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Tuttle family

databaseflagWilliam Tuttle (1607-1673) set out for the colonies as a part of the puritan Reverend John Davenport’s congregation in 1635. In his party was this wife Elizabeth and their three oldest children (John, Ann and Thomas), as well as his older brother Richard, Richard’s wife Ann and their three children; William and Richard Tuttle’s widowed mother Isabel; and William and Richard’s brother John, his wife Joan, their four children, along with wife Joan’s three children by her first marriage, and Joan’s widowed mother Joan (Arnold) Antrobus. This puts me in mind of a modern day family reunion on a cruise ship, but without even basic amenities.

The Planter (Nicholas Trarice master) arrived at Boston in July 1635.

New Haven 1641

New Haven 1644

In the 1640s William Tuttle took park in a failed attempt  to establish a colony on the Delaware River at present-day Salem County, NJ. He then became one of the sixteen original proprietors in New Haven and signed the colony’s compact. According to rolls of 1640, his seven member family lived on an estate valued at £450, a great fortune at the time. His homestead on the Green was eventually replaced by Yale University’s first building.

Tuttle was socially very highly placed and wealthy, but his life was not a quiet or peaceful one. Today his many children might seem to have been beset by nothing more than rebellious natures, but in Puritan New Haven, their behavior must have made things very difficult. They were brought before the court for attending forbidden meetings, drinking and smoking, swearing, and promiscuity. Unfortunately something more than high spirits was at work, because his children and grandchildren exhibited signs of mental illness and violence.

databaseflagBenjamin, William Tuttle’s fourth-born,  killed  Sarah, his tenth born, with an axe in front of her four children, and was hanged for that crime. Benjamin, unmarried, was living with Sarah and her family some years later after their father’s death. They argued, possibly about the division of his estate or the behavior of the youngest of the Tuttle children who was acting scandalously, even for a Tuttle.  In a fury Benjamin went to the barn, got an ax, returned to the house and struck Sarah on the head, “maulling & mashing her head to many pieces in a barbarous and bloudy maner” 1“What Is It With Those Tuttles?” Sybil Smith. Ancestry Magazine, 24.3, May/June 1995; article transcript.

Benjamin was hanged at New Haven, June 13, 1677.

Capital punishment in Connecticut in the 17th century:

Connecticut’s struggles with the issue of capital punishment date back to its earliest days as a colony. Starting in 1636 and ending in 2005, Connecticut witnessed 158 executions. Throughout this period, changing ideas about crime, punishment, and human rights played out in public debates about the effectiveness and morality of capital punishment.

The Capital Laws of New England went into effect between 1636 and 1647. Criminals convicted of offenses such as sodomy, witchcraft, blasphemy, rape, rebellion, manslaughter, and pre-meditated murder all paid for their crimes with their lives. By the time of the American Revolution, many of these crimes still carried a death sentence, while lesser crimes like burglary meant corporal punishment by branding or whipping for the first two offenses and death for a third. The preferred method of execution during this time was hanging. Source:

Executions as Public Spectacle and Warning

Public hangings were a part of Connecticut culture in the late 1700s. Sometimes tens of thousands of spectators showed up to watch the condemned die. Local merchants took advantage of the large crowds by selling souvenirs and alcohol to eager spectators. The executions often turned into raucous affairs with onlookers screaming and throwing things at the condemned before turning on each other in drunken brawls. All manner of citizen, including women and children, attended the state’s public executions.

Another son, David, was certified as a lunatic by the courts and committed to live under close supervision. In 1691, Mercy, the youngest daughter, took an axe to her seventeen year old son Simon. The court declared her to be insane, and she was spared execution for the murder.


The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle: Marriage, Murder, and Madness in the Family of Jonathan Edwards Ava Chamberlain 2012

The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle: Marriage, Murder, and Madness in the Family of Jonathan Edwards Ava Chamberlain 2012

Elizabeth, Tuttle’s youngest child surviving to adulthood, married Richard Edwards. Edwards divorced her in 1691 on the basis of her promiscuity and mental disturbance. Their son Timothy went on to father Jonathan Edwards, a highly respected theologian.

Notes   [ + ]

1. “What Is It With Those Tuttles?” Sybil Smith. Ancestry Magazine, 24.3, May/June 1995

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