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Unraveling the 1694 Murder of Ursula Cutt


Sandra Rusx with Pooty at Portsmouth Historical Society / photo


"Before the end of the week, she saw the end of her life," wrote Cotton Mather. A Puritan minister best known for his role in the Salem Witch Trials, Mather's contemporary report was also brief and offers few details. A century later, Dover historian Rev. Jeremy Belknap added a new element to the story. In Belknap's version, after bringing in the hay that fateful day, Ursula Cutt was planning to dine at her farm with Richard Waldron. Waldron's father, a colonial major, had been targeted and brutally tortured and killed by a raiding party at Dover five years earlier. Legend says that Major Waldron had tricked and ambushed 200 Indians at Cochecho. The captured natives were later taken to Boston and hanged or sold into slavery. His mutilated body, the ears and nose stuffed in his mouth and his hands cut off, was a revenge killing intended to send a fearsome message to other colonists.  

Young Richard Waldron had succeeded John Cutt as colonial president. The powerful Cutt and Waldron families had intermarried. Modern scholars suggest that Ursula was not a random victim. Like Major Waldron, she may have been targeted by Native Americans and their supporters for her politics and her celebrity status.

In Belknap's version the young Waldron and his wife literally dodged a bullet when they met friends in Portsmouth and missed their lunch date at the Cutt plantation. The detail could be fictional. Portsmouth historian Charles Brewster, writing 150 years after the event, claims Waldron discovered Ursula Cutt shot and scalped in her field. Brewster adds a gory detail; the attackers had chopped off her hands. Brewster says the Indians took Ursula's hands in order to steal her gold rings. But the detail, if true, also matches the mutilation of Major Waldron in Dover. Early accounts suggest that locals arrived on the scene before the Indians could burn the Cutt house, and possibly, before the symbolic mutilations were completed. Or perhaps Brewster simply conflated the two stories.

"If you're living in the 17th century," Rux says, "are you going to wear your gold rings out to the field? It is not likely. It's a very strange detail." 


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