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.
About the Author
Ava Chamberlain is Associate Professor of Religion at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She is the editor of The “Miscellanies,” Nos. 501-832 , vol. 18 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.
Table of Contents
Note on Sources xiii
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
About the Author 258
What People are Saying About This
Long before there was Lizzie Borden, there were ax murders, insanity, and torn families in New England. No one has tackled the issues of domestic violence, divorce, murder, and madness in colonial New England in the masterly way that Chamberlain does in this historical detective story. The saga of Elizabeth Tuttle and her extended family sheds a light on the sometimes unpleasant realities of a romanticized past. At every turn, the author grounds the individual tragedies of Elizabeth and her families in the rich context of early modern Anglo-American society, drawing meaning from individual events. Anyone interested in seriously confronting the true past behind Elizabeth's grandson Jonathan Edwards, America's most influential religious figure, must come to grips with this revealing study." -Kenneth P. Minkema,Executive Editor, Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University
"With indefatigable thoroughness, lucid prose, and a clear eye for interpersonal dynamics embedded in court records, Ava Chamberlain has left no stone unturned in describing the tragic aspect of the Edwards family's history. Students of colonial New England will find this deep investigation into the life and legacy of Elizabeth Tuttle nothing less than enthralling." -Amanda Porterfield,Florida State University
"Ava Chamberlain has constructed an amazing little book using shards, simple ingenuity, and adroitly focused scholarship upending a 300 year old myth about Elizabeth Tuttle, the allegedly crazed, sex-starved, divorced grandmother of the great eighteenth-century Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards. Chamberlain recovers a woman who exemplified the tragedy of a failed marriage in a society that, disastrously for Tuttle, saw poisonous accusation as the only way to explain common human foibles. That Tuttle's painful saga opened the way for the careers of both Jonathan Edwards and his father Timothy is only one of the ironies exposed by Chamberlain's ingenious book."-Jon Butler,Yale University
"Recovering a lost chapter of early American intellectual and religious history, Chamberlain reveals not a harridan but a woman whose life was ruined by wrong choices and inconsolable griefs."-Publishers Weekly