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

By Ava Chamberlain | Go to book overview

[ 5 ]
A MESSY DIVORCE

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 learned and worthy divines.”1 Only when cloaked in religious authority did they feel free to overrule the Assistants, who had primary jurisdiction in such cases. This bill of divorce, therefore, represented the culmination of a protracted legal campaign that Edwards had waged over two years and in two separate jurisdictions. As we have seen, however, our story of family failure had a much earlier beginning.

The puritans who settled New England enacted in the Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies the most permissive divorce laws in the AngloAmerican empire.2 In seventeenth-century England, because regulation of marriage was part of canon law, its termination fell under the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts. No divorces permitting either party to remarry (divorce a vinculo matrimonii) were granted—only annulments if there was proof of a pre-existing impediment, such as incest, impotence, or bigamy, and legal separations (divorce a mensa et thoro) on grounds of either adultery or extreme cruelty. In the 1690s, Parliament began passing private acts of divorce with the right to remarry for wealthy members of the aristocracy whose wives had committed adultery. Such legislative divorces were rare and

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Note on Sources xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Prologue 11
  • 1- Hardy Puritan Pioneers 13
  • 2- Three Struggling Patriarchs 35
  • 3- A Brutal Murder 61
  • 4- A Criminal Lunatic 85
  • 5- A Messy Divorce 109
  • 6- The Inheritance 139
  • 7- Blood Will Tell 159
  • Conclusion 191
  • Notes 201
  • Index 247
  • About the Author 258
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