Select Fonda Surname Genealogy

The Fonda name came at first from Italy, from the Italian fondo or fonda meaning “deep” and describing a deep valley to be found near the city of Genoa.  An Italian by that name was said to have fled to the Netherlands in the 16th century at the time of the Reformation.  Jacob Harmense Fonda was recorded in Holland around 1540.

The Fonda name in America is attributable to Jellis Douwese Fonda who left Holland with his family in 1651 for New York

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It is not known why or exactly when Jellis Fonda and his family left Holland for America.  There is no known record of the family on published ship passenger lists. A best guess, based on available information, indicates that they probably sailed on either the Bonte Koe or the Prins Willem.

.  When Jellis arrived in upstate New York in 1651, he was, according to a contemporary account, “accompanied by his wife Hester Jans and three children – a son Douwe, aged about eleven years, and two daughters Geertien and Sara, aged around nine and seven.”

New York
.  Jellis died in 1659 and it was his son Douwe who established his family, a large one, at Albany outside the town’s north gate.

Douwe’s sons spread a bit.  Isaac remained in Albany (his nephew Gysbert prospered in business there and was one of its wealthiest citizens by the 1760’s).  Jellis, a gunstock maker, moved to nearby Schenectady; while Jan settled in Rensselaerswyck.

In 1751 Douwe Fonda, a farmer and merchant, moved from Schenectady to the hamlet of Caughnawaga along the Mohawk river, some 30 miles west of Albany.  After he was brutally scalped during an Indian raid in 1780, the settlement was renamed Fonda and Fondas remained there until the late 1960’s.  Douw Henry Fonda built the present farmhouse in the 1840’s in which seven generations of the family have lived.

Some Fondas had started moving away from New York.  John H. Fonda left for Wisconsin in 1825.

“John Fonda trekked to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in 1825.  He was an explorer, trader, mail carrier, Indian agent and, later, a colonel in the Civil War.  There was a life-size painting of him hung in the Wisconsin Capital Building.”

Others went west - to Missouri, Illinois and Kansas.  Ten Eyck Fonda departed the New York Fonda farm for Illinois in 1873 and then moved further west to Nebraska five years later in search of railroad work.

Abraham Fonda
, born in Missouri, returned to New York where he was a cigar manufacturer.  His first wife
Mary Alice was a well-known music critic who died in 1897.  His second wife Rhoda apparently married him in 1919 for his money.

Nebraska and Hollywood
.  Ten Eyck’s son William was a printer in Omaha, Nebraska.  William’s son Henry Fonda, born there, began acting and got his first break in films in 1935.  He was to be a Hollywood star for the next forty years.

Henry was also the patriarch of a family of famous actors, including daughter Jane Fonda, son Peter Fonda, granddaughter Bridget Fonda, and grandson Troy Garity

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Jellis Fonda from Holland who arrived in New York in 1651 was the progenitor of the Fonda family in America.
Mary Alice Fonda
, writing under the pen-name of Octavia Hensel, was an internationally-recognized music critic of the late 1800’s.
Henry Fonda
was an American film and stage actor whose career extended from the 1930’s to the 1970’s.
Jane Fonda
, a highly acclaimed American film actress, has also been known for her political activism during the Vietnam war and for her fitness videos

Select Fondas Today
  • 700 in America (most numerous in New York) 

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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