Surname Saturday: Utter

UtterCrestThe surname “Utter” is of Scandinavian (Swedish) origin, a baptismal name meaning “son of Ottur”, and derived from an animal (otter).  Amandus Johnson, a Swedish historian, believed it to be a distinctly Swedish name.  One source indicates that the name was carried to England as a result of the Norman Invasion of 1066.

In the County of Cambridge the name Edward Oter appeared in 1273.  In 1300 there is a record of Robert Oter in County Suffolk, and an Otur de Insula in Kent in the mid to late 1300’s.  Listed on the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379 was Johanne Otour, and in 1766 Robert Otter married Sarah Henslowe in London.  Alternate spellings of this surname include Ottur, Otter, Oter, Uter and Uttor.

Following are stories of an early American Utter and two of his descendants, one of whose family met a tragic end.

Nicholas Utter

It is estimated that Nicholas Utter was born some time between 1630 and 1637 in Sweden and immigrated to the New Sweden Colony in 1654 (in the area of present day Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania).  Nicholas served as a soldier and by trade was a sword cutler and blacksmith.  According to a genealogy book written in 1941 about Nicholas Utter and his descendants, it is unclear as to his movements after immigrating, but he did eventually reside in Westerly, Rhode Island.

Nicholas was made a freeman on June 13, 1698, which meant he could then own land.  From 1701 to 1714 his name appeared on several land transactions, and he served as a grand juror in the General Court.  In 1714 he migrated to Stonington, Connecticut where he lived until his death in 1722.  His children (first wife’s name unknown) were: Jabez, Millicent, Thomas, Nicholas, Jr., William, and Sarah.  It is believed that around 1670, he married a widow (Elizabeth) with a daughter named Eleanor.  William and Sarah were children of his second marriage.

According to his will he was a “first day Baptist” (Seventh Day Baptist).  One source suggested that perhaps he had originally been a Lutheran and converted when he moved to Rhode Island which had a large population of Baptists.  He distributed various amounts of money to his children and at least one friend, and “the brethren of the first-day Baptist Church at Groton” received twenty pounds.  His wife Elizabeth received a share of ten pounds per year for the remainder of her life and son Thomas received a double share for taking care of his father in his old age.

Jabez Utter

Jabez, the eldest child of Nicholas and his wife Mary had eight children, six daughters and two sons: Rebecca, Mary, Katharine, Beatrice, Elizabeth, Mehitable, Jabez, Jr. and Abraham.

According to Utter genealogy, an incident had occurred in 1715 when Mary and her daughters were forcibly removed from their home by the son of their Massachusetts landlord.  Jonathan Belcher claimed that his father had changed his mind about the deed he granted Jabez, this after Jabez made improvements to the property.  Jonathan gathered a “band of wild young men and a sheriff” and attacked the house where Mary and her daughters were barricaded.  He went down the chimney to gain entry to the home and threw the family out in the wilderness (it was January).  Jabez was absent or else he could have been there to defend his family – he was in jail for stealing a horse.  He was later sued over a land dispute and earned a reputation as a “vagabond fellow” due to the fact that he was thought to be a land grabber who rarely participated in the community at large.

The Utter genealogists of 1941 concluded:

There is no doubt that most of our first families were a rough lot and the second generation may have been rougher than their fathers, having never known a gentler environment, but they must have excelled in courage and industry.  And, in word at least, they were very religious.

Jabez died sometime between the date of the last deed he signed on May 25, 1727 and the death of his wife in February of 1729 or 1730.

Abraham Utter

Abraham Utter(2) was the great grandson of Nicholas through Jabez.  Jabez’s son Abraham(1) had migrated and settled in Dutchess County, New York after leaving Connecticut.   Abraham(1) was the father of Abraham(2).  From this point I’ll refer to Abraham(2) simply as Abraham.

Abraham married Sarah and they had nine children: Moses, Lydia, Mariam, Abraham(3), James, Sarah(2), Thomas, Joanna, and Dorcas.  A descendant of Abraham’s penned an article in 1860, hoping that his piece “might serve as a memento to his posterity and descendants in recalling to mind the toils and sufferings of their ancestors, enabling them more accurately to duly appreciate the blessings and safety they enjoy, which was purchased by the blood and treasury of their ancestry and left them as a rich legacy.”  The two young girls mentioned (Sarah and Joanna) were his mother and aunt, respectively.  A summary of that article follows.

According to the article, Abraham worked hard after entering the world with little or no means.  While he lived in Dutchess County, New York, he maintained a respectable family and gave his children a “fair education”.  On April 5, 1750, Abraham and his family left Dutchess County, along with ten other families, to settle in Pennsylvania.  The trip, although not long, was difficult at times since roads had to be made and bridges built over streams.  The family arrived at their destination, the Wyoming Valley, on the 14th of April.  Abraham, his sons and his negro set about to improve the land and build a suitable dwelling.  That year twelve acres were sowed with wheat.

In 1751 another thirty acres were cleared and sowed with wheat.  The crops were good that year, which spurred the family to work harder.  In 1752, the youngest child, Dorcas, was born and Abraham built a saw mill.  In 1753 two of his daughters were married and returned to Dutchess County.  In 1754 Abraham continued to prosper, building a grist mill.

In September of 1755 a band of Canada Indians took captive and massacred several inhabitants of the valley.  Because the Indians attacked at different points, few had been able to escape.  Abraham, however, had advance warning and was able to take his family away from the area.  He sent his negro back to the house to retrieve some money he had forgotten to bring – he was scalped and horribly mutilated by the Indians.  Abraham and his family were able to escape to a fort about fifteen miles from their home.  Their home, barn, mills, cattle and crops were all destroyed by the Indians.

Abraham wanted to return to his home and in April of 1756 did so, finding everything he had worked so hard to build laid waste.  He and his sons made repairs, built another house, cleared the land and sowed wheat.  By June of the following year, they had built a dam and their mill was back in operation.  That summer they harvested abundant crops.

In early September, Abraham and Moses were visiting Abraham’s brother Moses when Indians walked into his home.  An employee of Abraham’s was seated at the table eating his meal and the family dog, upon seeing the Indians, bit one of them.  The Indians shot the dog, and seeing Abraham’s employee sitting at the table, they grabbed him and took him outside where they scalped him.  The Indians began rummaging through the house looking for food, and although Sarah and her children cowered in fear, she offered to prepare a meal for them.

The Indians took captive daughters Sarah (nine years old) and Joanna (seven years old), leading them outside to watch the scalping of their mother, two brothers (James and Thomas) and sister (Dorcas).  Joanna and Sarah were taken away, Joanna being quite distraught and screaming that she wanted to be killed too.  Sarah was able to calm her down, but the Indians continued down the road, killing their neighbor’s children, capturing the parents and burning down their house.

Abraham and Moses, upon returning to the valley, heard gun shots.  Moses was sure their settlement was being attacked and urged caution, proposing that they wait and advance cautiously later that evening.  Abraham rebuked him, thinking that the gunfire was merely celebratory – the neighbors being overjoyed for their abundant harvests.  When they finally approached their house, they saw two figures in the shadows who stepped outside and let out a whoop and returned inside the house.

When they were later able to safely approach their home, they of course discovered the carnage.  Some of the bodies had already been buried in shallow graves but there were also bones scattered about.  Understandably, Abraham was “despondent and sunk under the weight of his misfortune and never essayed to reoccupy his former possessions.”  He returned to Dutchess County and died February 10, 1779.

Meanwhile, the Indians were making their way back to Canada with thirty-three prisoners.  Three men, Israel Baldwin, Jonathan Mosher and Thomas Quick, were doomed to torture and death, so great was the hatred of the Indian for the white man.  With Israel Baldwin’s wife watching, the Indians took him and tied him to a stake near a fire.  His flesh was stuck “full of fine splinters, dry and easy of ignition”.  They then encircled him with brands of fire, taunting and tormenting Israel, and began their pow wow.  After a time of mentally torturing their victim, they set fire to the splinters.

Other prisoners were stripped naked and forced to run a gauntlet while being poked with spears — they were later tomahawked and scalped.  The Indians arrived at their home with their remaining prisoners.  Sarah Utter was given to an elderly squaw and taught to call her “Suky” (meaning “grandmother”).   Even though in general the Indians treated their prisoners cruelly, the elderly squaw treated her “adopted granddaughter” kindly.  The author related an interesting tidbit about the old squaw:

Whenever the tribe went off on such incursions as above narrated, which frequently they did, this old squaw would pray to the great spirit to soften and mollify the hearts of the Indians and turn them back; she would wring her hand, apparently in great distress, exclaiming O! the poor women and children.

Joanna was given to another squaw as an adopted daughter and was also treated kindly.  Sarah and Joanna only saw each other once after arriving in Canada.  One had been sent to hunt for a pony and the other to hunt for a cow.  Joanna saw an object in the distance and feared it might be some sort of beast or an Indian, so she hid herself.  As the “object” drew nearer, she realized it was her sister Sarah.  They fell into each other’s embrace, but Sarah knew they could not remain together for long.  Joanna was finally persuaded by Sarah to part ways and return to her adopted “mother”.  The two girls thought it unlikely they would ever see each other again and supposed that their entire family had been killed by this time.

After about twelve months of captivity, Sarah and Joanna were part of a prisoner exchange at Niagra.  In September of 1758 the two were reunited and informed by a British solider of the death of their brothers Moses and Abraham.  Although Moses had narrowly missed the massacre, he died soon afterwards – their brother Abraham, a British soldier, had died of dysentery and was buried at Niagra, just four days before the prisoner exchange.

There were about ninety prisoners exchanged, mostly children.  On October 10, 1758 they arrived in New York and every day afterwards were paraded in the streets in hopes that someone would recognize them.  Sarah and Joanna’s brother-in-law, Joseph Adams, saw their names in the newspaper and went to find them.  Upon passing Sarah in the street he did not recognize her.  When he passed Joanna she ran to him and cried out, “Good Lord, here is our Joe!”

Sarah and Joanna were taken to Dutchess County to live with their sisters’ families.  The girls had become so accustomed to the language and habits of the Indians that they had forgotten much of their “vernacular language”, but after a time with family and friends, they were able to adjust.  Sarah married at the age of twenty-four years and the author of the article, her son Thomas Pattison, was born in 1782.  She died at the age of fifty, “the hate, dread and fear of the Indians continu[ing] during [her] life.”  Joanna married at the age of twenty-six and lived until the age of ninety-two.

It was referred to as the “Utter Massacre” and utter it almost was, save for his four daughters.  All of Abraham’s sons were gone – Thomas and James massacred, Moses dying soon after the massacre (Moses had one child) and Abraham dying just days before Sarah and Joanna arrived in Niagra.  If Moses and Abraham had no sons, then Abraham’s direct male lineage ended.

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

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.

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