Granite State mystery: Curious case of Milford’s Carrie Cutter

Everybody loves a good murder mystery, and the more intriguing elements there are, the better.

A granite marker in one of Milford’s oldest cemeteries details how Carrie Cutter was murdered by the leadership of the Baptist Church. She wasn’t actually killed, although the marker reads in part, "It was as if D.D. Pratt have given her a fatal dose of arsenic as it had the same effect." He had "crippled her" and "caused suffering and sickness."

She was excommunicated by the church, her reputation was blackened, and she and her husband were ruined financially by a group of churchmen who reneged on pledges to establish a new Baptist Church in Nashua. She lived the last few years of her life under extreme stress.

David Palance, current president of the Milford Historical Society, was intrigued by the story and set out to learn the details. He has discovered a great deal, including the previously unpublished handwritten notes of George A. Worcester, longtime clerk of the Milford Baptist Association, but says he has several angles that still need to be clarified.

Carrie was born in Milford, one of 10 children of Nathan and Lydia Hall. Her father was a prosperous blacksmith.

She joined Milford Baptist Church, and attended it until her marriage in 1835 to Dr. Calvin Cutter. He had studied at Bowdoin, Dartmouth and Harvard, and established his practice in Rochester, later moving to Nashua.

Dunstable became Nashua in 1836. The population had almost doubled since 1840, and it was decided a second church was needed in the southern part of the village. Second Baptist Church was erected in 1836 on Chestnut Street, and 30 members of First Baptist moved there. But the booming factory economy failed in the worldwide panic of 1867-68.

Under the law, later changed, the dominant church in an area could collect taxes to support a minister. Smaller churches found themselves supporting a church they did not agree with. Members of the First Church backed out of their promises to support the Second, since the First was called the dominant one. Dr. Cutter had invested heavily in the new church.

Worcester notes: "The charges on the stone presumably contain a large amount of truth especially the one that Deacon William Wallace reduced Mrs. Calvin Cutter to poverty as he failed in business here and went to Hartford, Conn., where he died in 1881."

In stating their concerns, Carrie was accused of lying when she read out charges, including that one man had bought his shares in Second Baptist at a discount and then sold them for full price to mill girls.

Dr. Cutter published the allegations in a pamphlet, "The Murder of Carrie Cutter" by the Baptist Ministers and the Baptist Church. He also gave a number of speeches denouncing Pratt and actions of the Democratic Party. The Cutters were staunch abolitionists

Dr. Cutter had the grave marker made in Amherst and erected secretly one night. In the morning, he addressed a large crowd, detailing the accusations. He said his wife was never able to handle the stress. She died in 1842, a month after the birth of her daughter, also Carrie.

The young Carrie was educated at Mount Holyoke Seminary and at a private school in Pennsylvania. In 1861, she was permitted to join her father at Annapolis. He served as a battlefield surgeon during the Civil War.

Carrie contracted typhoid fever while nursing her fiance, Charles Plummer Tidd. She is considered to have died in action, the first woman to do so, and was buried with full military honors. A memorial to her is in Milford, in front of her mother’s.

Palance says there is the possibility of writing a book when he has learned more. I can hardly wait.

Keep up with the past with Another Perspective, which runs monthly in The Telegraph. Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or jessies@tellink.net.