Archive | May 2018

Curious Cousins: Admiral Raymond Spruance and Alger Hiss

I happened to notice that Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance (1886-1969), perhaps the most effective American naval commander during the war in the Pacific, 1942-44, was born in Baltimore and that his mother’s family name was Hiss.

Hiss and Baltimore: this got me curious.

Turns out that Annie Ames Hiss, the Admiral’s mother, was second cousin to Charles Hiss, father to State Department official, founding Secretary-General of the UN—and suspected Communist spy—Alger Hiss (1904-1996).

Charles committed suicide in 1907 when Alger was very young, but his cousin Annie lived until 1938, when she was past 80 years of age.

Their common ancestors were Jacob Hiss (b. 1762) and Elizabeth Gatch (b. 1766).  Alger is the great-grandson of their son Jesse Lee Hiss (b. 1788), while Raymond descends from Jesse’s younger brother Philip (b. 1795).

The Hisses were a fecund clan, and Hiss is a common name around Baltimore. It is possible, even probable, that Raymond Spruance and Alger Hiss were completely unaware of the family connection.

But what I find most remarkable is that both family strands—most of their relatives, in fact—remained in Baltimore for nearly two centuries, or six generations. Among my own ancestors for the period, it is rare to find a family in the same place for more than about two generations. Perhaps having vast number of relations in relations within a small area gives one an emotional incentive to stick around, even if you don’t really know most of them.