The legacy of the Tuttle family is filled with as much drama as any soap opera. It includes adventure, war, murder and high achievement, along with the hard work involved in building a new country. They would lend their name to sites on the east side of the Qunnipiac River such as Tuttle Road, Tuttle Street, Tuttle Place, Tuttle Elementary School and Dwight Place.
Who were these Tuttles who figured among the most distinguished families in New England and dynasty builders in Connecticut? They would father generations whose influence would touch America from its earliest day. Does the family live on, today? We’ll explore all this and more in this two-part series on the Tuttles of East Haven.
The founder of the Connecticut dynasty, William, was born in England in 1607, and came to the New World as part of Reverend John Davenport’s flock in 1635. William and his wife, Elizabeth Mathews, their three eldest children, his brothers John and Richard, their families and their widowed mother came to Boston in the ship Planter in 1635.
The brothers were wealthy for the time, and had been merchants and land owners in England. They were affiliated with Davenport’s Puritan flock, but were equally interested in trade opportunities in the New World. Many of those who came with Davenport and his co-founder, Theophilus Eaton, to found the New Haven Colony were men of wealth and education.
They first settled in Boston for two years, during which time the three Tuttle brothers were involved in setting up successful businesses. By 1638, Davenport decided to move his flock to New Haven because of its location between Boston and the Dutch in New Amsterdam.
John and Richard remained in Boston, while William brought his family to New Haven. He became one of the 16 original proprietors and signed the colony’s compact. In the list of planters and estates in 1640, his family consisted of seven persons and his estate was rated at £450, a fortune at that time.
William was the social equal of both Davenport and Eaton, who was the first governor of the colony and had been an agent for King Charles I to the Danish court. Seats at the Meeting House were assigned; the closer to the pulpit, the higher the honor. William Tuttle’s seat was the first seat near the pulpit.
Along with other members of the colony, he started setting up trading ventures as far south as Delaware. He was named a commissioner to settle the dispute as to boundary between New Haven and Branford in 1669, and to fix the bounds of New Haven, Milford, Branford and Wallingford in 1672. He was often an arbitrator; and was also a constable.
William Tuttle bought a mansion house, home lot, barn and other lands in the Yorkshire Quarter in 1656. The property was located in the New Haven area bounded by Grove, State, Elm, and Church streets across from the New Haven Green and is now owned by Yale University. When Yale College was founded, it was done so on this property. For nearly 30 years, this was the only land that Yale College owned.
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When he died in June, 1673, his death was apparently unexpected because he left no will. His estate was valued at £440; his twelve children would squabble over it for years.
In fact, without William’s steadying presence, the family went through many crises that would be shocking today, let alone in the Puritan 1600s.
One of his daughters was murdered by her brother, who was then hanged by his neighbors. Another daughter was put into a home for the insane because she murdered her son. Yet another daughter, Elizabeth, was divorced by her husband when he found his first child had been sired by another man.
However, Elizabeth would become the grandmother of the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan firebrand and Yale scholar who would leave his imprint on New England and all the Colonies as a member of the Yale faculty. He would also be the grandfather of Aaron Burr; Third Vice President of the United States, duelist who killed Alexander Hamilton, and power-seeker would be tried for treason in 1809.
came into the picture very early since William actually had his "plantation" or fields here from the very founding of the colony. He often visited a home he owned on the Green to check on plantings, but never moved the family out of the New Haven mansion. Three of his sons, though, would seed the Tuttle name here for later generations.
By 1778, there were several branches of the Tuttle family in East Haven. Two sets of brothers who were first cousins figure prominently in East Haven’s Revolutionary-era history because of what happened to them when the British came calling on the morning of July 5, 1779.
Joseph and Timothy Tuttle were brothers whose property closely adjoined along what is now Townsend Avenue. It had originally been owned by the Morris family of Morris Cove and was located just north of Captain Morris' farm. Tuttle Road and Tuttle Street would have crossed their land today.
Joseph’s farm stretched from Black Rock Fort to Beacon Hill - roughly from the current Ft. Hale Road to Upson Terrace. His eldest son, Josiah, just 16, had joined the militia and was one of the defenders at the Black Rock Fort. When the British ships started pounding that fort, Joseph rushed out to lend his help, leaving his wife, Mary Granger, and six children.
As the British moved north from Lighthouse Point, they scooped up the defenders at the fort who had run out of powder for their cannons, including Joseph and Josiah. The Tory leader of the forces recognized Joseph and when the enemy came to his farm, the Tory pointed him out to the officers in charge.
Joseph was told that his farm would be spared if he pledged his word not to take up further arms against the British. When he refused, his house, barns, and fields were torched.
Just minutes before the invaders arrived at her house, Mary Tuttle had finished her preparations. She had buried the silver and other valuables in an iron kettle under some bushes near the house. Then she loaded up her remaining children, including one baby, in an ox cart and escaped with their ready cash to the northeast to hide overnight in the woods. By then, arriving militiamen from other areas held that area and protected the families hiding there.
Joseph and Josiah were carried away to a prison ship in the harbor and were finally freed six months later. But that wasn’t the end of the war or their story.
Samuel Tuttle, Joseph’s cousin, also turned out to fight that night. His farm lay further north, near today’s Tomlinson Bridge.
After the initial shock of the attack and the gradual retreat of the militia back toward East Haven, Samuel hurried to his farm to load up his wife and children.
He had not quite finished when British marauders arrived. His wife, Bertha Miles, hurrying out of the house with her seven children, saw the troops line up to fire, and told her children to lay down in the tall grass and pray. She later said she believed they were all going to die.
However, the volley went over their heads and, while they had to watch their home being burned, they were allowed to leave. Samuel was also arrested and held for a time before his release.
Joseph’s father, Noah, whose property was on what is now Forbes Avenue, was also burned out that night.
Then, in 1781, just months before the fighting ended, the British returned to blow up Black Rock Fort. By then, Joseph was a coast watcher and Josiah was again in the fort as one of the defenders. On this night, Joseph had a child who was thought to be dying, so he sent his next-eldest son, Daniel, in his place as night coast watcher.
However, he did go check on the fort later in the night, just in time to find a fuse burning that had been left by the British in the powder house. He put it out, saving the fort, but found both his sons had been taken away.
He eventually located both of them in New York and applied for their freedom on the basis of their age. Daniel, only 13, was released, but Josiah was kept on as a waiter for the British officer’s mess.
Josiah would eventually escape, make his way up Long Island, and then steal a boat to ferry himself across to Lighthouse Point. Six months later, the war ended. Joseph’s child did die that spring, and Daniel, who became a sailor like many East Haven sons, died some years later of yellow fever in the West Indies. Josiah married and moved West, ending up near Rochester, NY, and the Erie Canal.
Following the activity of the Revolutionary War, life returned to a more normal rhythm for the various Tuttle families. Samuel’s nephew, Christopher, who had seen action in the war, wooed a young bride, Abigail Luddington, and when they married in 1786, they moved into their home in Foxon.
Today, that house on Maple Street is the oldest home left in Foxon, and is owned Cornelia Whalen. She and her husband, Thomas, bought the home in the mid-1960s and have been its guardian ever since.
“We moved here from Virginia Beach for my husband’s job,” Whalen said. “He was a broadcaster and went to work for Channel 8. We bought this house because it was cheap. I think we paid about $12,500 for it.”
The house may have been inexpensive to buy, but it has required continuous investment toward preservation.
“We raised six children here,” Whalen said. “It has three fairly large bedrooms upstairs and we used the current living room as our master bedroom when the kids were younger.”
Because the interior has been changed extensively over the generations, it has never been considered an historic landmark. By 1987, it needed a major renovation; one that Whalen admits isn't finished yet.
“It has an original foundation of dry stacked stone that needed support, and the window sills had rotted,” Whalen said. “The foundation is recessed about six feet under the house, and then there's an earth barrier around that. When previous owners installed heating and other utilities, they disturbed one wall that needed shoring up."
"I’ve got one room still in insulation and sheet rock that will be my new living room when it’s finished," she said. "However with my boys gone to other parts of the country, work slowed. Then, when they started the Maple Street Bridge work, I stopped completely. The pile drivers they used caused such vibration, I wasn't sure it wouldn't fall down.”
However, the old home escaped mostly unscathed. In fact, as Whalen notes, the modern home next door suffered more damage than hers. She's now looking forward to completing the long-delayed work on her new living room.
Whalen worked for many years at the old New Haven Savings Bank until its merger with First Niagara. She misses the interaction with her customers and colleagues. She had refused any more moves after settling in East Haven, although her husband's job was very transient. After his death, she saw no reason to change her mind. With the children scattered, she's decided the house is just the right size for her. After all, for Connie Whalen, the Tuttles have been part of her life for almost 50 years.
In Part II, we'll be talking with William's 21st century descendants in East Haven.