1677: Benjamin Tuttle

Add comment June 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1677, Benjamin Tuttle expiated the murder of his sister Sarah in New Haven, Connecticut.

His parents, William and Elizabeth, were yeomen who left their Northamptonshire village for the colonies aboard the Planter in 1635, bringing the first three of what were eventually 12 children. (Two other Tuttell/Tuttle families, seemingly those of William’s brothers, shared the same passage.)

After a short stint in Boston, they were among the founding settlers who struck up the New Haven colony: William Tuttle’s signature appears on the “Fundamental Agreement of New Haven” establishing the town.

William waxed wealthy and he counts among his descendants the Great Awakening preacher Rev. Jonathan Edwards* and mercurial Vice President/duelist Aaron Burr. “His descendants,” David Greene remarked, “are famous for intellectual brilliance and, in some cases, for homicidal insanity.”

It is of course the homicidal insanity that earns their foothold in the pages of Executed Today … although we can scarcely avoid by way of character development noting that Sarah Tuttle, the eventual victim relevant to this post, attracted the tutting of the Puritan court as early as 1670 when as “a bold virgin” she ventured an illicit dalliance with a Dutch sailor named Jacob Murline and carried on “in such an imodest [sic], uncivil, wanton, lascivious manner.”

When her father William died unexpectedly in 1673, the younger cohort among his children had not been provided for, which set up years of tussling over the family estate. What surfaces in colonial court records down to 1709(!) is certainly just the tip of the iceberg; the Puritan God only knows what fathoms of crossed words and festering grudges compounded among the Tuttle children.

The most dramatic of these was an argument between Sarah and her younger brother Benjamin one night in November 1676. The surviving record of the jury’s inquest does not make clear how their argument began, but it ended with Benjamin barging into her house and fatally bashing her with an axe, leaving “the Skull and Jaw, eaxtremly broken, from the Jaw to hur neack, and soo to the crown of the head, one the right Sied of the Same, with part of her brayens out, wich ran out at a hool.” We’re grateful to this rootsweb page for the primary document; the narrative below comes from Sarah’s 12-year-old son John Slauson — hence the reference to “his mother” — as corroborated by John’s younger sister Sarah Slauson, and it ensues upon an exchange of “very short” words between their elders over the seemingly trifling matter of Sarah’s husband having to perform his town watch duties that night without having had his supper. Rebuked by his sister for his nastiness about this wifely shortcoming, Benjamin

went out of the dooars, an when he was out his bothar bead his Sistar Sarrah, Shutt the dore, beang It Smockt, and as She went to Shut It, bengiman tuttall came In with Sumtheng In his hand and Spock these words anggarly: Ile Shut the doar for you and soo went to his mother and struck her one the right Sied of the heed with that he broght In his hand, but knoes not whethar It was an ax or other weppon; at wich blow She fell and nevar Spock nor groned more; and followd with Sevrell blows aftar She fell, Standeng over hur, a pone wich he rune out of doars and cried [two illegible words]. Just as he struck his mothar the furst blow, bengiman tuttell Sayed I will tech you to Scold and a pone thaire criyeng out, bengiman tuttell fled; There beeng no parson In the hous when the mistchef begun, to help them.

Nor was Benjamin Tuttle’s death at the end of a rope the following June 13 the last this generation of Tuttles would know of axes. The very youngest daughter, Mercy, in 1691 wielded the same instrument to murder her young son Samuel in a fit of madness — although in this instance, the court found her worthy of her name because

she hath generally been in a crazed or distracted condition as well long before she committed the act, as at that time, and having observed since that she is in such a condition, [we] do not see cause to pass sentence of death against her, but for preventing her doing the like or other mischief for the future, do order, that she shall be kept in custody of the magistrates of New Haven.

* While it hardly rises to the level of homicide, this generation of the family also endured a wrenching divorce. Benjamin’s, Sarah’s, and Mercy’s sister Elizabeth, the paternal grandmother of Jonathan Edwards, was put aside by her husband in 1691 for a long-term refusal to sleep with him even as she carried on extramarital liaisons; biographers have not been above speculating on the family scandal as an influence upon Edwards. Elizabeth got overdue biographical treatment of her own in Ava Chamberlain’s 2012 The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle: Marriage, Murder, and Madness in the Family of Jonathan Edwards.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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