Tag Archives: Heraldry

The Van Hook “Coat of Arms”

Recently a number of people have asked me about the family “Coat of Arms” – either wanting history on it, how to validate it, or how to get a copy to hang on their wall.  Back in the 1960’s my father got a “VanHook Coat of Arms” color print from somewhere – and it is still hanging on my Mom’s wall in Kentucky.  More recently – thanks to the power of the Internet – the family “Coat of Arms” is making a bit of a comeback.  However, I’m quite skeptical of the current public information on this topic.  I find the historical explanations problematic, and even the idea that we know what it looked like a stretch.  In this blog post I decided to examine the current thinking.  The popular depiction (recently created) and narrative goes like this:

Coat of ArmsThe Van Hook coat of arms has a long history. Riestraps (sic) lists the family as “of Courlande, originally of Holland.” Courlande was a local district in Holland. This is where the family obtained the arms which means basically that the family owned land there in 1516. We know from James M. Van Hook of Charleston, Indiana (1899) that the motto was “Te Deus Defendet.” The arms show up again on July 4, 1750 when it was reconfirmed to the Van Hook family. Ten years later a “Coat of Arms” was mentioned in the inventory of Aaron Van Hook (d. 1760 in North Carolina).

The representation of the arms can change from generation to generation as long as it has the essential elements. The armorial representation found in Aaron’s inventory had the name “van Hoecks.” This probably means that Arent Isaacszen Van Hoeck brought it over from Europe. From records in the Hague in Holland, we know that Arent was born in Hooksiel in the county of Oldenburg (in modern Germany) in 1623, and this would account for the “s” in the Dutch transliteration of the surname on the arms. Added to this is the fact that after 1664, when the British took over the Dutch Colony, “Van Hoeck” quickly became “Van Hook.”

So, Arent would have given the arms to his son Lawrence Van Hook, of New York and New Jersey. Before he died in 1724, he would have given or willed the arms to his son Aaron. At this point some other family may have disputed the arms forcing each to go to court. The arms were reconfirmed (as previously stated) on July 4, 1750. Aaron moved to North Carolina in 1755 and died in 1760. The Coat of Arms was next given to Lloyd Van Hook who died in 1815 in New Jersey leaving it to his son Lawrence who died in 1847. His son, Marcus Aurelius Van Hook, had it when he lived in Jackson, Mississippi. It was he who corresponded with James M. Van Hook of Indiana and hence preserved the motto, date, and name on the arms in 1899. Marcus’s son, Henry Ware Van Hook, left it to his son Benjamin Ormond Van Hook. The last person ever to see the representation was Benjamin’s daughter, Alma Eugene. Supposedly, she took it to Power Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1934 where it was lost or stolen. Fortunately, she remembered enough of what it looked like for a rough sketch to be drawn. When later this was compared to Riestraps Armorial and what Bernice Keister knew, it was nearly identical.”

OK – sounds pretty impressive.  But let’s examine this description in the historical context.

  • The Van Hook coat of arms has a long history. Riestraps (sic) lists the family as “of Courlande, originally of Holland.” Courlande was a local district in Holland. This is where the family obtained the arms which means basically that the family owned land there in 1516″

“Rietstap’s” (not Riestraps) is Johannes Batista Rietstap, a Dutch genealogist and heraldist and best know for publishing his Armorial Général in 1861, containing about 50,000 blazons (formal shorthand for armorial descriptions in French) of the noble families of Europe.  In later editions, this grew to almost 130,000 blazons.  There is a blazon description in Rietstap’s that matches the Coat of Arms depiction shown above, and it does indicate the family is from “Courlande, originally from Holland.”  However, this blazon is for a family named “von Hoeck” – indicating German, rather than Dutch roots.

Additionally, Courlande (the French spelling) is not in Holland, but rather refers to the Duchy of Courland, a region in Latvia.  It’s hard to see how this is connected to our lineage.

The statement “the faArmorialmily owned land there in 1516″ came from an assumptive leap from an old myth that we descended from a “Robert/Isaac van Hoeck, who was mayor of Amsterdam in 1516″.  Totally fabricated, and totally untrue – there is no basis for this.

In fact, in the Armorial Général, there are blazon descriptions for arms for 2 other “van Hoeck’s”, 2 “van Hoecke’s”, and even a “van Hoeckelum” (partial page from the Armorial shown).  Who’s to say that they are not our family?

  •  We know from James M. Van Hook of Charleston, Indiana (1899) that the motto was “Te Deus Defendet.”

The genealogical material distributed in 1899 by James M. Van Hook is loaded with myth, errors, false assumptions and very little source material.  While some “motto” (although most Coats of Arms had no mottoes) may have been “Te Deus Defendet” (a bit of awkward Latin that might mean Defender of God, or alternately, God will Protect You), there is no real way to know. But due to the profuse errors in the 1899 document – it is hard to trust anything from that writing.

  • The arms show up again on July 4, 1750 when it was reconfirmed to the Van Hook family.

This appears to be a misinterpretation of the blazon description in the Armorial.  There is a note on the blazon that says “(An., 4 julliet 1750.)”.  “An.” is an abbreviation of “anobli” (enobled) or “anoblissement” (knighted).  This indicates when the Arms were first granted to a “noble” person – it is not a record of “reconfirmation” to anyone.

  •  Ten years later a “Coat of Arms” was mentioned in the inventory of Aaron Van Hook (d. 1760 in North Carolina).

Ah, this is one point that can be proven!  Aaron’s inventory (filed in May 1763) indicates “one Coat of Arms”.  There is no description of what this looked like (was it a document?  was it a seal?), and it is not mentioned in his will.   Also, notably, no Coat of Arms is shown in his father’s estate (Lawrence Van Hook) in New Jersey in 1724.  But this proves Aaron possessed such a thing.

  • The representation of the arms can change from generation to generation as long as it has the essential elements. The armorial representation found in Aaron’s inventory had the name “van Hoecks.” This probably means that Arent Isaacszen Van Hoeck brought it over from Europe. From records in the Hague in Holland, we know that Arent was born in Hooksiel in the county of Oldenburg (in modern Germany) in 1623, and this would account for the “s” in the Dutch transliteration of the surname on the arms. Added to this is the fact that after 1664, when the British took over the Dutch Colony, “Van Hoeck” quickly became “Van Hook.”

OK – the tradition of heraldry operated differently in different countries.  For example, in English heraldry the arms were granted to an individual – not a family.  It could pass to the oldest son of the arms owner, but that son would have to reapply to use the arms.  This was a nice way for the herald authorities to make money. Additionally, the inheritor might alter the arms in some way to make them his own.

In other countries – anyone could make up their own Coat of Arms as a personal identification.  This was the model in the Netherlands – where they were known as burgher (citizen) armsFrom 1581 to 1795, the Dutch Republic existed and there was no monarchy or herald authority to grant or register arms.  Everyone, citizens, merchants, towns, etc. just created one.  Often the family of the arms creator would then use this creation as their collective Coat of Arms.

It’s possible that the immigrant ancestor, Arent Isaaczen van Hoeck, as a citizen of Amsterdam and a master shoemaker, created a Coat of Arms as a form of identification for himself and his trade.  It’s also possible that these arms were passed down to his descendants.  We don’t know – outside of that item in the inventory of his grandson’s estate. (I don’t know what to make of the “account for the “s” in the Dutch transliteration of the surname” comment.  It makes no sense).

The real problem we have here is the name “Van Hook”.  Arent Isaaczen, for the majority of his life, thought of “Isaaczen” as his surname.  The Dutch (and northern Germans) were using patronymic surnames during this period.  Indeed, this practice continued in the Netherlands until 1811 when legal and persistent surnames were required.  In all known records of Arent in the Netherlands, his name is succeeded by “van Hooksiel”, indicating his place of origin (not his name).

When he immigrated to New Amsterdam in 1655, the van Hooksiel was discarded, and he reverted to his Isaacszen surname. Over the next few years, at least 12 references in the extant record to Arent continued that name model.  The place or trade names in New Netherland were common, but sporadically used.  Finally, on 7 Jan 1662, the name Arent Isaackx van Hoeck finally appears.  The first actual record of the “van Hoeck” name for our family.   The vast majority of the records (even after the takeover of New Netherland by the English in 1664) still refer to Arent as Isaacszen (or some variation).  There are only 6 other known records where Arent has the “van Hoeck” tacked on the end.  After English law took hold in the colonies – the model for standardized and consistent inter-generational surnames was essentially set.

So – with the name “van Hoeck” (and later Van Hook) for our family first appearing in the late 1600’s in North America – it’s a far stretch to claim the Armorial record focused on Europe even contains any meaningful information for our family.

  • So, Arent would have given the arms to his son Lawrence Van Hook, of New York and New Jersey. Before he died in 1724, he would have given or willed the arms to his son Aaron.

Maybe… but there is no mention of arms in Lawrence’s will or estate.

  • At this point some other family may have disputed the arms forcing each to go to court. The arms were reconfirmed (as previously stated) on July 4, 1750.

This is a misinterpretation of a notation in a blazon in Rietstap’s.  In 1750, Arent was busy trying to figure out how to safely get out of New Jersey (after losing his farm and being involved in many court cases).

  • Aaron moved to North Carolina in 1755 and died in 1760. The Coat of Arms was next given to Lloyd Van Hook who died in 1815 in New Jersey…

Why wouldn’t it pass directly to Aaron’s son Lawrence (1723-1800)?  Why to his grandson Lloyd?

  • leaving it to his son Lawrence who died in 1847. His son, Marcus Aurelius Van Hook, had it when he lived in Jackson, Mississippi. It was he who corresponded with James M. Van Hook of Indiana and hence preserved the motto, date, and name on the arms in 1899. Marcus’s son, Henry Ware Van Hook, left it to his son Benjamin Ormond Van Hook. The last person ever to see the representation was Benjamin’s daughter, Alma Eugene. Supposedly, she took it to Power Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1934 where it was lost or stolen. Fortunately, she remembered enough of what it looked like for a rough sketch to be drawn. When later this was compared to Riestraps Armorial and what Bernice Keister knew, it was nearly identical.”

OK – as we get closer to current times, additional details emerge.  Is it possible that the family possessed (through oldest son of oldest son) a copy of the Coat of Arms mentioned in 1763 continuously until its loss in 1934?   Of course.  Is it possible that the Coat of Arms matches the one referenced in Rietstap’s Armorial?  I highly doubt that.   Is it possible that someone in the family in the late 1800’s purchased a “Van Hook” Coat of Arms from a scam artist peddling the description in Rietstap’s?  Yes – that’s possible also – much like Coats of Arms are available today on the Internet.

Will we ever know for sure?  Unlikely – but it is an interesting story!  There is nothing to indicate our family hails from “nobility” – but if you want to point to the Coat of Arms and claim it as your own, feel free to.  But know that it is probably a harmless form of genealogical myth and entertainment.

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