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October 29, 2013

Origins of the Boyer Family

by Neil A. Boyer

        The family of Lewis Elmer Boyer (1869‑1948), of Easton, Pennsylvania, can be traced back more than 250 years, to the early 18th century, and what is now the southwestern section of Germany.  It is believed that Johann Friedrich Bayer, the great‑great‑grandfather of Lew Boyer, was born in that area in 1718, and that he traveled to America in 1752, at the age of 34. He therefore would have been part of a significant emigration of people from western Europe beginning at the end of the 17th century.  Most of these people were searching for religious freedom, but they were also seeking to escape poverty as well as the constant fighting of the German kingdoms ‑‑ with each other and with France.  Later chapters deal with the arrival of Johann Friedrich Bayer in America and his descendants.

        This chapter contains the following sections:






Boyer Family of Orwigsburg
Boyer Family of Easton
Neil Boyer's Home Page

 Early Use of the Boyer Name

            This account of the early evidence of the Boyer family and name owes a great deal to research originally developed in the book American Boyers, published by the Association of American Boyers, which was first published in 1915 and is now in its seventh edition.  That research has been augmented and updated in this presentation.

            The more distant beginnings of the Boyer family have been traced to the Celtic tribes who wandered through Europe near the beginning of the Christian era.  One of these tribes, known as the "Boii," settled in the area known as Cisalpine Gaul.  In 2005 this was northern Italy, Austria and southern Germany.  Along with their allies the Helvetians, the Boii were conquered by the Romans; some attribute the work to Julius Caesar in 58 B.C., others to Augustus in 15 B.C.  Apparently the Boii were then allowed to settle in the land of the Aedui, who were other allies of the Helvetians, in what is now the area of central to eastern France.  Then they moved eastward, and in 488‑520 A.D. they were reported along the valley of the Danube, possibly in what were known as the Roman provinces of Vindelicia and Noricum.[1]

             One account of the Boii says they "were certainly a new and composite social aggregate."  Most likely they were descendants of the Marcommanni, Quadi and Narisci, tribes of the Suevic or Swabian race, with possibly an intermixture of Gothic or Celtic elements.  They were called the Boiarii, Baioarii, Baiowarii, Bawarii, or Baiuwarii, words probably derived from Baja or Baya, corruptions of Bojer, and given to them because they came from Bojerland or Bohemia.[2]  Of most lasting significance, it is said that the Boii gave their name to Bavaria.  The Bavarians and the Bayer are regarded as the same.

             In the fighting over western Europe over the centuries, the Boiarii were said to owe allegiance to the Ostrogoths, then the Franks, then Charlemagne, and after his death to the kings of the Franks and the Germans.  The first mention of the Bavarians occurs in a Frankish document of 520 A.D.

             In the ultimate dispersion of the Boiarii, the family name was given various spellings which continue down to this day.  In Germany, the spellings include Bayer, Baier, Beyer, Beier, Byer and others.  In Austria, it is Boiar.  The Russian is Boyar, although that word appears to have referred primarily to the highest stratum of Russian nobility up to the 18th century and does not seem to have been a family name.[3]  In England, it is usually Bowyer.  In Scotland, it is Boyers.  In France, it is usually Boyer.

             A different analysis of name origins contends that Boyer is a variant of Bowyer, an occupational surname originally denoting a bow‑maker, and that the name came from the Middle English boghyere.[4]  Another view is that the name derives from the Old French boyer, which was a cattle‑drover or ox‑herd.[5]

             Historians report that the Boyer name appeared in various prominent places, including these reports:  Normandy in northwestern France provided a number of Boyer soldiers for the battle of Hastings in 1066.  Some Boyers were in the army of William of Orange in the battle of the Boyne (1690) in Ireland.  In France, many Boyers belonged to the nobility.  Cardinal Jean Pierre Boyer (1829‑1896) was Archbishop of Bourges.  And Prince Lucien Bonaparte incurred the displeasure of his brother Napoleon by marrying a beautiful girl named Boyer.[6]

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The "Palatinate"

            The first Boyer known to travel to America, Alexander Boyer, a Huguenot, is believed to have arrived in 1648.  After the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Boyers are recorded traveling through Holland and England to various places in the Western Hemisphere ‑‑ to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Port Royal, Nova Scotia; Charleston, South Carolina; Boston, Massachusetts; Virginia; Rhode Island, and elsewhere.

             Most of the Boyers who settled in Pennsylvania are believed to have come from the Bavarian Palatinate region of western Germany, basically the area between the Rhine River and the border with France, near the cities of Frankfurt, Mannheim and Heidelberg.  Today it is the general location of the state of Rhineland‑Palatinate.

             The "Palatinate" developed in the 12th century as a large principality which combined the authority of the "counts palatine," or the chief administrative officers, of the Lorraine and the Rhine.  In 1214, the area was acquired by the dukes of Bavaria.[7]  As one of the many kingdoms and duchies that were part of and surrounding the Holy Roman Empire at one time or another, the Palatinate was the object of numerous intrigues and fighting.  In fact, throughout the 1600s and 1700s, there was serious conflict between the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns, or Prussians.[8]

             The Bavarians in the Palatinate, in fact, were largely surrounded by Prussians, and thus began a rivalry that exists down to the present day, although in muted form.  A common automobile bumper‑sticker dealing with the Bavarians (the Bayer) and the Prussians (the Preiss) seen in Munich in the early 1980s provided this bilingual play on words:

                                    It is nice
                                    To be a Preiss
                                    But even higher
                                    To be a Bayer.

             Besides the political rivalries of the 17th century, a prominent factor in emigration was the desire for religious freedom.  The Palatinate was near the home of the Reformation, and most of the people there were Lutheran or Reformed.  The counter‑Reformation, stimulated by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, caused thousands of French Huguenots to flee to France and put great pressures on the rest of western Europe.

             Louis XIV also had designs on the territory of the Palatinate itself.  Frustrated in his attempts at conquest, it is said that he systematically destroyed the area.  One report says that "Louis XIV carried fire and sword into the Palatinate and across the Rhine again and yet again, culminating in the holocaust of 1689 when, for instance, the great palace and castle and indeed the whole town of Heidelberg (the capital of the Elector of the Palatinate) went up in flames."[9]

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The Pennsylvania Opening

             The destruction caused by Louis XIV, as well as the factors of political oppression, economic poverty and religious persecution, led many in the Palatinate to seek a way out.[10]  No German state had been established in North America, and so there was no natural site for the Germans of the Palatinate to go.  But Pennsylvania had been opened in 1683 as a home for the oppressed and persecuted, and it acted as a magnet for the Palatinate peoples.

             The desire of many for an exit happened to coincide with the arrival in Europe of William Penn's land agents who, it is reported, were not wholly scrupulous with their promises of liberal land allowances in Pennsylvania.  According to one account, the agents of ship owners "traversed the Rhine country and persuaded the peasantry, often by misrepresentation and false promises, to embark for Pennsylvania. . . . Once the immigrants were in port, their services were sold for a term of years to pay their passage."[11]  The new arrivals were therefore in a form of temporary bondage for the first few years, after which they "redeemed" themselves and were thus called "redemptioners."[12]

             Between the years 1730 and 1750, it was reported that "the ships crossing the Atlantic plied between Rotterdam and Philadelphia with almost the regularity of a ferry."[13]  The period of maximum influx came in the years 1749‑1754, with 31,000 arriving during those six years alone, or 5,000 a year.[14]  Settlers "came pouring in to the port of Philadelphia, whence they were shipped into the wilderness of the upper Schuylkill."[[15] The immigrant Johann Friedrich Boyer, according to available research, arrived in 1752 and was in the midst of this flood of immigrants.

             In their new home, especially in the Schuylkill River valley, the Germans established themselves so firmly and clung so tenaciously to their language and customs that they could have justified naming the region "German Pennsylvania."[16]  Their language was not the pure literary German but a dialect of the Palatinate area mixed with English.  The language became known as “Pennsylvania Dutch,” although it is actually Pennsylvania Deutsch (German).

             One indication of the roots of these people was the naming of their new home territories Manheim Township, near Orwigsburg.  The township was then part of Berks County, but after 1805, it became part of Schuylkill County.  The name was undoubtedly taken after the German city of Mannheim, which by 1720 had become the capital of the Palatinate.  Many of the records of Lewis Elmer Boyer's ancestors were in German, and most of them were Lutheran, as were most of the Palatine immigrants.  Nevertheless, one historian found it interesting that the Boyers generally gave up the Germanic spelling of their name in favor of the French spelling.  He said it was because "they still felt the French blood in their veins."[17]  This is true of the family addressed here.  The port arrival record in 1752 spells Johann Friedrich’s last name as “Bayer,” with an umlaut over the “a,” but his tombstone reads “Boyer.”

             In commentary on the new arrivals, the Germans of the Palatinate were noted as excellent judges of the soil.  They came from a fertile region and seized upon the fertile lands in the limestone valleys of Pennsylvania.  The lands were heavily timbered and required severe toil to shape them into farms, but the Germans persevered.[18]  Most of them succeeded, and this line of the Boyers was among them.

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The Association of American Boyers

             The Association of American Boyers, Inc., was developed in 1904 as it became clear that the numbers of people with the Boyer name were growing and increasingly prominent.  There is a “Boyertown” in eastern Pennsylvania, made prominent by the widely known Boyertown Casket Company.  There is also a place called “Boyers” in western Pennsylvania, not exactly a town but the home of a major record storage facility for the U.S. Government.[19] And the Yellow Pages telephone directory for the Lehigh Valley (Easton through Allentown and small towns in between) for 2008-2009 contained 200 listings under the Boyer name. An internet search for the name "Boyer" in mid-2008 produced 1,760,000 "hits."

              Because so many people are interested in research into families with the name Boyer or something similar, Rootsweb has created a Boyer discussion forum for the exchange of information. This includes experience with DNA testing that can help trace Boyer family origins.

             What was known about the Boyer family in America in 1915 was put into one volume of American Boyers by the Association of American Boyers.  But subsequent updates of that book showed that one volume clearly was not sufficient.  The seventh edition of American Boyers was expected to run to eleven volumes before it was complete. Volume I of the 7th edition was published in 1984.  Volume II, which covers the Boyer line that originated in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, and addressed on this website, was dated 1986 and released in early 1987.  Volume VII, dated 2004, was distributed in the middle of 2005, and at least one more volume was planned.  Afterward, an index to the entire collection of eight books was expected to consume three more volumes, making the entire seventh edition 11 volumes. However, no new volume of the incomplete seventh edition has been printed since 2004.

             The history of the book is as follows:

First Edition   1915 532 pages
Second Edition 1916 addenda 62 pages
Third Edition 1918 addenda 18 pages
Fourth Edition 1924 addenda 64 pages
Fifth Edition 1940 664 pages
Sixth Edition 1963 Supplement  334 pages
             Each volume of the American Boyers seventh edition represented new branches of the Boyer family not previously covered in earlier volumes of the Seventh Edition.  The number of names in the seventh edition, including not only people with the Boyer name but also spouses and offspring, was calculated in this way:


Seventh Edition:
Volume I    1984    646 pages 18,842 names
Volume II 1986    670 pages 19,073 names
Volume III 1992 776 pages 23,146 names
Volume IV 1998 1,095 pages 36,594 names
Volume V  2000 1,100 pages 37,096 names
Volume VI 2002    1,126 pages 35,564 names
Volume VII 2004 1,200 pages 33,120 names

             According to the Association historian, Donald A. Boyer, of York, Pennsylvania, genealogical research has shown considerable overlap in the very large Boyer families that have been in America for centuries.  For example, the "IU" chapter in Volume VII contains the descendants of a John Beyer, born about 1705-25, who resided in York County, Pennsylvania.  That chapter runs 643 pages alone, and it contains 143 marriages where both husband and wife were descendants of John Beyer!

            The Association historian, Donald A. Boyer, and his work to produce these books, were featured in an extensive article in the York (PA) Daily Record in October 2013. See the text here.

            Here is an example of the organization of the American Boyers books: The focal point of this report, Johann Friedrich Boyer, of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, is featured in Volume II of the Seventh Edition of American Boyers, which was published in 1986.  The chapter on the immigrant Johann Friedrich is Chapter 23, also called “AW,” beginning on page 580 of Volume II; it consumes 88 pages. Each of the chapters of American Boyers contains a two-letter designation of this type in order to aid in the identification of family affiliation.  In this chapter, all descendants of Johann Friedrich Boyer are identified with family numbers that include the letters “AW.” For example, the author of this report, Neil  Boyer, is given a Boyer Association identification number of 7-AW845451.  This indicates, first, that he is in the seventh generation of the family.  After the AW, each digit indicates the order of birth of Neil's ancestors.  Thus, the "8" in this number shows that he is descended from George Boyer, the eighth child of Johann Friedrich Boyer.  The "1" shows that Neil was the first child of his father, L. Arthur Boyer.

            Besides the family history, the Association of American Boyers organized annual reunions beginning in 1905. It held its 100th anniversary reunion in July 2004.  Many were held in Boyertown, Pennsylvania.  The Association developed a “Boyer Song,” a version of "Come to the Church in the Wildwood" which was worded "Come to the Boyer Reunion."  An annual newsletter, called Boyer Roots, was published for some time. The last was issued in 2007. The Association adopted a family crest, see below, which it printed on T-shirts, coffee mugs and other items and sold at the reunions. It appears these items are no longer available.

             The crest adopted by the Association of American Boyers prior to publication of its 1915 book contains a star, which “evidently signifies the strong desire to live in the light, night as well as day,” and the French lily, or fleur de lis, which “evidently shows the intimate connection of the Boyers d’Eguilles with the throne.  The whole scheme is one of dignity and recognized loyalty.”[20]  This family crest also appears in color in the first volume of the seventh edition of American Boyers and on the cover of Neil Boyer’s 1987 book The Boyers of Easton.  

Boyer Family Crest
Boyer Family Crest
adopted by the

Association of American Boyers

            A different Boyer crest is pictured in the 1915 edition of the American Boyers, showing a large watchdog at rest in a big heart.  And a third known Boyer crest shows a drawn bow in the hands of a human-headed horse, also described as a drawn bow and a startled stag.

             The Association also has its own website – – which contains links to some of its newsletters of recent years, information on the American Boyers books, and links to other genealogical sites.  However, as of 2009, the Association activities -- including publication of the American Boyers books and the newsletter, and organization of the reunions -- appeared to be "on hold."  The last volume of the incomplete 7th edition of American Boyers was published in 2004, the last Boyer Roots newsletter was published in 2007, and the website was last revised in 2008.

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Boyer Family of Orwigsburg
Boyer Family of Easton
Neil Boyer's Home Page


[1]  An extensive history of the origins of the Boyer family, Boyer name, and Boyer coat of arms is presented in the introduction to the seventh edition of American Boyers, the publication of the Association of American Boyers.  The history was presented in the first edition of this book in 1915 and is reiterated, basically without change, in Volume I of the seventh edition, published in 1984.  See Boyer, Charles C., American Boyers (1915) [1st edition], Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Introduction, page vii; Boyer, Donald A., American Boyers, 7th edition, Volume I (1984), Association of American Boyers, Inc., Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Introduction, pages x‑xii.  Various encyclopedias also provide detail on the origin of the Boyer name. See the Wikipedia article on the subject.

[2]  Encyclopedia Brittanica, Volume 3 (1911), page 545‑47.  See also Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 3 (1983), page 375.

[3]  Encylopedias explain that the “boiars” were the men appointed by the Tsar to the highest, or two highest, ranks in the Boiar Duma or royal council.  The Tsar usually chose the most gifted and loyal members of aristocratic families that had served the rulers of Moscow for many years.  However, in popular usage between the 17th and 19th centuries, any noble might be called a “boiar.”  This, therefore, was basically a generic term rather than a proper name.  However, one encyclopedia provides a biography of Yakov Osipovich Boiarskii (1890-1940), a Soviet trade union official and theater administrator.  Wieczynski, Joseph L., ed., The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History (1977), Vol. 5, page 49-53;  The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Chicago, Vol. I, page 445.  See also the famous painting “Boyar Wedding” at “Hillwood Museum and Gardens,” the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post in Washington D. C.

[4]  Colonial and Revolutionary Lineages of America, Volume 24 (1968), American Historical Company, page 347.

[5]  Colonial and Revolutionary Lineages of America, Volume 24, page 347.

[6]  American Boyers, 7th ed., Volume I (1984), page x.

[7]  Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 21 (1983), page 136.
[8]  See Dill, Marshall, Jr., Germany (1970), University of Michigan, pages 45‑51; Hawgood, John A., The Evolution of Germany (1955), Methuen, London, pages 6, 76, and 81‑83; and Detwiler, Donald S., Germany: A Short History (1976), Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, page 89.

[9]   Hawgood, page 83.

[10]  Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 21 (1983), page 136; Encyclopedia Brittanica, Volume 20 (1911), page 594.

[11]  Dunaway, Wayland Fuller, A History of Pennsylvania (1935), Prentice‑Hall, page 81.  See also Nolan, J. Bennett, The Schuylkill (1951), Rutgers University Press, page 58‑59.

[12]  Nolan, pages 58‑59.

[13]  Beidelman, William, The Story of the Pennsylvanians (1898), page 54.

[14]  Dunaway, page 83.

[15]  Nolan, pages 58‑59.

[16]  Dunaway, page 81.

[17]  American Boyers, Volume I (1984), page xi.

[18] Beidelman, page 57.                            

[19]  A long Washington Post article about Boyers, published in the mid-1990s, began this way:  “Ten thousand years from now, space aliens are doing to discover the catacombs of Boyers and think they have hit an archeological jackpot:  Millions of government documents stored in acres of filing cabinets 250 feet below the Earth’s surface, safe from flood, fire, famine, Iraqi nerve gas, nuclear holocaust and roaches. . . . OPM [Office of Personnel Management] started to move records to Boyers in 1960, a few years after National Underground Storage, Inc., a Pittsburgh company, bought the mine from U.S. Steel and converted it to a secure facility so individuals, companies and the U.S. government would have a safe place to keep things. . . . The only thing above ground is a parking lot and a tunnel mouth wide enough to accommodate a railroad car.”

[20]  American Boyers, Vol. I (1984), pages xi-xii.  The text describes three different Boyer family crests, of which one was adopted by the Association of American Boyers.