The Van Hoosens: An 1850s Love Story
The timeless love story of Rochester settlers Joshua Van Hoosen Jr. and Sarah Taylor.
History is filled with stories of real people who experienced troubles and jubilations, much the way we do today.
When we think of the similarities we have with the people of long ago, they don’t seem so different or far away. We share with them feelings of joy, sorrow, celebration, friendship, fun and especially love.
The Taylors and the Van Hoosens
Lemuel Taylor, his wife, Sarah, and their nine children, including son Elisha, arrived in Michigan in the early 1820s. The Taylors came from upstate New York and traveled west in search of good fortune and a prosperous new life. They bought 160 acres of land in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills), set up a log-cabin community and named it Stoney Creek Village.
Elisha Taylor’s daughter Sarah was born and raised in the village, where she attended a one-room schoolhouse (though not the one that currently stands on Washington Road).
Stoney Creek Village flourished and, in 1836, Joshua Van Hoosen and his family, including six-year-old Joshua Jr., arrived from New York.
Young Joshua attended the one-room schoolhouse with Sarah Taylor and they became friends. As they grew, the friendship blossomed into romance.
A band of gold
Throughout his teen years, Joshua worked hard to earn money and had dreams of owning a farm. In the early 1850s, at the height of the Gold Rush, 22-year-old Joshua left Stoney Creek for the hills and valleys of California.
“Our country was in the grip of the gold fever,” wrote Bertha Van Hoosen, one of Joshua’s daughters, years later in her book Petticoat Surgeon, “and it must have spread like a contagious disease to have reached and inoculated so simple a lad in so remote a village.”
Joshua planned to travel by boat from New York to San Francisco, “crossing Nicaragua in wagons,” wrote Bertha.
“I left Stoney Creek and headed out to California with the Gold Rush of ’52,” the six-foot tall, blue-eyed Joshua once wrote. “Sara stayed behind to teach school. I struck gold and had a ring made, which I sent along with a proposal of marriage to Sarah.”
The ring was made from the nuggets of gold Joshua had found in California.
In response to such a straight-forward marriage proposal, Sarah penned a letter to Joshua, writing:
“I don’t know what to say. If you was here, I could say it to you. I could say anything. But now you are so far off I hardly dare say what I want. But this much I can say. I like no one better than you.”
Joshua regarded Sarah’s written reply as a “yes.”
Sarah pleaded with him to come home, but he insisted on staying in California another year.
In 1853, Joshua returned to Stoney Creek Village and, with the rest of the fortune he struck in California, bought the Taylor home (now the Rochester Hills Museum Farmhouse) and farmstead.
The childhood sweethearts were married New Year’s Day 1854.
Over the years
Together, Joshua and Sarah had two daughters, Alice and Bertha. Joshua became a successful farmer and member of the community, holding a variety of positions including president of the Agricultural Society of Oakland County. He was also a staunch proponent of education and a member of the township school board.
He died on July 11, 1894.
Sarah lived a long life, watching her daughters grow to adulthood and prosper in their own way. She traveled with them to Europe and North Africa in 1909 and became great friends with her granddaughter, Sarah Van Hoosen Jones.
“Even after her ninetieth birthday,” wrote Bertha, “she was self-reliant, able to care for herself . . .”
Sarah died in 1921 after a brief illness; she was 92.
Contributing sources: The Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm web site and “The Early Rochester Area: Our Legacy Your Heritage” documentary from the Rochester-Avon Historical Society.