all of their children. They associated with, went to church, and lived among English families. After many years of investigation, not one single piece of evidence has surfaced that might indicate that our ancestors’ origin was anything other than English.

After their marriages, any records of the female Colonial Fanchers would record their husband’s surname. The only record of Hannah1 Fancher in Stamford, Connecticut is her marriage to Joseph Garnsey in 1728. This entry in the Stamford Town Records is spelled Fansher. The single entry in these same town records for John1 Fancher is also spelled Fansher and is the only early record for him that used this spelling. Hannah1 and John1’s records appear eight years apart, and it is unknown if they may have been written by the same town clerk. Catherine1 Fancher, who was in Branford, New Haven County, Connecticut, also has only one surname record in that place. Her marriage to Ebenezer Elwell in 1717 records her name as Fancher.

The surname of William1 Fancher in Branford, Connecticut is also spelled Fancher. In some cases, the original documents no longer exist, and the surname spelling had to be taken from the record transcriptions. So while we can never be absolutely sure that William’s surname was spelled as Fancher in Branford in every document, this does appear to be the case. William Fancher signed papers with his W mark in Branford.

William1 was the first Colonial Fancher male to appear in Connecticut records. His marriage to Thankful Thomson on 23 November 1723 in Branford, New Haven County, Connecticut is recorded in the Branford Town Records as Fancher. The following year he registered his earmark:

                             Entered the earmark of William Fancher which is two nicks or slits
                             crossways of ye right ear on the underside. May ye 18 1724

                                                                                                                              (Branford TRs 1694-1788)


In comparison to the Stamford records, there are a small number of documents for William1 Fancher in Branford. The only entry that appears in the Branford Congregational Church records is in July 1739, when William Fancher was admitted as a member of the church. (Connecticut Church Records, Branford Church 1687-1889 Part I, Connecticut State Library 1930.)

The first mention in the Branford Land Records was the purchase by William Fancher, and his brother-in-law Ebenezer Elwell (husband of Catherine Fancher), both of Branford, of a parcel of land of approximately 9 acres in the Gusset from John Wheadon on 1 February 1728/9 (Branford LR's 5:99) A small number of subsequent land transactions also record the spelling as Fancher.

There are few records for David1Fancher in Stratford, Fairfield County, Connecticut, yet these records contain examples of the Fancy spelling predominant in the New Haven Colony and Long Island, the Fanshaw spelling predominant in Stamford, Connecticut, and the Fancher spelling predominant in Branford, Connecticut. David1 Fancher’s records are the only Colonial Fancher records found to contain a version of all the major Fanshaw variant spellings in one location:

1742                         David Fanshaw                        Baptism of son David, Stratford Congregational Church
1745                         David Fancy                             Baptism of son William, Stratford Congregational Church
1749                         David Fanchy                           Purchased land from John Lewis
1749                         David Fancher                         A layout recorded, land records
1752                         David Fancher                         Sold land (Deed recorded David Fancher, Ackn. as David Fanchar
1753                         David Fanchor                         Land in Four Mile Division

The records for David1 Fancher’s son Sylvanus2 continue to use the Fancy spelling variant:

             1754                         Sylvanus Fancher                    Stamford, CT Tax List
             1758                         Sylvanus Fancy                       Baptism of daughter Mary, Stratford Episcopal Church

Numerous Fanshaw spellings also appear in other later generations of the Fancher family, but a detailed study has not been made of these original records due to the magnitude of such a project. 

In the very first Colonial records of our ancestors, William1 Fancy appears in the New Haven Colony in 1643. There his surname is recorded as Fancie, Fancy and ffancye. He moved to Southold, Long Island New York ca.1652 where his name appears as Fansey and Fancey. William1 Fancy was an original proprietor in Setauket, Brookhaven, Suffolk County, New York by 1661, and remained there until his death. Some of his descendants stayed in this same area until around 1727.There are numerous documents that record a variety of surname spellings for this family – Fansey, Fancy, Fancey, ffancye, ffanshaw, fanshaw, fanshawe, fanch, ffancey. The places William1 Fancy lived were all English Puritan settlements.

Reaney’s A Dictionary of English Surnames does not include an entry for Fancy. The Fancy surname developed later in England and does not appear elsewhere in European records. According to the Guild Of One Name Studies for Fancy in England, most, but not all, of the branches of the modern English Fancy families can be traced back to Christopher Fancy who lived in Turners Puddle, located in the eastern part of Dorset, 1632 to 1682. Prior to 1632 there are only rare instances of the Fancy spellings in English records, and as of this date Christopher Fancy’s origins have not been found.

The Falshaw English surname was spelled as Falshay, the Henshaw English surname was spelled as Hancy, Hansey, Hancie, Hansy, etc. Following this pattern, the Fanshaw surname also had spelling variants ending in ie, ey and y in both New Haven and Long Island, in Stratford, Connecticut for David1 Fancher and his son Sylvanus2, and for Richard1 Fancher’s grandson John3 (Richard2) in Morris County, New Jersey. Fancy spellings have been found in other New Jersey records. Some are associated with descendants of Richard1 Fancher; others still remain unidentified, but are thought to also be descendants of Richard1 Fancher, or possibly Joseph Fancher of Cape May County, New Jersey. Beginning on page 15 of Paul Fancher’s book Richard Fancher (1700-1764) of Morris County, New Jersey, an unidentified David Fancher (born 1747) is documented in Monongalia and Ohio Counties, Virginia. His land records in Virginia are Fancher and variants. David Fancher served with Col. Dayton’s regiment at Morristown, Morris County, New Jersey and is listed in Revolutionary War Military Records as Fancy and Fancey, in Roll Box 15. An examination of these records shows two enlistments, the first as David Fancher, and the second as David Fancey. His Pension Application 3 Sept 1822 is Fanshare. The pension application exactly matches both


of these military records, so there can be no doubt Fancy, Fancey, Fanshare and Fancher were all used for the same person.

It is very unlikely William1 Fancy himself had anything to do with the actual spelling of his surname. He signed all papers with a mark. If he was unable to write his name, it is probable he could not spell it for other people. Again, we must depend on other people’s interpretive spellings of his surname.

Variations of an ie or y surname ending turns up frequently enough in surnames ending in shaw to establish a definite pattern. y appears to have been interchangeable with w in certain instances in England, and the evidence indicates it was used in this manner at the end of words and names in the Colonies.

Just as the Colonists spelled given names ending in a ah or uh sound like Sarah as Sara and Sarer, they also spelled it as Sarey. Surnames ending in shaw, like Henshaw, were spelled Hensha and Hansher, and also as Hansey and Hancie. (The letter y was interchangeable with the letter i, and with ie, so the simple variations between the spellings of Fancy and Fancie were normal for the time.)

a and ay have been documented to have been used interchangeably in both England and the Colonies.  One explanation for the Fancy spellings may be that, like Hensha for Henshaw, it was based on a Fansha interpretation of Fanshaw that used ay instead of an a at the end of the surname spelling. The use of the alternate ay, would result in Fanshay. As previously discussed, dropping the h from the spelling would result in Fansay, Fansey, and inevitably Fansy, Fansie, Fancy and Fancie.

It could be that the Fancy variant spellings were not particularly based on the pronunciation of the surname, and had to do more with the English methods of spelling at the time. A more complex explanation could be that the Fanshawe surname comes from Fane, a temple or church, and Shaw, a small wood or grove – Church in the small wood. At that time in England, shaw, shafe, shave and shay were interchangeable spellings all meaning “a small wood”. This specific use of shay for shaw reinforces the English substitution of a y for a w evidenced in the Colonies and in the Fancy variant spellings, and is particularly appropriate for our study. Fanshaw may have been spelled in New Haven and Long Island based on shay being used for shaw, creating something approximating Fanshay or Fanshey, which follows the identical pattern of an uh sound being spelled as a and ay.

The pronunciation of Fanshawe as FAN-shur has been established, and the resulting spellings in England, Connecticut, and other areas verify the ur sound heard at the end of the surname in those places. In the New Haven Colony and on Long Island, no forms of the suffix spellings er appear. This may indicate that the basis of the Fancy variant spellings was not based on pronunciation, and evolved from characteristic English spellings that used ay for aw.  This would seem to imply some basic knowledge of the spelling of the surname.

The Yorkshire and Devon dialects, in particular, used shay for shaw and there may be other dialects that used it as well. These spellings were used interchangeably in different parts of England, and were pronounced basically the same way, along with shafe and shave, shaugh, shage, etc. However, the entry for the English surname Shaw on page 404 of Reaney’s A Dictionary of English Surnames, gives us an indication that many centuries ago there may have been some differences in the pronunciation that could account for a Fanshay spelling, and the resulting Fancy variants - Shaugh (Devon), pronounced shay. Reaney also indicates that in Yorkshire in 1564, there were Shaws recorded there as Richard Shay and Hugh Shey. The Irish surname Shea (O’Shea) evolved from the English surname Shaw, and is still historically pronounced as shay.

If the place in the British Isles where William Fancy was born is found, this location, and its dialect, may shed some additional light on the subject. Unlike the Fancher variants of Fanshawe, which clearly indicate these spellings were a result of the pronunciation, we have no indicators that would specifically point to the Fancy variants as being either a result of the pronunciation or a result of the spelling methods of the time.

The modern pronunciation of the Fancy surname in England is FAN-see, but there is no information that would confirm this was how William Fancy was pronouncing Fanshawe 300 years ago. Fancy did not


exist as an English surname then, and the one and only person during the same period that consistently used Fancy there appears to be Christopher Fancy in Dorset. We have no other historical spellings and pronunciations to analyze. Because of the substitution of shay for shaw, there is a definite possibility that other people’s spellings account for the Fancy variants. Many of the early settlers of Long Island were Yorkshire men; the English area of Long Island was originally named the East and West Riding of Yorkshire after their homeland. The modern Yorkshire dialect pronounces Fanshawe as FAN-shore, yet centuries ago a Yorkshire man recording Fanshawe could have  spelled it as a variant of Fanshay. Today a person from Devon will pronounce the name as Fan-shurrr, with a more pronounced r sound. Long ago it may have been both spelled and pronounced it as Fanshay.

There is a (unproven) family tradition that William Fancy was from Wales. Welsh is an entirely different language from English. There were many Welsh among the earliest settlers of Long Island, and their unique accents and pronunciations, and the resulting spelling, would have been distinctly different from English settlers in the same area. In Welsh, the F is pronounced as an English V. The English sh is pronounced as s and the w is pronounced oo, as in the word cool. The Welsh dialect enunciates each vowel sound, with the flow of the sound of words, and even the sentences, unbroken by a pause. The final e in Fanshawe would have been pronounced as eh. The closest approximation of Fanshawe pronounced in Welsh would be Van,Sa,Oo,Eh said quickly. It is impossible to imagine how the Colonists might have spelled something sounding like this. English could have modified the Welsh pronunciation, and it anybody’s guess as to what that resulting pronunciation and spelling might have been. The English would have used the letter F instead of the V. As was their tendency, if the Colonists were in the mood to ignore some vowel sounds, like oo, in the spelling and pronunciation, the resulting Fan,sa,eh may have sounded like Fancy.

H.L.. Mencken relates that “At the time of the first settlement of America the rules of English orthography were beautifully vague, and so we find the early documents full of spellings that seem quite fantastic today. Due to these “fantastic” eccentricities of spelling, it is difficult to credit the Colonists with following any set of prescribed rules because the spellings depended on so many variables, including the accent of the person speaking. Fancy does follow the basic pattern of the Fanshawe spellings and the Fancher variants. The name begins with Fan, is spelled with an s or c to approximate the sh/ch sound, and the difference is found in the surname suffix spelling.

We can go by these patterns in the various Colonial surname variant spellings, the evidence of the established patterns of spelling at that time that used a y for a w and shay for shaw, the established patterns of spelling that used an ay for an a, and the varient spellings of other surnames ending in shaw, to determine that Fancy, and all its variants, is a logical spelling for the Fanshaw surname. We do not have to completely understand exactly why a surname was spelled in a particular manner in a particular place, but when the evidence confirms it, we have to accept that it was so. The occurrence of the Fanshaw and ffanshaw spellings with the Fancy variant spellings for the same people on Long Island reinforces Fancy as a variant spelling of Fanshaw, as do the Fancy and Fanshaw spellings for known members of the Fancher family.

At the same time William1 Fancy and the six Colonial Fanchers were living in Long Island, New York and Connecticut, there was only one other Fanshaw family in the Colonies. Extensive research was done on the family of Thomas1 Fanshaw of Lower Norfolk, Virginia 1664 and Currituck County, North Carolina 1713, and his later family. In addition to the Fanshaw surname, there are a few similarities in given names, the surnames of associated families and other small coincidences; however, no connection between our family and this one can be made at the present time. The Fanshawe family in England was not a large one by their own standards. The possibility remains that there is some connection between our family and this Fanshaw family that has not yet been identified. The study of this Fanshaw family’s records in Virginia and North Carolina provides extremely persuasive corroborating evidence. Combined with all the other evidence, these records leave no doubt that the origin of our Fancher surname in American was the English surname Fanshawe.

Currituck County, North Carolina was one of the Civil War “Burned Counties”, but tax records for certain periods have survived which year after year also document this family’s surname spelled as Fanshaw, as it was earlier in Virginia. Numerous other existing records consistently record the Fanshaw spelling, and it is clearly obvious this family’s surname was Fanshaw.


For 150 years, the surviving records of Currituck County, North Carolina document the same Colonial Fancher surname variant spellings found in Connecticut for this Fanshaw family living 400 miles away.  Fansher and Fancher are the predominant variant spellings found there. A small sampling of the Tax Records, Deeds, and other records are attached to the end of this work, along with some brief information on Thomas1 Fanshaw and his descendants. Thomas Fanshaw’s only child Thomas2 had sons named Richard3 and John3 who were of particular interest. They would have been the same generation as John1 and Richard1 Fancher. It was determined that John Fanshaw was murdered in Currituck in 1720, and that Richard Fanshaw died in Currituck around 1763 and left a Will naming his children.


Our earliest family members in the New World were Fanshawes, whose name was also recorded in the mid to late 1600’s as Fancy, Fansey, Fansie, and other variant spellings of the English Fanshawe surname. In the next generations, the spelling Fanshaw was the most common spelling being used in Connecticut; the first variant Fancher spelling appeared in 1717. After many years, the Fancher variant was eventually adopted as the most common spelling of our surname, but Fanshaw still continued to appear regularly in the records for generations.

The surname is a survivor. We exist, the surname exists, and so it has been handed down through the centuries… This adage, like others, is good only up to a certain point. It is at that point that research must center on the first records of the surname, accepting that transitions do occur.

This work was designed to document the earliest surname spellings of our ancestors, and to prove by the weight of the evidence presented, that the origin of our American Fancher surname was the English surname Fanshawe. We believe the patterns of variant surname spellings, in addition to the Stamford, Connecticut records and supplementary corroborating evidence we have presented, indicate positive proof of our surname origin. In this respect, we also are of the opinion that the records of the Fanshaw family of Virginia and North Carolina, which also contain Fancher spelling variants, provide a powerful confirmation of our surname origin.

Our conclusion is based on many years of research with the original documents and papers for the time period 1643 to approximately 1780, including an intensive study of the surname spellings. Out of necessity additional research and documentation pertaining to important related topics, such as spelling, handwriting and pronunciation, was presented to give clearer understanding of the subject matter. The references cited in this work can be found listed on page 40.


                                              FANSHAW FAMILY OF VIRGINIA & NORTH CAROLINA 

This outlines the spellings of the Fanshaw family’s surname in Virginia and North Carolina, and shows that in these places the variant surname spellings were identical to the variant spellings of the surname in Connecticut.

What should be noted about this Virginia/North Carolina family is that, according to David A. Avant Jr. in Some Southern Colonial Families Vol. 5, some type of relationship to Sir Henry Fanshawe may be indicated. Henry Fanshawe of Fanshaw Gate, Ware Park, etc. was knighted 7 May 1603 and held the title of Third Remembrancer of the Exchequer. Queen Elizabeth described him as “the best officer of accounts” she had, and a “person of great integrity”. Sir Henry Fanshawe was one of the Adventurers of the Second Virginia Charter 23 May 1609, and was one of the “Counsele for the “said companie of Adventurers and Planters in Virginia” . The son of Thomas Fanshawe of Fanshawe Gate, Jenkins Dengey and of Ware Park, Co. Hertsfordshire, and Mary Bourchier, Henry Fanshawe was baptized Aug 1569 and died 10 March 1616. Henry married Elizabeth Smythe after May 1593.

Henry and Elizabeth Fanshawe’s daughter Mary married William Newce of Much Hadham, Hertsfordshire. William and Mary Newce were in Newport News Virginia, where William died in 1652. Many of the families married to, and associated with this branch of the Fanshawe family had land and interests in Virginia, as did Sir Henry and his sons. It could be nothing more than a coincidence, but Sir Henry had sons named Thomas, Richard, John, Henry (and Simon - son Walter died young) and Thomas Fanshaw of Virginia and North Carolina has sons Thomas, Richard, John, Henry (and Moses). Sir Henry’s sons have been well documented. We have not done any further investigation of Sir Henry’s descendants, or attempted to connect Thomas1 Fanshaw to any branch of this family, because there appears to be no reason to believe that
our own Fancher family is in any way related to Sir Henry.

Thomas1 Fanshaw was born circa 1635-1645. He married Mary Horne (b. ca. 1648), the daughter of Thomas Horne, cooper, and Mary Yates, before 1664 in Elizabeth City, Virginia. The land owned by Thomas1 Fanshaw and his wife Mary before 1665 was on the south side towards the head of the west branch of the Elizabeth River in Lower Norfolk, Virginia.

The first record of Thomas1 Fanshaw is:

THO. TEAKEL (Teackle) 350 acs Accomack Co. bet. Cradock & Nondui Creeks, 25 Sept. 1668. p. 176. Adj. Jno. MILBOY, the main bay of the Chesepiack & his own land. Trans of 7 persons: Samll. Train, Tho. Smith, Wm. Hickes, Robt Kemp, Tho. Fanshaw, Cha. Mainard, Jno. Shaw, Jno. Bendish, Tho. Argail, James Silvercock (Cavaliers and Pioneers, Vol II, pg 45)

Thomas Fanshaw died only a few years after his marriage. His Will, probated 10 March 1668, proved 16 June 1669, in Norfolk County, Virginia names his wife Mary (Horne) Fanshaw, and “infant” son Thomas Fanshaw. It is unknown if the young widow Fanshaw married again. As she was only 21 years old at the time of her husband’s death, a re-marriage seems likely.

Thomas and Mary’s only child Thomas2 Fanshaw is estimated to have been born 1665. There is no record of him until 1710, when he witnessed the Will of William Tucker in Norfolk County. All the records in Virginia for this family are consistently spelled Fanshaw. A few years later, sometime around 1713, Thomas2 Fanshaw moved a few miles south of Lower Norfolk, Virginia to the Northwest River area of Currituck County, North Carolina with some other families from Lower Norfolk.Thomas2 Fanshaw’s wife is unknown. His children:

Thomas, Jr. b. ca 1699 - First appears on Currituck Tithables 1715
John b. ca  1699/1700 - d. 23 Jan 1720 – First appears on Currituck Tithables 1715
Richard b. ca 1701 d. ca 1763 (Will) – First appears on Currituck Tithables 1717
Betty b. ca 1702 m. Thomas2 Morrisette
Henry b. ca 1703 First appears on Currituck Tithables 1719
Moses d. ca 1760/1 (Will)
Isaiah ?

Only one reference in 1718 Currituck Records

Thomas2 Fanshaw is thought to have died ca.1719 when his name disappears from the Currituck Tax Records. John3 was murdered by Joseph Bowring and Robert Tucker in 1720 and it is unknown if he was married, or had children. Richard3 and Moses3 left Wills naming their children, and Betty3 (Fanshaw) Morrisette’s children are known. Nothing is known about any descendants of Henry, or Isaiah.

Currituck County, North Carolina was one of the Civil War “Burned Counties, but tax records for certain years have survived which year after year also document this family’s surname spelled as Fanshaw. Various other existing records consistently record the Fanshaw spelling, and there can be no doubt this family’s surname was Fanshaw.


Because there are so many large gaps in time due to lost records it is impossible to create a genealogy of the next few generations, or to determine what line the later Fanshaws belong. Some members of this Fanshaw family were still in Currituck circa 1850. One branch appears to have gone back to Norfolk, Virginia, and some families probably moved on to other places.

In the interest of space, the following is only a small sampling of the earliest Currituck Tax records, and other documents dating from 1714 to 1822:

November ye 16th Day 1714  An acount of what munny is Reserved in to the Treasury for Laves per me Wm BELL:

Wm. STAFARD 1= 5=
Thos SPENSUR   1= 5=

Then This account was Drawn out of my Book of what munny I have Receved of State Tax and pol Tax Sencs I made up my accounts with The Commissioners at Conl Edward MOSSLYS in December The Tenth 1714 This is a true account per me Wm BELL Treasurer for Corotuck

Elisabeth NOTHAM 2   15      Elisabeth NOTHAM    4
Rich BRITE Senr 1   10 Rich BRITE Senr 6

A list of Tithables for ye Prect of Corotuck for ye Yearr 1715 Taken By Clk of Said Prect in Obedience to An Act of Assembly Vizt:

Thos FANSHAW Senr      2
Thos FANSHAW Jur                   1
John FANSHAW   1
John NORTHERN     1

A List of Coratuck Tithables Taken for the year 1716 per ye Constable:

Mermek: ETHERIGE SER             3
John NORTHEN           3
Frans JERVIS  1
Robert TUCKER  2

A List of Coratuk Tithables for ye year 1717:

Robert SMITH      1
Robert TUKER Ser 1
Robert TUKER Jun   1

A List of Coratuck Tythables taken for ye year 1719:

William TUKER    1
Frances JERVIS   1

The Land list and list of Tithables for the Aforesaid Precinct for ye year 1720 Which Orderly Follows:

1 JNO: FANCHER 1 540 PATIN (Patent)
1 Fran: Jarvis 2 100 PATIN


Tythables in Currytuck Precint Jan 1720/21:

Marmkd ETHERIDGE & son Jno. 2
Jno. NORTHEN Sampson & Jeffrey  neg. man Dynah a woman 4
JNO. FANSHERE (Blank: Missing Info)           1

For 150 years, other records of Currituck North Carolina document the same Colonial Fancher surname variant spellings for this Fanshaw family living 400 miles away. Some Examples:  

Will of William POYNER April 6, 1788 (exec. Mar. 20, 1790) Will Book 1. Wm.'s brother Joseph (Schooner Hope)
Executor: Friend, Samuel SIMMONS. Wit: Samuel SIMMONS, John CATON, & Davis FANSHER.

Friday, November 29, 1799 Jurors to February Term 1800, to wit:
Jonathan Lindsey, Lamuel Wilson, Thomas Barrott, Jonathan Taylor…
Willis Simmons, and Davis FANCHER Constables to attend next Term.
(Davis Fanshaw  was a Constable in Currituck for several years, and his name appears in almost every court record during that period. He is thought to be Richard3 Fanshaw’s son Davis (Davies), as named in his Will. His surname is consistently spelled Fancher and Fansher in all of these court records.)

1800 CENSUS Currituck Co. North Carolina:

Wednesday, Sept. 2, 1801 Ordered that Edward Bunnel, Frances Morse, Davis FANCHER & Thomas Ferebee...audit and settle the accounts of William Fullford admr. of Daniel Fulford decd... 

[Deedbook 9; pg. 209] Simon Jenkins to Godfrey Whitehurst. Both of Currituck. 18 Jul 1806. Twenty silver dollars. Land in Currituck bounded by James Lee. Three acres. /s/Simon Jenkins, Witnessed, Rich. Dozier
Moses (x-his mark) FANCHER. August Term 1806. Registered 17 Oct 1806. 

Grace Jervise Feb 15, 1806 Will Book 2. Mother Grace Whitehurst, Sally FANCHER, Brother-in-law Moses. Other Godfrey Whitehurst. Exec. Moses. Witness Thomas Mulder. 

1810 CENSUS – Currituck Co. North Carolina


Deedbook 10; pg. 122 Godfrey Whitehurst to Thomas Matthais. 12 Dec 1807. Both of Currituck. Twenty five dollars. Land in Currituck by James Evans. Three acres. /s/ Godfrey (x-his mark) Whitehurst. Witness, Ryland FANSHER, Peter (x-his mark) Barker. February Term 1810. Witness, 16 Apr 1810.

The last will and Testament of Benjamin Brickhouse, Sr.- Exhibited and proved at February Term 1816,
Names his daughter Elizabeth FANSHER.

Estate, Camden County, N C, 1822
Charlotte FANCHER
Jesse FANCHER     


                                           The Origin of the Fancher Surname in America                             

                                                                 WORKS CITED 

Avant, David A., Jr., Some Southern Colonial Families, Tallahassee, Florida: L’Avant Studios, 1995,  37-76,126. 

Fanshawe, Basil, Fanshawe Gate, Holmesfield, Co. Derby, Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 353-357. 

Fanshawe, H.C., “Court Rolls Of The Manor of Holmesfield (Dronfield”, Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. XXX, February 1908, 173-188. 

Fanshawe, H.C., The History Of The Fanshawe Family, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England: A. Reid and Co., 1927,  2, 241. 

Fancher, Paul Buford, Richard Fancher (1700-1764) Of Morris County New Jersey, Richard Fancher’s Descendants 1764-1992, Fancher-Fansher-Fanchier-Fanshier, Roswell, Georgia: W.H. Wolfe Assoc., 1993, 11-18. 

Fancher, William Hoyt, and Hill, William Carroll, compiler, The Fancher Family, Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historical Genealogical Society, 1947, 15, 28, 71, 72. 

James, Henry, The Question of Our Speech; Boston and New York, 1906, 27–29 

Mencken, H.L., The American Language: An Inquiry into the development of English in the United States, 2nd ed. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1921. 

Nugent, Nell Marion, Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants. 3 Volumes. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia State Library, 1979. 

Reaney, P.H., and Wilson, R.M., A Dictionary of English Surnames, Revised Third Edition, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997, 162, 404.  



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