Unraveling the 1694 Murder of Ursula Cutt
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
Page 1 of 3
Two cheeky, slightly creepy, wooden cherubs may be among the oldest artifacts at the Portsmouth Historical Society. The hand-carved toddler-sized figures have been greeting visitors to the museum for almost 100 years, but they are much older than that. And they come with a story. These figures once decorated the home of Ursula Cutt who was murdered in 1694. (Read the story below)
The Ursula Cutt story is deeply embedded in Portsmouth lore. The earliest and most authoritative account comes in a single sentence from Rev. John Pike. On July 21, 1694, Pike wrote in his journal: "Mrs. Ursula Cutt, with three others, was slain by the Indians as they were busy about hay upon her plantation near Boiling Rock."
"That's all he wrote," says Sandra Rux. "That is the most primary resource."
This old house
As curator of the Portsmouth Historical Society, Rux has been digging for the truth about Ursula Cutt and the two wooden cherubs. She points to a photograph of Ursula's house taken around 1900. It shows a good-sized two-story home with a large central chimney, and many additions. The two cherubs are clearly visible standing above the front door. The house burned in 1912, but the wooden figures survived. They became part of the museum collection when it opened in 1920.
Early accounts locate the Cutt farm somewhere between Boiling Rock and Pulpit Rock, not far from Freeman's Point in the North End. That puts it, according to Rux, near present-day Osprey Landing and Spinnaker Point, where the plantation also encompassed what became Wentworth Acres and the former Wentworth School. But photographs can be deceiving.
"Ursula had a house here before her death in 1694, " Rux explains. "However, it was definitely not the house as shown in the picture ... She did not have such an elaborate house."
An probate inventory taken after Ursula's death described a two-room house including an "upper room" with a fireplace, her bed, cooking pots, sewing supplies, eight books, and her reading glasses. Ursula likely had a servant who lived in the "lower room."
Ursula Cutt was no ordinary citizen. She was the second wife of New Hampshire's first president, John Cutt, who died in 1682. Ursula inherited a piece of farmland and, legend says, she was an industrious hands-on manager. After decades of peaceful relations with Native Americans, however, the Piscatqua region was being hit hard by Indian reprisals in the late 1600s. Colonists were massacred in Dover, York, Hampton, and elsewhere. Three days before the Cutt attack in Portsmouth, some 94 settlers had been killed or kidnapped at Oyster River, now Durham. Legend says that, despite being warned of marauding Indians, Ursula elected to stay at her farm until the all-important hay crop was gathered in. It was a bad decision.
CONTINUE with ax murder of Ursual Cutt
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