In Episode 330 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger take a cemetery safari in Milford, New Hampshire, to visit the final resting place of Caroline Cutter. Cutter died in 1842. Her headstone features a 150-word tirade against specific members of the Baptist church in town. When small-town church gossip makes it to a headstone, it becomes immortal.
BECOME A LEGENDARY PATRON:
JOIN OUR SUPER-SECRET:
New England Legends Facebook Group
[WALKING ON SIDEWALK]
RAY: It’s a cold January day here in Milford, New Hampshire, Jeff.
JEFF: It is, and it’s about to get a little colder here in a minute, Ray. Let’s head up this small hill here on Elm street and go through those gates.
[CREAKING IRON GATES]
RAY: Okay, now we’re in a cemetery. It’s not very large. About an acre in size. And it’s surrounded by a short stone wall. There’s a few hundred headstones in here.
JEFF: The cemetery was established in 1788, the second in town. And there’s 40 Revolutionary War soldiers buried here.
RAY: Cool. So this is an historic place.
JEFF: That it is. We’ve said before that every headstone tells some kind of story.
JEFF: It’s a literal monument saying: This person was here. Even if it’s just a last name and two dates.
RAY: I agree. The Reader’s Digest version of a life.
JEFF: And sometimes we come across an epitaph so epic, that the story is all laid out there for all to see. Let’s head over here by the gate.
RAY: Woah! Look at that! This headstone is covered in words. I’ve seen newspaper articles shorter than this.
JEFF: This is a grave of Caroline Cutter, she died in 1842. What follows is a diatribe of venom, making this not only the longest epitaph we’ve ever seen, but maybe one of New England’s few HATEstones.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 329 of the New England Legends podcast. Happy New Year! It’s our first episode of 2024.
RAY: And Happy New Year from your old buddy Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. Legends like ghosts, monsters, aliens, roadside oddities, true crime, and the just plain weird. We’re glad you’re with us. So many story leads come from you, so please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. Don’t assume we’ve heard the story before. We’re all in this search together.
JEFF: We’ll get back to this epic epitaph after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. We’ve gone on cemetery safaris before.
JEFF: We have.
RAY: And we’ve learned that one path to immortality is to leave something funny, weird, or confusing on your headstone and people will talk about you for ages.
RAY: Back in Episode 182, we saw the headstone that read: Should have been the wife of Simeon Palmer in Little Compton, Rhode Island.
RAY: In Episode 187, the grave of Joseph Palmer reads: Persecuted for Wearing a Beard.
JEFF: Who could forget that.
RAY: But this… this is something else.
JEFF: Yes. This one is different. Those other headstones begged some questions of those reading the monument. This one spills it all. Now, I know we’re not the most church-going folks in the world.
RAY: No. Weddings and funerals these days.
JEFF: The person who wrote this lengthy epitaph had a serious beef with the local Baptist church. I’ve got some religious friends. Though churches are supposed to be welcoming and friendly places, anyone who has ever been involved in the local politics of a particular church will tell you it can get ugly, gossipy, and all the other things that can happen when you’ve got adults trying to vie for influence and attention.
RAY: It’s the same at the local PTA meetings, town meetings, and neighborhood meetings.
JEFF: Exactly. But the beef surrounding Caroline Cutter must have been something special.
RAY: I should say so! This headstone… or HATEstone names names.
JEFF: That it does. Many of them! It’s a regular tombstone tirade. So let’s go back to the year 1838 and watch them spill the tea.
RAY: It’s September of 1838 here in Milford, New Hampshire. Martin Van Buren is president of the United States, back in January Samuel Morse demonstrated his new invention called the telegraph. There’s no question that will soon change the world as information can be transmitted over great distances at the speed of light. But here in Milford, New Hampshire, news is moving almost as fast as it does along Morse’s telegraph. The hot gossip in town is centered on the Baptist Church.
JEFF: For months, Dr. Calvin Cutter has been trying to get members of the church to fund the construction of a new church building in town. The Baptist community has been growing to the point where they’re going to need more space. Dr. Cutter has been saying how he’ll put up much of his own money to fund this new church, but he needs some help.
RAY: And while everyone loves the sound of a new church building, the logistics, finances, and everything else surrounding the project doesn’t seem realistic to many. Including the Rev. D.D. Pratt and Deacon Albert Adams. In fact, they suspect Dr. Cutter is pulling some kind of scam. That maybe he’s not willing to put up his own money at all, and maybe he’s trying to swindle other members of the church into handing over their money. That maybe he’s skimming.
JEFF: Scandalous! At first, the Reverend and the Deacon try to talk Dr. Cutter. They reason maybe they should lead these fund-raising efforts.
RAY: …But Dr. Cutter isn’t giving up. And his wife, Caroline is behind him. She’s doing all she can to rally support in the church among the wives who will hopefully influence their husbands.
JEFF: The effort is dividing the church, too. Some perceive this as some kind of power play by the Cutters to try and gain more influence in the new church. Others suspect Dr. Cutter is some kind of shyster.
RAY: It’s now September. The Reverend D.D. Pratt and Deacon Albert Adams have had enough. They accuse Caroline Cutter of lying in a church meeting. The scandal rocks the church community here in Milford. Pretty soon the church committee meets and decides to kick the Cutters out of the church without giving them a chance to defend themselves. Once they’re shunned by their church, Caroline becomes despondent.
JEFF: These kinds of things happen all the time in church communities. There’s a disagreement on direction, internal power struggles, and sometimes people quit the church, others get kicked out. But the Cutters never forgave their Baptist foes.
RAY: Caroline Cutter is a broken shell of a person. She soon takes ill… and passes away.
JEFF: Meanwhile, her husband, Calvin is as furious as ever at their former church. He can’t let his rage go. Caroline’s casket is brought to the burying grounds…
[DIG DIG DIG]
JEFF: And laid to rest. But Dr. Cutter has one more protest to make. One more statement. And it’s a big one. He has the grave diggers place this headstone he commissioned over his wife’s grave.
RAY: Wow. Look at all of those words.
JEFF: GO ahead and give it a read, Ray.
RAY: It says: Caroline H., Wife of Calvin Cutter, M.D. Murdered by the Baptist Ministry and Baptist Churches As follows: September 28, 1838; aged 33. She was accused of lying in church meeting by the Rev. D. D. Pratt and Deacon Albert Adams Was condemned by the church unheard. She was reduced to poverty by Deacon William Wallace When an ex parte council was asked of the Milford Baptist Church, by the advice of their committee, George Raymond, Calvin Averill, and Andrew Hutchinson. They voted not to receive any communication on the subject. The Rev. Mark Carpenter said he thought as the good old Deacon said, “We’ve got Cutter down and it’s best to keep him down.” The intentional and malicious destruction of her character And happiness as above described destroyed her life. Her last words upon the subject were “Tell the Truth and The Iniquity will come out”
JEFF: That’s 150 words of fury. A tombstone tirade!
RAY: We can only hope the person who carved the headstone was paid by the word.
JEFF: And that he didn’t make any mistakes and have to start over. Looking at this stone I don’t think you could have squeezed in so much as another comma.
RAY: Not at all.
JEFF: So, an Ex parte council is like an emergency meeting where a ruling body—usually a court of law—makes a quick decision without having all of the facts. Those legal decisions are supposed to be temporary until such time as a proper hearing can take place. But that didn’t happen here.
RAY: I can only imagine this furious epitaph must have been a thorn in the sides of everyone named on here.
JEFF: Talk about spite, right? On the one hand, that’s quite a middle finger sitting here in the middle of Milford. On the other hand, Dr. Cutter isn’t exactly husband of the year for this move. No mention of beloved wife and mother, good neighbor, or anything. It was just one more opportunity to air his grievance. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: As we said, this story isn’t unique. Church communities see this kind of thing all the time. But airing it out on a headstone for all to see. That IS unique. And Dr. Cutter got his wish. Here we are STILL talking about it. We say the names and no one is left alive to defend themselves.
RAY: There’s one more Cutter headstone here worth talking about.
JEFF: Definitely. And it’s just a couple of feet away from Caroline.
RAY: So it’s not really a headstone because this person isn’t buried here. It’s just a monument.
JEFF: Right. After Caroline Cutter died, Calvin Cutter remarried a woman named Carrie Hall. The two had a daughter July 28, 1842. The daughter was also named Carrie. Sadly, Carrie—the mom—died about a month after childbirth. But her namesake and daughter went on to some acclaim. In 1861, while her father was serving as a surgeon with the Twenty-First Massachusetts Volunteers in the Civil War, Carrie joined her dad as a nurse. She served in battle zones and aboard ships tirelessly. Sadly, she died from fever when she was only 19. None other than General Burnside ordered that Caroline Cutter be buried with full military honors. She’s buried in Newburn, North Carolina.
RAY: And this monument sits here in Milford, the town of her birth. The story is printed on the plaque, as we mentioned just a few feet from Caroline Cutter. Lots of words on both, but two wildly different stories.
JEFF: The amazing thing to me is Caroline’s headstone is nothing but small town church gossip. If I were at some kind of cocktail party and someone was spilling all this tea naming names from their local church, I would literally walk away from that discussion simply because I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me, I don’t know the whole story, and it’s not my problem. But man oh man… if they put that discussion on a headstone? Now you have my full attention.
RAY: Your full attention is something we can’t live without. And that brings us to After the Legend where we dig deeper into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
JEFF: After the Legend is brought to you by our Patreon Patrons who are the lifeblood of our community. They financially support us in everything we do. We appreciate them more than we can ever say. They help with our hosting, production, travel, and marketing costs. This is the way the world is going. You have the power to make shows like ours more successful and long-running by helping the cause. All we ask is $3 bucks per month and for that you get early ad-free access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to here. You even get your own unique podcast feed so you can get those episodes in whatever podcast app you use. To sign up head to patreon.com/newenglandlegends. We’d consider it your holiday gift to us.
To see some pictures of Caroline Cutter’s epic HATEstone, click on the link in our episode description, or go to our Web site and click on episode 330.
Be sure to subscribe to our podcast if you don’t already. And another big way you can help us to is to post a review. Those reviews help raise us up in a crowded sea of podcast. And then tell a friend or two about our show and our Super Secret Facebook group. Share our episodes on your social media. All of that goes a long way to building our community.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, thank you to our patreon patrons, and our them music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.