Happy 4th of July, aka the reason my last name isn’t spelled with a “G”

The 4th July in the US.  BBQs all around.  American Independence Day always reminds me of family history.  Now, I haven’t had much to do with my father’s side of my family for reasons too extensive for me to get in to now, and maybe because of that I did some digging into his family past, and uncovered a family history I had not expected would reach to the birth of the United States.  I was always told that our family had come more recently, say in the last 100-150 years and we changed our names to a more Anglecized version during World War 1.  But as I dug back the name remained the same, COON.  Never a K or U anywhere to be found, as I had been told.  I would go all the way back to the 1730’s before a variation would be seen.

This is an image depicting the “Thistle”, a ship which traveled from Europe to America, specifically Pennsylvania, bringing German families to the New World.  One of those families would be from the Rhineland in an area close to the modern border of Germany and France.  

(Why are the lions carrying golf clubs?)

Phillip Göhn with his two sons from his first and never identified wife, Johann and Hans Adam with their wives, as well as his new wife, Maria.  They would sail for America in 1738, arriving in Philadelphia (explains my love of the Eagles #flyeaglesfly) and ultimately settle in Chanceford Township in York County, Pennsylvania.

There, both brothers would have a number of children but I get the sense that, as the colonies moved closer to war with the crown, Johann and Hans Adam’s families found themselves on opposite ends of the fight.  

Johann’s children, so the family legend goes, were so incensed by the Prussians coming to fight, brutally in some cases, for the British against the colonies, they would anglecize their surnames to COON.  In fact Johann’s 5 eldest sons, Andrew, John, Adam, Jacob, and Michael would all join the Pennsylvania militia in 1778, 8th company, 6th Battalion, under Col. William Ross.  Jacob, by the way, is the son of Johann my family is descended from, he was 33 when he signed up with his brother.  The ledger has his last name as COON.  He and his brother John would be assigned later as guards at a prison camp for german soldiers who had come to work for the British.

But, to my knowledge,  there is no record of the sons of Hans Adam Göhn serving in the war, nor did ANY of his children or grandchildren change the spelling of their surnames.  In fact, two of Hans Adam’s grandchildren, who were born in the closing years of the American Revolution, would leave the US for Canada and one of them would serve in the British military during the War of 1812.  To this day there are still members of that branch of my family living in Canada  maintaining the surname as it was.  

So one has to wonder, what is the story here?  Clearly the children of Johann were sympathetic to the colonial cause but what of Hans Adam.  If all 5 of Johann’s sons signed up to fight the British together, where were their three male cousins of comparable age?  Did they not want to get involved or was that family not as passionate about the cause of independence?  If the family legend is true about the name change, why wouldn’t Hans Adam change his?  Or why not his children?  Were they Loyalists?  Is that why his grandchildren would leave this new country all together?  We think we have heated debates now over politics, imagine what that family gathering was like if you read between the lines.

I may never know for sure what happened back then, unless of course a family journal is uncovered to shed light on the situation.  All I can do is look at the historical record that remains and fill in the human story in between the cracks.  Philip Göhn brought his family to the New World to, presumably, build a new and better life.  He died 5 years after arriving.  He would never live to see that his decision may very well have sown the seeds for a divided house.

Someone should make a movie about this…

P.S.  I have to admit not all of this information came from my own research.  I started with the genealogy but in my research I came across a man who had done a mountain’s worth before me, Thomas Oatney.  I had the opportunity to contact him some time ago and he sent me his genealogical work on the line of Philip Göhn which spans some 800 pages.  His work on the Gohn/Coon/Goan family can be found here:



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