Surname Saturday: Nutting

NuttingCrestThe Nutting surname is Anglo-Saxon and derives from the Middle Ages English name of “Cnute” which became popular after a Dane by the name of “Cnut” became King of England in 1016.   According to the Patronymica Britannica:

Ferguson derives this name and Nutt from Knut, or Canute, the Danish personal name; Knut was derived from a wen or tumour on his head. It is however worthy of remark, that the hazel, Anglo-Saxon hnut-beam, gave rise to several names of places, from some of which surnames have been derived, as Nutfleld, Nuthall, Nuthurst, Nutley, Nuthampstead. The names Nutter and Nuttman are also probably connected with this tree-signifying, perhaps, dealers in its fruit.

Another possibility as to origin is that the surname was derived from the Old English word “hnutu”, which meant brown.  It could have been a nickname given to someone with a brown complexion since the English have an old saying “brown as a nut”.  For instance, in A Study in Scarlet  (Sherlock Holmes), one line reads: “Whatever have you been doing with yourself, Watson?” he asked in undisguised wonder, as we rattled through the crowded London streets.  “You are as thin as a lath and as brown as a nut.”

A 1379 Yorkshire poll tax record lists a “Willelmus Nutyng”.  Other spelling variations include Nutt, Nutter, Nudd, Nuttman, Knutt, to name a few.  John Nutting immigrated from England as John Winthrop’s land steward and is considered the progenitor of all Nuttings in America – his story follows.

John Nutting

Some believe that John Nutting was born sometime between 1620 and 1625 to parents John and Elizabeth Rawlings Nutting.  There is, however, a theory that he may have been a child in 1618 since a copyhold deed found among (John) Winthrop papers read: “John Nutton (Nutting) a lifelong tenant of one moiety of the lands of Groton Manor”.  The grantee named was John Nutton, Senior.  This would imply that there was a John Nutton (Nutting), Jr., and therefore that he had been born prior to 1618.

One source believes that John Nutting (Junior) immigrated in 1639, although it seems unclear as to when exactly he made the voyage across the Atlantic.  Nevertheless, the first solid reference to his presence in the Massachusetts Colony was the record of his marriage to Sarah Eggleton on August 28, 1650 in the town of Woburn.  Before their fifth wedding anniversary, three children were born:

John – 25 Aug 1651
James – 30 Jun 1653
Mary – 10 Jan 1655

The town of Chelmsford was incorporated in 1655 and the Nutting family decided to migrate westward.  More children were added to their family:

Josiah – 10 Jun 1658 (died 10 Dec 1658)
Sarah – 07 Jan 1659 (died in infancy)

The pastor of their church in Chelmsford, Reverend John Fiske, kept a notebook and recorded the following about the Nutting family:

“Their Admission to the Church “29 of 4*, ‘56 (1656)”

“This day testim: was giuen touching Jo: Nutting & his wife, by Isa. Lernet, Sim: Thompson, and Abram Parker.”

“13 of 5, ‘56, …. there was joyned to the Church Jo: Nutting, after his Relation made, . . . assent given to the p’fession of faith & Cov’t of the Church.”

“It. Jo: Nuttin’s wife, hr Relation being repeated by the officer of the Church.”

“Three of Jo: Nutting’s Children baptized, – John, James, Mary.  3 of 6, ‘56.”

“(Date uncertain) Josiah Nutting, Br. Nutting’s child, baptized.”

“13 or 12, 59, Sarah Nutting, dau. of Br and sister Nutting, baptized.”

Around the time John and his family removed to Chelmsford, John Winthrop petitioned the Great and General Court for a new plantation at Petapawag which bordered Chelmsford.  The Nutting family, being longtime friends of the Winthrops, began to consider yet another removal to the new settlement which would be called Groton, named after Groton Manor, England.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Nuttings and two other families who were considering the move to Groton were met with opposition from the Church.  Nutting family historian Reverend John Keep Nutting wrote:

To us it would seem strange for a member about to remove from one town to another, to be expected to ask leave from the church.  In those days it was quite different.  Each new settlement was in reality, so far as all local interests were concerned, a small nation by itself.  Its voting citizens were the members of the church – none others.  And upon these the town rested for defence and for up-building.  Solemn vows bound these to mutual defence and helpfulness.  When therefore three leading families proposed to leave Chelmsford, it was no small matter.

On September 9, 1661 the following was recorded:

“On this day the three Bre: Ja: Parker, Ja: Fiske, Jo: Nutting, ppounded to the church: That they, haueing some thoughts and inclinations to a Remoue, desired to ppound it to the church, that (as they may see God to make a way for them) they may have the church’s loueing leaue so to doe, &their prayers for them, for a blessing of God vpo: their undertaking.”

The pastor . . . put it to vote, to see if . . . they should giue their grounds. . . .”

“Heerpo: scarce a man in the church but p’sently said, ‘The grounds The grounds!’”

The discussion (and controversy) continued for awhile apparently:

“After much Agitation, . . . ca: to this Result for answr. That the case was doubtful to us at present . . . (but if the brethren) shall in the meane time setle them in their pposed way . . . we shall leaue the matter with God.”

Following a vote on December 23, 1661, there are no more mentions of the three families until they are granted letters allowing them to join the Groton church.  So, perhaps the removal took place either in late 1661 or early 1662.  John Nutting had proposed that his move to Groton would allow him to settle near the meetinghouse there.  On September 21, 1663 a vote was recorded wherein John Nutting was appointed the janitor of the meetinghouse:

Sep: 21:63 It is agreed by ye Towne with John Nuttin & voted that he the said John shall keepe cleane the meeting house this ye(ar) or cause it to be kept cleene & for his labors he is to h(ave) forrteen shillings.

John immersed himself in the civic affairs of his new hometown.  In November of 1663 he was chosen as a selectman, the highest office in the town.  He was subsequently re-elected to the same office in 1667 and 1669.  In 1668 he took on the additional office of constable.

More children were born to John and Sarah after their move to Groton:

Sarah – 29 Mar 1663
Ebenezer – 23 Oct 1666
Jonathan – 17 Oct 1668
Deborah (not recorded)

Their home was said to have been large and secure enough to serve as a garrison in Groton, especially during King Philip’s War (1675-1678).  King Philip was the name the English gave to Metacomet, the war chief of the Wampanoag Indians, he being the second son of Massasoit.

After the colonists arrived they made an alliance with Massasoit, and for the most part peace was maintained, although increasingly the English were making deeper incursions onto Indian lands.  After Massasoit died, Metacomet ascended to leadership and began to realize that his land was slowly but surely being overtaken by colonists who wished to explore and live farther west than the original settlements.  At the time, Groton was one of the most westward of settlements in the colony.

With stirrings of war the settlers began to prepare by fortifying five homes (John’s being one) which would serve as garrisons.  Trouble began on March 2, 1676 when Indians pillaged deserted homes and took cattle and swine.  On March 9, four settlers were attacked – one was killed, two escaped and one was taken prisoner (later escaping).

On March 13, approximately four hundred Indians made their way to Groton, led by a chief named Monoco or Monojo – the settlers called him “One-eyed John”.  Early that morning, guards at John Nutting’s garrison saw two Indians “skulking about”.  Those stationed at the garrison probably assumed there were no other Indians close by and decided to attack, but it turned out to be an ambush.  John Nutting, a corporal, was one of the leaders.

GrotonAttackAs the attack escalated, panic ensued and several fled, including some of the men.  A second ambush was mounted by Monojo and his warriors.  They took over the garrison and kept the battle going until nightfall.  According to family historian John Keep Nutting:

Night put an end to active hostilities, but Monojo called up Captain Parker, reminding him that they were old neighbors, and held quite a conversation with him.  He discussed the cause of the war and spoke of making peace.  He naturally ridiculed the white man’s worship of God in the Meetinghouse, seeing that God had not helped them.  He boasted that he had burnt Medfield and Lancaster, would now burn Groton, then “Chelmsford, Concord, Watertown, Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Boston”, adding, “What me WILL that me DO!”  The chronicler, however, is pleased to add to his account that not many months later this boaster was seen marching through the Boston streets which he had threatened to burn “with an halter about his neck, wherewith he was hanged at the town’s end”, in September of the same year.

John Nutting had been killed in the first attack.  Historians presume that, as records indicate, the Indians cut off his head and “did set it vpon a pole, looking unto his own lande.”  Apparently the rest of his family had safely escaped.  John Nutting died defending his home, family and friends.  Sarah’s name appeared a few months later in Woburn town records, referred to as “Widow Nutting”.

An apt summary of John Nutting’s life was penned by Reverend Nutting:

It is equally certain that he was truly a pious man.  Among the things he coveted, was a home “nigh to the Meetinghouse”, so that he and his wife and his “smale childr:” might not miss the beloved “ordin:”.  His humble position as sexton or janitor of the Meetinghouse, both at Chelmsford and at Groton, could not have been because he needed the trifling stipend, but rather because he felt it to be an honor to be “a door keeper in the house of the Lord.”

 Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.

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