Part of what I do as a historical storyteller is follow hunches. When I was studying the Milford Township area of southwestern Knox County, an odd surname caught my eye.
It's not typical of the names encountered in the early history of the county. The vast majority of names either come from the British isles, particularly if the people moved up this way from Maryland or Virginia. If they came here from Pennsylvania or New York, there's a strong chance they might hold a German surname.
Mantonya stuck out as something unusual. At first glance, I wondered if it could be Spanish, but then thought the ending sounded a little more French. The name belonged to Joseph Mantonya, said to be an early settler of the area, and its first miller.
While the latter assertion turned out not to be documented, it still opened up an interesting history.
After researching a number of genealogical sources, I came to the conclusion that this family traces its roots all the way back to an intriguing man named Jean Mousnier de La Montagne, who was apparently born somewhere in France in 1595.
At first glance, the name sounds vaguely royal, but that may only be a pretension, or even a joke, because “mousnier de la montagne” actually just means “miller of the mountain.”
He first shows up in records as a student at the University of Leyden in Holland in 1619, where the admissions record — in Latin — lists him as Johannes Monerius Montanus from Xanto. “Xanto,” is thought to be a Latinized way of writing the name of the French town of Santes, near Lille, a mountainous region in France.
Jean was now called Johannes in the Netherlands, and he was clearly associated with a group of Huguenots, protestants who were thrown out of Catholic France. He seems to have become a minister and an active missionary, accompanying a Dutch expedition to the Amazon River in the New World in hopes of establishing a Huguenot colony.
They were unsuccessful in finding a hospitable location, and returned to Europe. Johannes enrolled at the university again, earning a medical degree. He got married and traveled to the Dutch colony of Tobago, but after a few years returned to Leyden when his wife got sick with a tropical disease.
In 1637, Johannes loaded up his family once more and sailed for the New World, this time going to the Dutch colony of New Amersterdam in North America. This was the city that later was to be turned over to the British and re-named “New York.”
But it was still small and Dutch in 1637, and Johannes set up shop on Manhattan Island as a doctor. When a friend of his passed away, Johannes also started overseeing the friend's tobacco plantation. The tobacco farm, Vredendahl, was on the land that today makes up the northern half of New York City's Central Park.
Referred to by this point as Jan or Johannes La Montange, he served as top adviser to colony governor Peter Stuyvesant, was commander of the militia, and signed several peace treaties with the local Native American tribes. After the colony was turned over to the British, it appears that Dr. Montagne moved upriver to Albany, and passed away around 1670.
His son Jan La Montagne Jr., was a businessman throughout his life, living in the New Harlem settlement (now the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.) His son Abram La Montagne (1664-1733) was a weaver who lived his whole life in New Harlem.
Abram's son Joseph Montanye reflected the new spelling of the name that came into use when he settled in Morris County, New Jersey, south of New York to farm. In the next 100 years or so, the surname undergoes many spelling variations, such as Montony, Montany, Montonyn, and Montawny.
Isaac Montanye (1743-1785) moved further south to Loudon County, Virginia, which is where our Joseph was born, in 1781. Unfortunately for young Joseph, his father died young and so the boy was “bound out” — a practice where he was part foster child, part apprentice — to a miller by the name of David Reese, who was charged with teaching the 8-year old boy how to become a millwright himself.
One wonders if Joseph ever knew that deep in his roots, the family name was originally “Mousnier,” meaning “Miller.”
Early records list him as Joseph Montonya, but by the time he moved to the young state of Ohio, it was more often showing up as Mantonya, inadvertently reversing the original middle syllables, something that I've learned over the years happens more often than one might think.
Mantonya moved to the Muskingum area in 1816, and on to the area right around the Knox/Licking County border in 1819.
A small parcel of land was reserved along the county line as a cemetery site, officially known as Hall Cemetery, down a tree-lined lane off Larimore Road.
Joseph and his family and other early settlers of the township including the Larimores, the Halls, the Quicks, and the Neibels (and a few of the settlers of Bennington Township, over on the Licking County side of the cemetery) are buried there, but what quickly catches the eye is the special monument put up for Joseph Mantonya: Right next to his tombstone, someone has put up a steel-banded millwheel, made up of numerous French buhr stones.
I have no idea where the millstone comes from nor if it had a direct connection to Mantonya himself, but it's certainly authentic for the period in which Mantonya built his mill. The problem is, every record I have found in early county history books indicates that Joseph Mantonya built his mill in 1820, shortly after moving to the area.
The metal plaque on the millwheel states that Mantonya built his first mill in 1802. I have not thus far been able to find any evidence of that extremely early date. While it's not impossible, it wouldn't have been easy.
He could, theoretically, have come west to build the mill, then returned to Virginia to order high-quality French buhr stones — after all, David Reese may well have taught him to only use the best — and get married, only later moving to Knox County.
It seems a bit far-fetched, though, for this to happen and not be mentioned in any of the county histories.
What we do know from the early histories, though, is that Mantonya's 1820 mill served two purposes: water-powered tool manufacturing and grain grinding. Mantonya's scythes and sickles were said to be the finest in the area.
Mantonya interrupted his milling career to work for a couple of years as a contractor helping to build the Ohio Canal, but he returned to his mill and restarted it around 1830.
This mill, incidentally, was a little further south, over the county line, on the Auter Branch (today Otter Branch) of the North Fork of the Licking River.
One curious mystery that I wasn't able to answer is that both Joseph and his son, also named Joseph, died on the same day in 1851, according to the death dates recorded for them. Joseph Jr. is buried on the Licking County side of the cemetery, and was only 30 years old at time of his death.
This coincidental date suggests some sort of accident which claimed the lives of both men, though it isn't documented in any of the sources I found. Anyone with further information can contact me here.
Today, Joseph Mantonya rests in this small country cemetery, complete with spectacular buhr stones, rivaled only by the spectacular number of burls on a nearby tree. His monument rests on the flatter end of the cemetery, but we will revisit the other end for possible further investigation in the near future for our continuing series on the mounds of this area.