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The true story of ‘The Song of Minnie Minton’

March 10, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

While browsing through the May 27, 1942 Westfield Republican newspaper on microfilm, the following leading paragraph of a column titled "PICK UPS" caught my eye.

"Recently there appeared in the Ed Scanlan column reference to a song which attained considerable vogue during the Civil War. It was entitled 'Minnie Minton' and was written about a beautiful Westfield girl whose brother kept the Minton House, then the leading hotel in that Chautauqua County village."

Billie Dibble wrote about this in one of her last Dibble's Dabbles in September 6, 1990. Dibble's article was republished in 2008, along with a BeeLines about "Historical Songs and Ballads from the Area" which described research about "The Song of Minnie Minton" and "The Ballad of James Bird."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This is a drawing of the Minton House in Westfield from about 1880.

There is something amiss about the information in the 1942 PICK UPS article. James H. Minton purchased the property known as the Jones House in an auction in late October 1875, and did extensive remodeling before re-opening as the Minton House in January 1876. Deloss Jones had obtained the property in 1869, prior to which it was called the American Hotel. So the Minton House did not exist in Westfield during the Civil War (1861-1865).

However, research on Ancestry.com and other sources about the family genealogy of James H Minton shows that he was born Jan. 3, 1816, in Auburn to James and Theodosia (Reeves) Minton; his father died in 1826; and he moved with his mother to Brocton in 1830. James H. Minton worked with Lewis Pullman (who married James' sister Emily, and was the father of George Pullman, inventor of the Pullman Palace railroad car), for 10 years. In 1836, Minton married Sarah Lake, and they were the parents of five children - Maria, William, John, James V. (who became a druggist in Westfield), and Waldo. Minton then built a hotel in Brocton (called the Minton Hotel) in 1844, which he ran for 20 years, until about 1865 when he moved his family to Westfield and served as a deputy marshal. James H. Minton's daughter, Maria, was age 22 on the 1865 Census and the family was still living at the Minton Hotel in Brocton at that time.

"The Song of Minnie Minton" was written by James G. Clark (James Gowdy Clark), 1829-1897. Clark was a poet, composer, and singer according to a paper written by B. O. Flower. Although Flower does not specifically state that Clark served in the Civil War, he writes, "During the early days of the war the poet traveled from town to town, singing the spirit of freedom into the hearts of the people, and arousing to action scores and hundreds of persons in every community visited [His works] included a number of war songs and poems such as "When You and I Were Soldier Boys" and "Minnie Minturn." (This spelling "Minturn" was apparently an error in Flower's writing, as the actual music with the same lyrics is found everywhere else as "Minton"). Flower describes the history of the poem/song as follows: "Mr. Clark was visiting a family by the name of Minturn. In the home circle was a young lady named Maria, who had a lover in the army. One day Mr. Clark said, 'If your name were Minnie, it would make a musical combination for a poem.' The young lady blushed and replied that her friends often called her Minnie"

This is the first verse (there are five verses total) and chorus of the song as written:

"Minnie Minton, in the shadow/I have waited here alone/On the battle's gory meadow/Which the scythe of death has mown.

"I have listened for your coming/'Til the dreary dawn of day/But I only hear the drumming/As the armies march away.

"O Minnie, dear/I have heard the angel's warning/I have seen the golden shore/I will meet you in the morning/Where the shadows come no more."

 
 
 

 

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