There was a story that had been passed down in the Minthorn family for generations. It told of how an ancestor had hidden her two infants under the roots of a tree to save them during the Revolutionary War attack on Cherry Valley, NY, in 1778. It was said that in her zeal to quiet her children, the youngsters were rendered unconscious, being revived only after the attackers had departed.
While this story is most likely fiction, there is some truth mixed in.
Family tradition also told that one of the children in this tale, a daughter of Harmanus and Susanna Mabie named Maria, married Norman Minthorn in 1800. Evidence pointing towards the story being a fable is that Maria was born four years after the events in Cherry Valley. In Jeptha Sims’ 1845 History of Schoharie County, we find further proof that this event never happened:
“On the west side of the river, a little distance above Putnam, dwelt Harmanus and Peter H. Mabee, brothers. A short time previous to the invasion they had removed to Rotterdam. Many of their effects were left in their dwellings, which, with their well-filled barns and barracks, shared the same fate as their neighbors.”
If the family storyteller was holding the attention of his audience, this tale would be expanded to include another branch of the family tree brought in by the marriage of Evart Van Eps to Polly Minthorn, Norman’s sister, in Fonda on June 12th, 1787. It would be here where the watch mentioned in the title of this article makes its debut.
There are newspaper articles about an antique watch that had been passed down to Daniel Minthorn. It is said that it had been taken from Joseph Brant during another attack on Cherry Valley in 1781. The story of how it came to the Minthorn family was told more than 100 years later in the Lowville Times of June 11th, 1885:
“Daniel Minthorn is the owner of a watch made by Thomas Linford of London in 1626, which according to the records of the Minthorn family, had the following history: It was presented by George III to Sir William Johnson when he left England to take charge of his majesty’s affairs in the colony of New York. Sir William [who married Brant’s sister, Molly Brant] presented it to Joseph Brant, the famous Indian chief, with the remark that it was ‘surely worth at least forty rebel scalps.’
“When Brant had his headquarters in the Schoharie Valley the watch was taken from him by Evart Van Epps of Fultonville, who was paymaster in the Continental army. Van Epps was afterward taken prisoner by Brant, and the chief recovered the watch. The grandfather of the present owner of the watch became a warm friend of Brant’s in Canada after the war, and Brant made him a present of the timepiece. It has been in the Minthorn family ever since.”
Evart Van Eps volunteered at the start of the Revolution. Serving in a company under Captain Jellis Fonda, he was wounded in the Battle of Oriskany when his horse was shot out from under him. Through much of the war, he held the rank of Sargent, though for a time he was promoted to Captain over bateaux that transported cannon on Lake Champlain. In the Battle of Johnstown on October 25, 1781, he was captured and taken as a captive to Canada until the end of the war.
While there is no historical proof that Van Eps ever had Brant’s watch, or that it was retrieved after his capture, neither is there any evidence to dispute it. There is one clear fact, a descendant in the Mabie, Van Eps, and Minthorn lines expressed strong belief in the truth of this tale. An article in the Morrison Vermont News, August 2nd, 1888, explains:
“Two years ago a big monument was unveiled at Brantford, Ont., to the memory of old Thayendanega [Joesph Brant]. The residents invited Mr. Minthorn to come with his watch and take part in the exercises and offered him $100. The old gentleman refused very indigently, and wrote to the Monument Committee: ‘Do you suppose I would assist in a celebration to do honor to the man whose only good deed that I know of was to neglect to scalp my mother?'”
Daniel Minthorn’s grandfather William left New York at the time of the Revolution, moving to Ontario, Canada. In 1784, after the Revolution, Brant and his followers moved to the Haldimand Grant, in what is now southwestern Ontario. The story that he had been given the watch as a gift from Brant, is a plausible explanation of how the watch came into the hands of Minthorn family.
When Daniel Minthorn passed away in 1903 he was the last of his line, with no known relatives. As a resident of Watertown, New York, and an honorary member of the Jefferson County Historical Society it’s possible he left the watch in their possession. A search of their archives has been requested but as of the writing of this article, no answer has been returned.
The mystery of Joseph Brant’s watch is yet to be solved.
Illustrations, from above: Drawing of Brant’s Watch, Wilmington Evening Journal July 14th, 1888; and Joseph Brant’s Timepiece headline, East Hampton Star July 28th, 1888.
Sources for this article are Mabie and Associated Families, family history files, Montgomery County History and Archives, John A. Maybee’s Addendum to the Mabille Family, Rotterdam Jct. Branch, March 1990, History of Schoharie Co. and Border Wars of New York, Vol 2 by Jeptha Sims, Steal Not This Horn, Van Epps family history, Historic Deerfield, from the Fulton County Archives and nyhistoricnewspapers.org and fultonhistory.com online newspaper archives.
This story was originally published in the Heritage Newsletter of the History and Genealogical Society of Montgomery County in 2019.