Leap day birthday

img_0435Being born on a leap day is so uncommon that I’ve only ever found one of my confirmed direct line ancestors to have been so.

Today would have been Araminta Rebecca “Mintie” Brown’s 140th birthday.

My great-great grandmother was born 29 Feb 1876 in Reedsville, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Samuel Sherfey and Sarah E. (maiden name unknown) Brown.

From the outset, Mintie did not have an easy life. Her mother died when she was just 17 months old. Her father remarried the following year, but Mintie lost her stepmother – the only mother she ever really knew – at the tender age of 14 in 1890. Rebecca (nee Stuter) Brown had been tragically thrown from a carriage when a horse took fright and suffered massive injuries that killed her many months after the accident.

The Brown family was tight-knit and Mintie shared a very close bond with both her full siblings, Jefferson and Savannah “Vannie” and half-siblings, Samuel DeForrest “Forry” and Teresa “Tet”.

Some years prior to her stepmother’s death, her father had switched professions from a lumberman to a hotel proprietor, operating the Duncan House in Milroy. He and the hotel were held in high regard by travelers near and far.

But being twice a widower must have been devastating.

As a teenager, Mintie may have spent some considerable time, perhaps even resided, at her paternal grandparents’ home after her stepmother died. At that time they had moved to Phoenixville in Chester County and it was almost certainly by visiting or living with them that she wound up meeting her husband, William Joseph Reuter.

William was from Philadelphia, but his father had moved the family to Kenilworth, Chester County by 1892. William tended bar at his father’s restaurant, the Astor House, a popular spot in center city Philadelphia.

Araminta married William in 1893, just two weeks after turning 17.

W and A Reuter

William and Araminta (nee Brown) Reuter, ca. 1925.

Her older sister, Vannie, married her husband in Phoenixville two years earlier, further strengthen the theory that the children went to stay with their grandparents for some time after Rebecca’s death.

How Mintie and Bill met isn’t exactly known, but the family legend goes that they fell for each other so madly that Bill abandoned his studies on the school ship, U.S.S. Saratoga, much to his father’s disappointment.

He may have been forced to quit his training when Araminta became pregnant soon after their wedding. She gave birth to the first of 14 children on Christmas day 1893. Sadly, meningitis would take the life of their son, Samuel Sherfey Reuter, before he reached three months of age.

They would lose four more children: Teresa, Albert, Samuel Brown, and Louis, plus third son, Frederick suffered significant developmental delays.

Having so many children so closely together took its toll on Mintie’s health. So much so that she underwent an operation (for what, is not known) right on her kitchen table. It caused a small five-year gap in the succession of children.  But that break was large enough to Mintie that she often called the children born post-operation her second family.

Mintie and Bill both lost their fathers the same year – 1926 – and though Bill’s father died a somewhat wealthy man, his inheritance likely went towards the care of Frederick who later resided at the Elwyn Training School.

Diabetes would ravage Mintie by the time she reached her early 50s, causing her leg to be amputated. She was only 54 years old when she died on 10 January 1931.


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