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Underground Railroad Research Forum

Re: Nutter Brothers and UGR
In Response To: Nutter Brothers and UGR ()

I'm the one who made the connection between the four separate murders of Nutter brothers at Nutter Farm, Ritchie County, WV, and the oral history which says Nutter Farm was a station of the Underground Railroad. I don't have proof of a connection between their deaths and the Underground Railroad. But clearly it is beyond coincidence that, on four separate occasions, over a ten year period, someone murdered sons of the pioneer Levi Nutter.

I'm a native of Ritchie County and a direct descendant of Levi Nutter. In 1997, I worked as a reporter for a local paper and was asked by the editor to write something about the history of Nutter Farm. I included a sidebar piece about the "Mysterious Murders of the Nutter Family," in which I invited any reader who had knowledge about these murders and the motive or motives behind them to come forward with information. The first murder was in 1852, well before the Civil War, and the last murder was 1862, after the war began. A feud did not seem likely.

It was not until 2000 that I learned from Henry Robert Burke that oral history (which he learned from Jess Hicks) reported Nutter Farm as a station of the Underground Railroad. The first words from my mouth, on hearing of the oral history, were "No wonder they were murdered." By that time, I had written news features on local history of the UGRR. A Ritchie County man named John Wass was assassinated July 12, 1863 because of his work as a conductor. A man from a neighboring county, the Rev. Luke Jaco, was once shot and left for dead. Jaco operated a station of the UGRR at his inn near West Union, Doddridge County. So it seemed only logical that attacks would be made on the Nutters if they were involved in Underground Railroad activity at Nutter Farm.

The Rev. Luke Jaco may have been a religious influence on the Nutter family. He had reason to visit the neighborhood often. Jaco's sister, Mrs. James Terry, lived just three miles from Nutter Farm. And Luke Jaco is buried in the Terry Cemetery near Nutter Farm.
I should mention that Nutter Farm was never a city or town. Levi Nutter owned hundreds of acres of good land at Nutter Farm, near the county line between Ritchie and Wood Counties, and also just a few miles from the Pleasants County line. Levi was wealthy for his time, but his will mentions no slaves. So Nutter's farm was not a slave owning plantation.

The shortcut to the Ohio River from Nutter Farm was up the Marietta Run Road. The headwaters of Marietta Run is on the south side of a high ridge. The north side of the ridge is the headwaters of Bull Creek, which empties into the Ohio River. The north side of Bull Creek is Pleasants County, while the south side of the creek is Wood County.

I searched for evidence of Underground Railroad activity on Bull Creek, by reading Pemberton's history of Pleasants County. According to this history, local people were suspicious of several Quaker families who came down from Pennsylvania before the Civil War and bought land on both sides of Bull Creek. (For those who don't know, West Virginia used to be part of Virginia and was slave owning territory). And the historian noted that a secret influence seemed to be at work in Pleasants County, causing several slaves to run away. These Quakers would surely have known the Nutter family.

The first brother to be murdered was Thomas Nutter, who in 1852 was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff after he was already handcuffed or bound. The law officer was a Lowther.

Thomas' brother William Nutter was killed in 1856. William was riding horseback on the Myers Fork Road when a man named Reece threw a rock which struck William in the head, causing the injury from which he later died. William was able to continue riding to the home of his widowed sister-in-law, Deborah, the widow of Thomas. Deborah took care of William till he died. The estate of William Nutter was being administered in 1856. A man named Henry Reece was tried for murder during the September 1857 term of circuit court in Ritchie County. The verdict was not guilty. During the April 1853 term of court, William Nutter was charged with larceny. Court records do not say what he was accused of stealing. If he assisted a fugitive slave in escaping, he could be charged with larceny.

It has to be said that the Nutter brothers seem to have occupied much of the time of Ritchie County's prosecuting attorney. The attorney was Cyrus Hall, a member of the 1861 secession convention in Richmond. Hall voted to join the Confederacy. Obviously he was pro-South. His mother was a Lowther, so he was related to the deputy who shot and killed Thomas Nutter. (My grandmother was also a Lowther).

Thomas Nutter had been under three 1861 indictments at the time of his murder: trespass, felonious assault and battery with intent to kill. During the Spring 1853 term of court, the Ritchie County Circuit Court dismissed these charges agains Thomas Nutter "the Defendant having recently departed this life." Court records are silent on the name of the alleged victim of the attack by Thomas Nutter.

Matthew Nutter was indicted during the August 1854 term of court for racing. I wish I understood what was meant by racing. If it meant horseracing, surely that was not a crime? Perhaps it meant he was riding horseback at an unsafe speed? If the Nutter brothers were engaged in Underground Railroad activity, riding horseback when moving a fugitive slave to the next station might require "racing" at breakneck speed. Was Matthew Nutter riding to escape pursuit by a law officer? The court record raises more questions than it answers. Nutter family historians were vague about the death of Matthew. "Matthew Nutter was murdered. Matthew's death remains a mystery, but he too died a violent death." His estate was probated in Ritchie County in 1862 or 1863 (I can't find those notes tonight).

The other Nutter brother murdered was Jonas "Tone" Nutter. Tone Nutter "was slain by being hit over the head with a sled standard in the darkness of the night -- a blow which was meant for old Tom Hobbs." "Jonah" Nutter was indicted during the Spring Term of court in 1853 for a misdemeanor. During the August 1854 term of court, Jonas Nutter was confined in the county jail. Land records show that on August 15th, 1854, Jonas Nutter sold his share in his father's estate to his brother John for $250 cash which he used for bail. That is the last reference I can find to Jonas, so his murder must have come soon after his release on bail.

In 1997, I knew nothing about oral history of the Underground Railroad at Nutter Farm. In my news article, I wrote, "Does anyone out there know why these killings took place? Was it a result of violence caused by the Civil War? Or did these men bear a family birthmark which read, 'Murder me'?"

Four separate motives for murder seem unlikely. I have to suspect this was the war before the war. Violence caused by the same forces which brought about the Civil War. I'm still looking for evidence. Maybe some other Nutter descendants will come forward with more information.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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