The ill-fated settlement of Purrysburg in South Carolina was essentially the fruit of one man's dream - you might even call it an obsession. 

 

Jean-Pierre Pury was born in Neuchâtel in 1675, the son of a tinsmith who died while he was still a baby.  At the surprisingly young age of 18, he was appointed tax collector of the village of Boudry, but was dismissed the following year.  In 1709 he became mayor of the village of Lignières, but bad luck dogged him: his home was destroyed in a fire, and his wine-exporting business went bankrupt.  Heavily in debt, he resigned as mayor in 1711, and went into the service of the Dutch East Indies Company.

 

In 1713, "corporal" Pury escorted 70 recruits to Java, putting in at the Cape in South Africa on the way.  Here, it seems, his dream of European colonisation was born: he saw the possibility of expanding the small community serving the port into a major settlement which could exploit the full potential of the virgin territory.  He drew up a proposal which he sent to one of the company directors, but was forced to continue his voyage to Batavia (now called Jakarta) without receiving a reply.

 

Pury remained in Batavia for about 4 years, but his colonial vision never deserted him, and in 1717 he presented a new proposal of colonisation to the company - this time concerning Australia, which was then known as New Holland.  Based on what he had seen in South Africa, he firmly believed that the ideal site for implanting a European colony was at 33° North or South of the Equator, and that the fertility of the land depended on its latitude.  In spite of Pury's persuasive letters and pamphlets, however, his proposal was once again rejected.

 

Undeterred, Pury turned his attention to the New World, and in 1724, after his return to Neuchâtel, wrote to George I, proposing the foundation of a town in South Carolina (which had recently come under the control of the British Crown).  He would recruit 600 "poor Swiss Protestants" as settlers in return for 24,000 acres of land for himself and the rank of colonel.  A large number of prospective emigrants gathered in Neuchâtel in October 1726, but the promised financial support failed to materialise, and in the end, the Neuchâtel authorities had to step in to supply the stranded indigents with enough money to return home, Pury and his associates having fled.  A small number of this group eventually made their own way via Holland to England, and finally to South Carolina.

 

In 1730, Pury presented fresh proposals to the Crown, wihich at long last would come to fruition.  Mindful of the French colony in neighbouring Louisiana, and the Spanish presence to the south, the British government was ready to encourage colonisation, and the following year, Pury visited South Carolina, and presented his proposals to the General Assembly at Charlestown, before choosing the site for his future settlement beside the Savannah River, some 30 miles inland.  He was given the rank of colonel by the Crown, and promised 12,000 acres of land rent-free - later increased to 48,000 acres.

 

Pury envisaged a largely agricultural colony, growing silk, hemp and indigo for exportation, and back in Neuchâtel he published a pamphlet describing South Carolina in extravagant terms, which provoked considerable interest from potential settlers.  The first contingent of 150 arrived in Charlestown in the late autumn of 1732, with more following over the next few years: mainly Swiss from Neuchâtel and the French-speaking cantons, but also some Swiss Germans and French Protestants.

 

Purrysburg grew into a town of about 600 inhabitants, but it never truly thrived as Pury hoped.  The site on the Yamasee bluff had been chosen principally for military defence, and much of the land was totally unsuitable for agriculture.  It was too far inland for commercial navigation, and was bounded by malarial swamp land.  The settlers suffered badly from the heat and illness, and there were disputes concerning land allocation almost from the start, with many receiving grants which were completely worthless.

 

Jean-Pierre Pury died in 1736, and his oldest son Charles was murdered in a slave uprising in 1754.  Many of the settlers moved away to more prosperous townships, and Purrysburg had completely disappeared by the end of the 19th century.  Today a stone cross marks its former emplacement.

 


 

Purrysburg settlers linked to our genealogy include David Huguenin (b.1672) and his wife Susanne Jacot (b.1685), as well as Josué Robert (b.1665).

 

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Louis-Edouard Roulet: Jean-Pierre Pury in Biographies Neuchâteloises vol. 1, Editions Gilles Attinger, Hauterive, 1996

Henry A M Smith: Purrysburg in The South Carolina Historical & Genealogical Magazine, October 1909