The William Rountree Pocket Watch

Rowntree and Rountree Family History 1521 – 1953 by J. G. Rountree (self-published, 1959) is a manuscript filled with Rountree notes and correspondence collected by the author over a number of years.

On pages 14 and 15 is a family legend regarding our William Rountree, son of Richardson Rountree, provided by two great-great-grandsons born in the 1890s.  They wrote that William Rountree “emigrated to U.S.A.  (date unknown), where he married (name of wife and date of marriage unknown; both died near Huntsville, Alabama)“. 

The legend

This was contributed by two brothers who we know were great-great-grandsons of our William Rountree through his son Seaborn Jones Rountree.  They reported that they possessed an old silver watch supposedly purchased in Dublin, Ireland and brought to this country by their great-great-grandfather  William Rountree when he emigrated to the US..  The watch, they said, had been passed down through the generations from one William Rountree to the next William.  (Seaborn Rountree being called “William Seaborn” to explain this.). . The author, J. G. Rountree, visited the brothers and inspected the watch, writing that “It had a key to wind it by and the case had a covered dial, not like the ones we now have

Is it true?

I am doubtful.  The inventory of William Rountree’s possessions did not mention a watch, nor did he bequeath a watch in his will.  And of course we know that he was a third-generation American, so he did not bring a watch with him from Ireland.

The description of the watch is vague.   Key-wound pocket watches matching the description were being made as early as the late 1700s and as late as the early 1900s.  During William Rountree’s lifetime these watches were made individually and were quite expensive.  Although stem-winding watches were made after 1860, many key-wound watches continued to be produced.  Several manufacturers were located in Dublin.  The Rountree brothers did not mention any peculiarities  like the absence of a minute hand, unique decorations, or unusual bulk that might suggest the watch was produced as a one-off in an earlier period.  From the description, therefore, it would seem the brothers were describing a watch made in the mid or late 1800s, thus probably not as old as their great-great-grandfather’s time.