The meaning and origin of the surname is unclear, and may have had several points of origin. One school of thought is that it denotes an occupation. The "ler" ending suggests an occupation in southern Germany, such as a carpenter, mill worker, etc. Pressler may be the same as Presser, which in the Middle Ages meant strap-maker.
Another suggestion is that it derives from brezel, or pretzel. Laugengebäck, or pretzels, in the Middle Ages was a form of pasta. The bakers who specialized in making pretzels were called "Brezler", and from this the name "Bressler" may have derived (one coat of arms shows a stylized pretzel).
Another school of thought is that the name denotes a point of origin. Pressler could have something in common with Breslau in Silesia (currently known as Wroclaw, Poland). In the Silesian dialect the city was called "Brassel" and the change to Brässler can be easily imagined.
In the vicinity of Torgau there is a place called Pressel and any resident from there would have been known as a "Presseler".
While the villages of Oberhochstadt and Niederhochstadt (now just Hochstadt) were the points from which the Pressler/Bressler families originated in the Palatinate, we do know that Pressler families came from other German territories. These latter families have no known relationship, however, to the Palatine families.
None of the known coats of arms for Pressler/Bressler are known to be connected to the Palatine families. Most appear to be related to the familes of Silesia, Prussia, Mecklenburg, Saxony, Austria, etc. The Count von Bressler, or Reichsgraf von Bressler, is of a family going back to 1395, the earliest mention of the name, and is a member of the Prussian nobility. A Texas Pressler family traces its origin back to Neumarkt in Silesia (about 20 miles from Breslau) and descends from this family.
Many families have changed their surnames when they immigrated to America, and even more have modified the spelling. Those who came through Ellis Island often did so as a symbol of a fresh start in the New World, while others had their names changed for them by an official who found their "foreign" names difficult to spell.
The Pressler family has had a similar experience. In Germany, where "P" and "B" are pronounced similarly and are often interchangeable, related families in the same village spelled it both as Pressler and as Bressler. On arrival in America and with migration to areas of fewer and fewer German neighbors, the name was more and more anglicized in spelling. As subsequent generations were often poorly educated and illiterate, the records often reflect the spelling of clerks and officials who "wrote it as they heard it." A family would then later adopt that same spelling.
While those Presslers/Bresslers who settled in the German communities in Pennsylvania later in the eighteenth century tended to continue to use the original spelling, this anglicization of the surname in other areas had begun in the extant records in Maryland as early 1725 and is known to have continued in various branches until the mid-twentieth century. In Anson County, North Carolina where three sons of John Valentine Pressler finally settled in the mid-eighteenth century, the name was most often spelled Preslar, but eventually, even there, it often became Presley.
In Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as other parts of the South there were "English" Presleys and "Irish" Pressleys in the region. The tendency for the Preslars of German ancestry was to adopt the same spellings, particularly in view of the fact that they had begun to forget that they even had German origins. Only through careful research can one determine from which of these unrelated families does a family line descend.
In researching this family, the following variations in spelling may be found in the records:
Yet other variations will be discovered, some of which appear to be just mispellings or misreadings rather than variants which a family may have adopted.
The spelling variations of the family name did not just begin in America. The earliest spelling of the family name in the Palatine records was Preßler (the "double s" being printed and written thus). It varied from time to time with a single "s", with "sz" or "hs", but "ß" was the most common.
The first vowel, the "e", was changed between 1623 and 1670, and the name was several times recorded as Präßler, probably a reflection of the Palatine dialect. The Franconian dialect has led to the name being recorded as Prössler.
At the time of the French Revolution a distinct change occurred in the civil registers of Oberhochstadt, the twin village of Niederhochstadt. The Pressler families in that adjoining village began to spell the name beginning with a "B". This has continued to the present, and families who moved from Oberhochstadt to Niederhochstadt changed the spelling of their name from a "B" to a "P". Records exist which show that in the late 17th century a father wrote "Bressler" while immediately next to it his son wrote "Pressler".
In America, there are many families with the surnames of Pressler, Bressler, Preslar, Presley, Pressley, Pressly, etc., which may or may not be related. While this web site is concerned primarily with the descendants of the 1709 immigrant, John Valentine Pressler, it is helpful to have some familiarity with the other families.
Several Presslers and Bresslers have been idenfied in Pennsylvania from the 1700s. Two Pressler families emigrated from Niederhochstadt/Pfalz to Pennsylvania in 1749. The children of Hans Georg Pressler settled in Berks County, while the children of Hans Valentin Pressler settled in Lancaster County among the Mennonites. In Berks County, they settled in the area of Host Church where many other immigrants from Hochstadt formed a new home. Host, of course, was an anglicization of Houscht, the name for Hochstadt in the Palatine dialect.
The early generations of these two families have been discussed by Elizabeth Bressler Bunting in two published articles:
"The Bressler/Pressler Family of Niederhochstadt/Pfalz and Berks County, Pennsylvania", Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, XXXVII, 4, 341-366 (1992)
"The Bresslers/Presslers of Niederhochstadt", Mennonite Family History, XI, 1, 33-38 (Jan. 1992)
Some branches of these families became Presleys or Pressleys over the years, especially when they moved into the Midwest and other areas of the country.
The progenitor of another Pressler family in Texas was Charles William Pressler, who was born in 1823 in Thuringia, Prussia, and who landed at Galveston, Texas in 1846. He became a surveyor and cartographer and was the first to survey many areas of Texas. This family's lineage has been traced back many generations in Germany and appears to have no relationship to the Presslers of the Palatinate.
Other Bresslers and Presslers found in America today are of Jewish origin and no doubt arrived on these shores in the great migrations of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Of course, any of these families, when their surnames have become anglicized, must be distinguished from those Presleys, Pressleys, etc. who have English or Irish roots. The other major colonial families may be identified as:
The Presleys of Northumberland County, Virginia, who arrived in the 1600s, probably from England, and who became prominent in public life from 1647 to 1749 in Virginia. No descendants in the male line are known to survive today.
Two or three distinct Pressley families settled in South Carolina from Ireland in the 1700s.
There are many Presley families that have not yet been connected to any of the above families, but these are the major known family groups, in addition to the German families, during the colonial period. Research continues by many people on these unconnected family branches.
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