Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Van Huss - What is in a name?

"What's in a name?" Shakespeare has Juliet questioning Romeo, "That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet." Romeo And Juliet, Act 2, scene 2, lines 33-49. Juliet, of course, was concerned with the deadly antagonism between the two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, and prevented their love from being fulfilled.

So, what is in the name Van Huss? The name is certainly a place name, literally translating as "from Huss". It comes from the the fact that Jan Fransse Van Husum, first Van Huss in America, lived in the city of Husum, in North Friesland, on the far north coast of Jutland, in what was then the Duchy of Schleswig. Jan's father's name was Franss, and they were either Dutch, Frisian, or German depending on the year for political control often changed hands as did the weather. The language spoken in Husum was either Dutch or Frisian. There was at the time a community of Dutch who were in the process of reclaiming land from the sea. Frisian, the local dialect is an off shoot of German and still spoken today by about 10,000 souls.

Jan married a local girl, Volckje Juriens Nordstrand. Her surname was a combination of the name of her father Juriens and the fact that her family lived on Nordstand (Noortstant in Dutch), a small island in the North Sea just to the west of Husum. In 1634, the island was flooded. Of the family, only Volckje and her sister Annetje survived. Five years later, Volckje and Jan would marry in the city of Amsterdam, and then immediately set sail for the New Netherlands. In America they settled in the tiny community of Beverwyck, part of the larger area known as Rensselaerwyck. Annetje would also marry and come to the New Netherlands.

In the New World, the name took. Jan Franss Van Husum and his growing family thrived and flourished. In his marriage license of 30 April 1639, Jan listed his profession as varensgezel, a sailor. But, once in Beverwyck, Jan took on the attributes of  farmer and businessman - buying and selling beaver pelts from the local Indians, acquiring land, and even, at one point, running a bakery.

Through succeeding generations, the name would change. Van Husum became Van Hoesen in New York in keeping with Dutch. Off shoots of the family would spread across the United States. However, the branch of the family that was to become Van Huss, took the path of migrating in the 1750's from New York to Pennsylvania, then to North Carolina and Virginia. At about the time of the Revolution, the family settled in the far western reaches of Virginia in and around Washington and Wythe Counties. Then, in 1795, Valentine Felty Vanhooser, Jr. crossed into Tennessee and settled near Elizabethton, Tennessee. One branch of the family headed for Texas, some to Kentucky and other states. My wife's branch, Valentine Worley Van Huss and his sons, headed for Kansas after the Civil War.

Through the years, the name Van Husum had changed first to Van Hoesen in new York. In Pennsylvania, it became Van Hooser, or Vanhooser. It stayed that way in North Carolina and Virginia, only sometimes being shortened to Hooser in some records. When Valentine Felty Vanhooser, Jr. crossed into Tennessee in 1795, he was still using the name, as it is written on the deed that he recorded in the courthouse in Elizabethton.

At some time he or his son Mathias, who was born in 1795, changed the name to Van Huss. Mathias used this surname throughout his life, and the courthouse reflects the name change in all subsequent land dealings. The spelling made its way back across the Appalachian Mountains and took in Virginia, where one can find the Van Huss Cemetery in Wythe County, Virginia.

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