The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle

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

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 251
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  • Book Info
    The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle
    Book Description:

    Who was Elizabeth Tuttle? In most histories, she is a footnote, a blip. At best, she is a minor villain in the story of Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the greatest American theologian of the colonial era. Many historians consider Jonathan Edwards a theological genius, wildly ahead of his time, a Puritan hero. Elizabeth Tuttle was Edwards's crazy grandmother,the one whose madness and adultery drove his despairing grandfather to divorce. In this compelling and meticulously researched work of micro-history, Ava Chamberlain unearths a fuller history of Elizabeth Tuttle. It is a violent and tragic story in which anxious patriarchs struggle to govern their households, unruly women disobey their husbands, mental illness tears families apart, and loved ones die sudden deaths. Through the lens of Elizabeth Tuttle, Chamberlain re-examines the common narrative of Jonathan Edwards's ancestry,giving his long-ignored paternal grandmother a voice. Tracing this story into the 19th century, she creates a new way of looking at both ordinary families of colonial New England and how Jonathan Edwards's family has been remembered by his descendants,contemporary historians, and, significantly, eugenicists. For as Chamberlain uncovers, it was during the eugenics movement,which employed the Edwards family as an ideal, that the crazy grandmother story took shape. The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle not only brings to light the tragic story of an ordinary woman living in early New England, it also explores the deeper tension between the ideal of Puritan family life and its messy reality, complicating the way America has thought about its Puritan past.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2373-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Who was Elizabeth Tuttle? The most common answer to this question cites a genealogical relationship: Elizabeth Tuttle was the paternal grandmother of Jonathan Edwards. Colonial America’s greatest theologian was born in 1703, the only son of Elizabeth’s second child. He began his career as the pastor of the Congregational church in Northampton, Massachusetts, and, through his powerful preaching and popular revival writings, he became a leader of the international evangelical movement that transformed Protestant Christianity in the eighteenth century. After a theological dispute forced him to leave Northampton, he took a post at the Indian mission in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where...

    (pp. 11-12)

    On the morning of the last Tuesday in May 1690, Richard Edwards was perhaps carefully planing the edge of a pipe stave or tamping a hoop into place around a finished cask. He would not, however, spend this day working in his cooper’s shop. Having more important business, he took off his apron, set aside his mallet and driver, picked up a thick bundle of papers, and set out for Sandford’s Inn, where the Connecticut Court of Assistants met for its twice-yearly sessions.¹ As he entered the court chamber, Edwards likely felt confident that his case was strong. He had...

    (pp. 13-34)

    The story of Elizabeth Tuttle’s unhappy marriage has several possible beginnings. This telling starts with thePlanter, which in April 1635 was moored in the Port of London awaiting its second voyage to the Massachusetts Bay colony.¹ England in the seventeenth century had a flourishing river life, and the River Thames was constantly congested with traffic. ThePlanterwas but one of a bewildering variety of watercraft—pinnaces, ketches, lighters, wherries, barks, shallops, pinks, and sloops, to cite just a few—that sailed its waters at any one time. Although boats were free to moor as they liked, large merchant...

    (pp. 35-60)

    Elizabeth Tuttle’s prosperous family was likely drawn from their Northamptonshire home by the lure of New World opportunities and freedoms. By contrast, Richard Edwards’s story begins with a family in crisis. The crisis was a common one for families living in London’s sprawling eastern suburbs, where poverty, disease, and death were the ordinary worries of everyday life. In the mid–sixteenth century rural wage laborers had begun flooding into the capital city, and its population had exploded. Much of this growth occurred in suburban areas outside the city walls, especially the eastern parishes where low-wage jobs for dockhands, weavers, and...

    (pp. 61-84)

    Elizabeth Tuttle and Richard Edwards were married for more than two decades. Following their rocky start, whatever equilibrium the couple established in their domestic partnership was eventually lost. He began building a case for divorce almost twenty-two years after their wedding, and the petition was granted about two years later. What caused this marriage to break down? Having traced the stories of our protagonists’ colonial beginnings and considered the messy circumstances in which they started married life, we can now begin to piece together a fragmentary answer to this question.

    As with most failed marriages, the story of the collapse...

    (pp. 85-108)

    A year after Mistress Tuttle’s death, the estate contest that had split her family was finally settled. Although her property was “equally divided between the children,” the administrators agreed to grant two significant additional bequests. The youngest son was awarded £39 “for his improvement of the said Estate,” indicating that his argument had proved persuasive. The court also ruled that David Tuttle “in consideration ofhis weaknessis to have four pounds above either of the rest.”¹ “Weakness” is an ambiguous word. It suggests that the fourth son suffered from a disability that required extra expense but provides no information...

    (pp. 109-137)

    In October 1691, the Connecticut General Assembly agreed to free Richard Edwards “from his conjugall tye to his wife Elizabeth.” Unlike the majority of divorces granted in the Connecticut colony in the seventeenth century, this decision had been difficult to reach. Twice denied by the Court of Assistants, Edwards’s plea eventually received a more sympathetic hearing in the Assembly, which also rejected it twice before ultimately ruling in his favor. To mute any criticism, the legislators noted that they had “considered the case with seriousnesse and taken the best advice they could com at by the word of God and...

    (pp. 139-158)

    In the spring of 1718 Richard Edwards knew he was dying. “I have been of the mind all along that This sickness will be my Death,” he told his son Timothy, who kept a meticulous record of his father’s every word and action in the last days of his life. Timothy had traveled to Hartford from his East Windsor parish to join the family and friends who surrounded the seventy-one-year-old man’s deathbed during this difficult time. Four of Richard’s younger children still lived at home, and his married daughters were all settled nearby. His young son Daniel also probably returned...

    (pp. 159-190)

    The first published biography of Jonathan Edwards appeared in 1765, seven years after the theologian’s death. Samuel Hopkins, who had trained for the ministry under Edwards, observed that he wrote the volume not so much as an “act of friendship for the dead, as of kindness to the living.” Nevertheless, in a brief account of his mentor’s forebears he fashions a respectable past for the man he describes as “one of the greatest—best—and most useful of men, that have lived in this age.” Emphasizing the aristocratic elements of the family tree, he notes that Edwards’s English progenitor was...

    (pp. 191-200)

    In December 1693 Hannah Tuttle, the widow of the fifth Tuttle brother, appeared in New Haven County Court and accused a man named Daniel Sperry of slandering her late husband, Joseph, who had died in September 1690. In the intervening three years another awful providence had been visited upon the large Tuttle clan.¹ Once again, a family member had been butchered in a baffling act of intimate violence; once again, a family member had been convicted of homicide. Unlike Benjamin, Mercy had not been executed for her crime. Judged incompetent by the court, she had been sentenced to confinement in...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 201-246)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 247-257)
    (pp. 258-258)