The Bizarre Tuttle Family
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Readers! I haven’t forgotten you. In fact, I’m nearing the end of Midnight Road to Heaven. Only three chapters to go! 🙂 Life has been crazy, but I’m still finding time to squeeze in the writing here and there. I hope the ending will satisfy all those who’ve speculated and expressed their hopes. In the meantime, here’s yet another family story. But it’s a favorite of mine. Now this would make one crazy book.
Thankfully, my ancestor Simon Tuttle (9th great-grandfather) seems to have been a relatively normal person. He was an original subscriber to the settlement compact for New Haven village. He was selected as gauger and packer for the town of Wallingford. He had one wife and many children. Sounds like your typical 17th century colonial. His family? Not so much.
Now I know relatives can often be quirky, challenging even. But if I were Simon Tuttle, I wouldn’t have attended a family function without a knife to take to bed with me. In fact, you probably would have found me propped on my pillows, said knife poised in my trembling hands and sweat pouring from every orifice. That’s because the man had not one, but two siblings who were family-slaying axe murderers.
It all started with Sarah Tuttle. Oh, Sarah. The girl was ahead of her time. She shows up first in court records for her “sinful dalliance” with Jacob Murline. Her major crime? “Sitting down on a chest together, his arm about her waist and her arm upon his should or about his neck, and continuing in this sinful position about half an hour, in which time he kissed her and she kissed him, and they kissed one another”, according to witnesses. In this society of Puritans, Daddy was not happy that a man would so woo his daughter without his consent and darnit, he wanted some money to appease the offense.
Governor John Winthrop testified that he had been told a similar story of the account, which took place on John Potter’s wedding day. Sarah Tuttle had apparantly been surmising about what the newlywed couple would “do at night” when Jacob took her gloves and held them ransom for a kiss. Jacob confirmed that the couple had kissed, while Sarah denied it. In the end, the court called her a “bold virgin” and warned her to change her sinful ways. The verdict was to pay 20 shillings to the treasurer.
As scandalous an episode as that was, Sarah would make history in a much more tragic way seventeen years later. On the evening of November 17, 1676, the woman took to quarreling with her brother Benjamin. No one knows exactly what the quarrel was about, but a fragment of paper survives briefly describing Benjamin’s anger and fear. The man settled the argument by going to the barn and grabbing an ax. Coming back into the house, he struck Sarah in the head with it and ran into the woods for cover.
You can read the official report, but to save you the trouble of reading the arduous English of the day, let me summarize. Sarah was found lying dead across the hearth with her head in the corner of the chimney. Her skull and jaw were broken from her neck to the top of her head. She had a hole through her head behind her ear, where some of her brains oozed out. The murder weapon was found near her in a pool of blood. According to Sarah’s son and daughter, aged 12 and 9, Benjamin had been short with their mother and she had rebuked him for it. They said as he struck her with the first blow, he cried out, “I will teach you to scold.” Needless to say, Benjamin Tuttle was convicted and hanged the following summer.
The second murder came in 1691. Benjamin wasn’t the only deranged member of the Tuttle household. Mercy Tuttle, one of the younger siblings, would make her own mark on the family name. When she was just 14 years old, she was accused of stealing and drinking liquor. She doesn’t appear again until the age of 41, when she killed her son with–you got it–an ax.
Samuel Brown was just 17 when his mother ended his life. As stated by the boy’s father, Mercy had spoken the day before of “having the children buried in the barn,” and told their son she could kill him if she thought it would not hurt him. Despite her odd comments, Samuel thought she had been perfectly rational that day. Several friends and relatives, including my ancestors, Simon and Abigail Tuttle, thought she had seemed distracted (crazy). Son Joseph testified that she had once thrown scalding water at him, and that she was “much out of her head.”
The court found her guilty of willfully killing her son, but many in the town disagreed. Her defense attorney had questioned her sanity in court, as doubtlessly did many others. Despite having been granted a death sentence, Mercy seems to have escaped her execution. Confusion over a deposed governor created just enough disorder to allow her life to continue.
Oh, but does the Tuttles’ story end there? It most certainly does not. After all, Elizabeth Tuttle couldn’t let her sister Sarah be the only scandalous woman in town! Early in their marriage, Elizabeth and her husband Richard were called to court for having sex before marriage. Whoopsie! The penalty? Five pounds to the treasury, please.
About twenty years later, Richard was back in court to file for divorce. He had discovered three months into their marriage that their first child was not his, but Mr. Randolph’s. She evidently deserted their marriage bed and took up with other men. Fed up with her actions, Richard Edwards presented a lengthy argument to the court, including examples from scripture and testimony from his children to support his claim. His plea denied, Richard returned for a second round two years later. He needed that divorce! In keeping with her family legacy, Elizabeth often threatened to slit his throat in his sleep. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that his mistress Mary Talcott wanted to put a ring on it. In any case, a council among whom were Thomas Hooker and Increase Mather, finally granted the decree. No one knows what happened to Elizabeth, but it’s safe to say she didn’t enjoy a happy ending.
Interestingly, Elizabeth’s son Timothy went on to marry Esther Stoddard (my ancestor Anthony Stoddard’s sister), and fathered the great preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards. Two generations later was born future vice president Aaron Burr.