Harpain, Harpeng / East Prussia

From 1709 to 1711, the pestilence raged in East Prussia. About one third of the population died. On September 20th, 1711, a patent was announced, which referred to the new colonisation in East Prussia and its privileges. Many Huguenots from the Uckermark followed that appeal, so did Jean Herpin with his wife Christine Reney. Jean Herpin, Antoine Herpin’s son, born in the Palatinate, has been a planter in Zerrenthin and had the best premises to cultivate and crop land.
In 1712, Jean came with his wife and two children to Kampischkehmen (1937 re-named in Angereck) in the district of Gumbinnen. (Map of East Prussia) The colonist Jean Herpin received land in Kampischkehmen of the size of ten hectare, an area sufficient to nourish a rural family. His descendants settled down near Kampischkehmen, later they could be found in many regions in the district of Gumbinnen. They spread mainly in the district of Darkehmen (Angerapp) and Insterburg and finally, they could be found everywhere in East Prussia, from the district of Fischhausen in the West to the district of Stallupöhnen (Ebenrode) in the East. From 1900 on, they also lived in cities, for example in Elbing, Darkehmen (Angerapp), Gumbinnen, Insterburg, Königsberg, Preußisch Holland and Tilsit.
As many church registers and land-registry documents were lost in World War II, the investigation in East Prussia proved to be extraordinary hard. On the basis of certificates, ancestry passports and elaborated family chronicles, which were kindly placed at my disposal, many breaches could be closed. As a consequence, the ancestral row from many families can be followed back to Antoine Herpin.
The supposition on the Harpeng homepage(1), which says that all Harpeng people from East Prussia descend from a French soldier named Harpin, who stayed from Napoleon’s army in East Prussia in the year 1812, is unascertainable. The notation Harpeng appears about 100 years earlier in documents in East Prussia. During my research, I have not found any Harpain or Harpeng, who is not a descendant of Jean Herpin. But it cannot be excluded that there may be a line Harpeng descending that soldier in question. Recorded evidence was unascertainable.

Another Harpeng told me that he was also descendant from the soldier mentioned above. But I was able to prove that Antoine Herpin was his ancestor.

The name Herpin was hardly conceived in East Prussia. They simply did not know how to write it. At that time, only a few people in the country were able to speak French. In documents, the following notations appeared for Jean’s children: Herpin, Harpeng, Harpenger, Harpinger and Hartbinger. The last notation must be seen as a convulsive try to germanize the name. All in all, I found the following notations: Arpin, Harpain, Harpaing, Harpein, Harpen, Harpeng, Harpenger, Harpengerin, Harpien, Harpin, Harping, Harpinger, Harpjeng, Harrpain und Harrpien, Hartbenger, Hartbinger, Hartpinger, Herpain, Herpin, Herpinck. At the end of the eighteenth century, the notations Harpain and Harpeng accomplished as both sound similar: Both are spelled Harpeng. It almost sounds French. Even my father wrote Harpeng at school for a short time because he heard it like that. His teacher noticed it and told him he had to write Harpain.

In the end of 1944, the front pushed along East Prussia in World War II. A large part of the population escaped precipitously in January 1945 to the West. Nowadays, Harpains and Harpengs, whose descendants are from East Prussia, can be found in all federal states of Germany.


Otto Gebauer, Gumbinnen, Leer 1958
Reinhold Heling, Die evangelischen Kirchengemeinden in Ostpreußen und Westpreußen in den Pfarr-Almanachen von 1912 und 1913, Hamburg 2000
Horst Kenkel, Französische Schweizer und Réfugiés als Siedler im nördlichen Ostpreußen 1710 - 1750, Hamburg 1970
Siegfried Maire, Französische Ackerbauern aus der Pfalz und der Uckermark in Ostpreußen, Berlin 1939
Fritz Schütz, Französische Familiennamen in Ostpreußen, Gumbinnen 1933

(1)  Harpeng Homepage 2005, www.harpeng.de