This is the story of the Hurff Family in America

(Reprinted from the book "The History and Genealogy of the Hurff Family" 1951)



The Hurff Family Association was organized August 31, 1904 at Pitman, Gloucester County, New Jersey. The Annual Reunion of the descendants of Johannes Balthaser Harff is held in September of each year in Southern New Jersey.


Our European Ancestors and Their Homeland

It has been asserted that "He who careth not whence he came, careth little whither he goeth." We have read many interesting and fascinating historical facts and legends, based on the Valley of the Rhine, in Germany, with their overlords, or barons, their castles, and their army of retainers, united for mutual protection,", or for conquest of neighboring territories. These have been narrated in prose and poetry, and are the source of many of the Tales of the Nibelungen, derived partly from actual historical facts, with a large intermixture involving mythological gods, immortalized in many of the themes of the Grand Operas, by the great composer, Richard Wagner. There is no known claim that the Hurff ancestors are descended from any of the gods of mythology; however, there are two established facts, which indicate conclusively that the Harff family by which name it was originally known, flourished for many centuries, and became leaders in their community, and no doubt participated in many of the conflicts in which some of these stories may have originated.

The first of the facts is that Arnold, Knight von Harff, who was born, about 1471, travelled in many foreign countries, and then published the same, in a work, entitled, "The Pilgrimage of Arnold von Harff, Knight, from Cologne, through Italy, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia, Nubia, Palestine, Turkey, France and Spain, which he accomplished in the years 1496 to 1499." Arnold was a son of Adam von Harff, a nobleman of considerable ,wealth,, and position at the Court of the Dukes of Julich and Gelders, whose ancestral seat was at Harff, on the Erft, near Cologne. A journey such as this could only have been undertaken by a man of fortune, and indeed the family seems to have been richly endowed, On his return von Harff's' 'Possessions were increased by purchase and inheritance."

An uncle left to him the castle of Nieshoven, close to Lovenich and other estates fell to him on his father's death. In 1504 be married Margareth von dem Bougert. He died in 1505, and was buried in the church yard at Lovenich, near Aschen, in a tomb, adorned with 32 coats of arms. His widow bore him a posthumous daughter, who died in infancy and was buried in the same grave. Evidently, since he left no issue, the American descendants do not come from his branch of the family. However, he evidently was a brother, or uncle, or perhaps cousin, to the progenitor of Johannes Balthasser Harff, from whom the American branch is descended. This sketch of Arnold is given, however, for the purpose of showing the social and financial standing of the contemporaries and family of Harff in its Homeland.

We find, that the art of printing was only in its infancy at this time, and are not surprised to learn that his travels were published in manuscript of which ten copies are known, some of them in the Harff Castle, one in Dusseldorf, and one in Dreiborn, probably kept in their museums or local libraries. They contain about 150 pages of small folio. The book was written in a dialect of the Lower Rhine and has been printed in book form, once in 1860, and once in 1890 in the German language. It has also been translated into the Italian language, and finally in 1943 by Malcolm Letts, F.S. A. London, into English.

(Note: The English Edition with additional facts in the introduction and notes, may be seen in the Philadelphia Public Library.)

The book is remarkable that it was made when travelling was almost limited to trade, or for wars of conquest or discovery, and it is noted that Christopher Columbus was one of his contemporary travellers. This was a book of travel for its own sake, and was often quoted by authors and referred to by prospective traders wanting to know something about an additional country in which to trade. Its publication evidencesthe fact that Arnold must have been not only a man of financial means, but of advanced education to travel and to become a successful author.

Next, established historical fact, is the existence of the Harff Castle, or "Schloss Harff" as it was locally named.

It probably takes its name from some feudal leader, or baron who must have had according to the custom, an army of dependents or retainers. The fact that he rated a castle, possessed it, and handed it down to his heirs, indicates that he had power, wealth and ambition, which had elevated him to be among the nobility of that day. It is situated in a mountainous section of the Erft River, a tributary of the Rhine, in the, province of Rhineland, Westphalia; the nearest town or village being Bedburg, and is southeast of Dusseldorf, northeast of Cologne, and not far from Dreiborn; it is about half the distance between the Rhine River and the Belgian frontier.

Our information as to the Castle Harff, has been largely derived from correspondence in 1928 between the President of the Hurff Association, George B. Hurff and Count Theodor Mirbach, who of recent years resided in, and apparently was the owner. Under date of August 4th 1928, he writes, to wit:


"Acknowledging receipt of our letter dated July 21, 1928, I am sorry to tell you, that my family is in no way connected with the v. Harff, the place having come into possession of the Mirbach family through the marriage of Barbara V. Harff, with an ancestor of mine. There is a branch of the family v. Harff, since 1650 at Dreiborn, still existing. The present head of the family is a certain Clemens Freiherr (Baron) v. Harff (born1903) who lives in Dreiborn near Gmunden (Rheinland). He may be able to give you further details.

"Our archives here contain a great number of manuscripts and documents concerning the Family v. Harff, the oldest dated 27. v. 1346 - so one about Johann v. Harff Chevalier of the Teuton Order (1543). Besides, a most interesting book has been published about Arnold v. Harff, who undertook a journey through Italy, Egypt, the Holy Land, Turkey, Spain, and France during the years 1496-1499 and left an illustrated diary of his travels. These are all the details, I can give you at present. I hope, I may have given you some hints, as to the ways and means of obtaining further information. I enclose a photo of Harff Castle, as I suppose, it might interest you.

I remain, dear sir,

Yours truly,

C. Theodor Mirbach."

Harff, Regierungsbezirk, Koln,

Rhein provinz August 4, 1928.


It would be interesting to know just what cause led to the immigration of Johannes Balthaser and Catherine Harff and their family to America, It could not have been poverty, for it seems he had ready money to pay for the passage and for investment in property. Perhaps he had friends or relatives who had preceded him to the new country, or he may have heard of the liberal government which had secured peaceful and liberal homes in the fertile and fruitful valleys of Pennsylvania and West Jersey, where religious persecutions or political oppressions were not feared.

At least, we know that in October 1754 the Ship Friendship slowly made her way up the Delaware River after a long arid tedious voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, Among her tired and weather-beaten passengers were Johannes Balthaser Harff and probably his family.

What their reactions were on sighting the primitive surroundings of their new homeland it is hard to conceive. Let us hope that they were expected, and that there were some welcoming friends or relatives to meet and greet them as they stepped ashore.

We must bear in mind that these men and women and their families had left a homeland of beauty and homes of a substantial character built of brick and stone. The section of Germany of the Palatinate and adjacent sections were for the most part beautiful in scenery. These early immigrants were a frugal and hardy race. Political and religious oppressions were unusually severe at this time and had caused much unrest.

As these travel weary German people left the landing place they made their way to the State House (on Chestnut Street) to fulfill the first duty of all newly arrived foreigners, the registry of their names with the secretary of the province.

In Strassburgers & Hinke's "Pennsylvania German Pioneers". 1934, Vol. 1, page 643 it states: "At the, State House at Philadelphia, Monday the 2lst Day of October 1754, Present, The Worshipful Charles Willing, Esquire, Mayor. The foreigners whose names are underwritten, imported in the Ship Friendship. Capt. Charles Ross, from Amsterdam, but last from Gosport, did this day take the usual Qualifications, to the government. 7 Roman Catholicks. Qual. No. 117 souls. Whole Freight 301. From Franconia and Hesse."

Thus we find that taking,, this qualification in arrival was our ancestor Johannes Balthaser Harff who must have had some education for he signed his name in German script as did Johannes Harff. A large number of the passengers signed only by mark.

If there were only, 117 passengers of 16 years and over and seven Roman Catholics, then there must have been 177 women and children accompanying those 117 males who signed the register.

Just where those travel weary Germans went to from the State House we have no way of knowing. Probably they went to Germantown where it was thoroughly German in language and appearance with friends or relatives.

We lose sight of them from 1754 until July 22, 1759, when we find Balthaser Harff and wife Catherine act as sponsors at St. Micheals and Zion Lutheran Church, Phila., for Catherine Rob, daughter of Johannes Rob and wife, Catherine born April 20. 1759. (p.474 of Church Rec's.)

At the First German Reformed Church (p. 75 records) Johannes Seibold. son of Johannes and wife. Elizabeth was baptized October 14,1759 and the sponsors were Johannes Harf arid Morgan Lepold.

On February 26, 1760 we find Johannes Harff united in marriage to Anna Maria Nagel with witnesses who signed were Joh. Balth. Harff, Johannes Seybold, Andr: Theus, Math: Simmerman (p. 175 St. M & Z. Ch. Recs) And again in the same records we find recorded on p. 56, Baptism: Catherine Harff, daughter of Johanes & wife Maria, born 10/4-5/1760 bapt. 10/11/1760 Sponsors - Catherine Harffin as prox for Margaretha Albertin.

On April 23, 1765 we find Conrad Harff married to Anna Reisin with Witnesses as Joh. Balthas. Harff, Johannes Reis & wife Anna Maria, Nicolay Muller, Philip Schlatter. (p.257)

And lastly on page 402 the baptism of Orsula Harf, daughter of Conrad & wife Anna born 8/5/1766 baptised 11/30/1766 sponsors Ursela Harfin (single) & father.

On July 23, 1760 from an unrecorded deed we learn that John Baltus Horf had purchased 122 acres of land from David Roe in Deptford Township, Gloucester County, West Jersey, and for this lot of land he gave the sum of L50. Johannes Harff surely could not have made and saved that much money in six years. Evidently, he brought it with him. Another evidence of probably having money for passage for he and his family were, that we do not find any trace of them being bound out as so many immigrants were on arrival, to pay passage. Here in New Jersey we find Johannes Balthaser Harff putting down roots in Old Gloucester County for his progenitors for the years to come, and for us to write about in l948.

Johannes Harf, the first married, who was undoubtedly a son, we find migrates to Berks County,. Pennsylvania, where he is found at Reading as early as 1767.

From the Acts of the General Assembly of the Province of New Jersey from the Surrender of the Government to Queen Anne of the 17th Day, of April in the year of Our Lord 1702 to the 14th Day of January at Burlington we find that on page 338 of these Acts X George III A.D. 1769 William Franklin, Esquire Governor, Chap. DXIX An Act to Naturalize enabling divers Inhabitants of the Province of New Jersey to hold lands and invest them with Privileges of natural born subjects of said Province.

Among those signing this Naturalization Act was the tenth signer in partly German and English script Johannes Balthaser Harff. Thus Johannes Balthaser Harff becomes an English subject.

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