The Foncannon Family

by Donald D. Erwin


The early ancestors of the American Foncannons were the fierce Germanic tribes that invaded Switzerland sometime around 400-500 BC. Julius Caesar and his Roman Legions contained them for a time, but they became the dominant people in Switzerland after the decline of the Roman Empire. Eventually, however, Charlemange conquered the country and established Catholicism as the state religion, building many Abbeys and Monasteries. With his death in 814, the country gradually evolved into a loose collection of fiefs governed either by the Church or a group of powerful Lords.

The earliest documentation that mentions the family is dated June 18, 1321. It is a remarkable document that resides in the Swiss National Archives, and it has them living in the Frutigen area just South of Lake Thun that year. According to the document, Baron Johannes von Thurm of Gastelen was Lord of Frutigen in the early fourteenth century. The document indicates that the Baron decided to give the Augustinian Monastery of Interlaken a piece of land near Scharnachtal (next to the town of Reichenbach and a few miles south of Aeschi). In addition, it states that “Peter and Chunradus von dem Kenel and their heirs forever have the right to live on a portion of this property (a farm known as the Kene), as long as they pay a rent of thirty shillings per year” (a practice that was known as the Right of Hereditary Tenancy). It is apparently the first time the name that would later evolve into Voncannon, Vuncannon, Fincannon, Foncannon and/or Cannon was written.

The next known mention in of the family is about 1400, and also comes from the Archives mentioning a Clawe, Chunrat, and Bury von Kenel. Church records in the towns of Reichenbach and Aeschi, both in the Frutigen area, still exist that date back to about 1530. By this time the name has been spelled von Kanel using an umladt over the ‘a’. Lacking a typewriter that contains the umladt, it is more correct to spell the name Kaenel. Both versions of the name exist in the Frutigen area of Switzerland to this day.

Around 1500 there was a Hans von Kaenel in Aeschi. He was the assistant to the district governor. In 1583 Casper von Kaenel was the mayor of Reichenbach, the highest office then held by a commoner. There is no evidence that the family ever became part of the nobility. The earliest members of the family were, apparently, members of the “citizen class,” just a step or two above the serfs. It is probable that Conrad von Kaenel, born about 1532 in Aeschi, was the earliest ancestor. Oswald Von Kaenel headed the next generation, and he was born about 1558, also in Aeschi. The earliest documented direct link to the family, however, was Christoph von Kaenel. He lived in Aeschi in the period 1575 – 1625.

Following are later descendants:

  • Peter von Kaenel/Kehnell, was born about 1625 in Aeschi, Switzerland, and later in life moved to  Steinsfurt in Germany.

  • Martin von Kehnell/Kennell was born January 21, 1666 in Steinsfurt, Germany.

  • Hans Martin von Kennell/Kennen was born September 21, 1698 in Steinsfurt.

  •  Johann Peter von Kennen/ Konnen was born March 4, 1722, and emigrated to Pennsylvania as a single man in 1748. No record has been found to identify his wife, but it is known that he had at least eight children.

  • John Voncannon, oldest child of Johann Peter, was born about 1750 in Pennsylvania and died about 1841. He married Mary Chinn/Ervin.

  • John Foncannon was born about 1775 in Pennsylvania. Note: A “V” in German is pronounced as an “F” in English, hence the change in spelling.

  • John Jackson Foncannon was born February 15, 1815 in Lewiston, Miflin County, Pennsylvania.

John Jackson Foncannon married Mariah Fisher November 23, 1839 in St Joseph’s Church in Somerset, Perry County, Ohio. He died in 1911at age 96 in St. Bernice, Vermillion County, Indiana. Mariah was born November 10, 1820 in Maryland, and passed away May 4, 1913, also in St. Bernice. When they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on November 23, 1909 it was reported that they had ten children, 37 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. Current research indicates that they actually had eleven children.


Text Box:


John and Mariah Foncannon had the following children:

1.            Harriett Elizabeth Foncannon, b. 1841

2.            George Foncannon, b. 1842

John & Mariah Foncannon

3.            William Francis Foncannon, b. 1844

4.            Laura Elvena Foncannon, b. 1845

5.            Phoebe Ann Foncannon, b. 1846

6.            Sarah Ellen Foncannon, b. 1848

7.            John Madison Foncannon, b. 1849

8.            Esther Marcena Foncannon, b. 1851

9.            Charles B. Foncannon, b. 1856

10.         Margaret Victoria Foncannon, b. 1860

11.         Mary Foncannon, b. 1862

 Text Box: Grave marker of Sarah Ellen Foncannon Erwin in the Munice Cemetery, Dewey County, Oklahoma 
Sarah Ellen Foncannon married John W. Freeman, and was the mother of Indiana Mae Freeman and Minnie Olive Freeman. Indiana Mae (India) Freeman married William Coleman (Cole) Erwin, and Minnie Olive Freeman married Michael Roy (Mike) Erwin in a double ceremony in Green Forest, Carroll County, Arkansas on December 16, 1886. She is buried next to her husband in the Munice Cemetery in Dewey County, Oklahoma. Cole and India Erwin are buried there as well.

In June 2001 I visited the Munice Cemetery. It is located about fifteen miles west of Canton on State Highway 51. It is in a very isolated area, some distance from the nearest farmhouse. One has to wonder if there might have been a town of Munice at one time, or at the very least a church by that name. It is a lonely place, but the cemetery is well maintained, and there had been recent interments.      Don Erwin