Wednesday, June 18, 2014
For years Leigh Fischer, of Charlotte, N.C., has known Georgetown as her family’s home for the summer. But it was only recently she learned Georgetown is more than just a vacation retreat for her family.
“I recently became interested in genealogy and as I started to research my mother’s side of the family I discovered my great-great-grandmother was born in South Carolina, and her grandmother lived in Georgetown.”
Fischer’s great-great-great-great-grandmother was Elizabeth Cuttino Smith.
Fischer discovered the Cuttino family has a long legacy in Georgetown. Originally “Cothonneau,” the Cuttinos were French Huguenots who settled in Georgetown in the late 1600s.
Elizabeth was one of five, or possibly six, children of William Cuttino and Elizabeth Coon Cuttino. William was a builder and constructed two houses for his daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, on Prince Street. The “William Cuttino Houses,” 421 and 417 Prince Street, are still standing today.
Fischer said in her research she discovered the two homes are unusually close to each other because the father wanted his daughters to be able to talk to each other from across the alley.
Interested in learning more, Fischer visited the Huguenot Society of South Carolina in Charleston and purchased a copy of “History of the Cuttino Family” by Emery University professor G. P. Cuttino.
In her reading she found William and his children in the book: Elizabeth, 1773 – 1827; Mary 1774 – 1811; Peter, 1786 – 1833; David William, 1789 – 1820; and Benjamin Thomas, 1797 – 1852.
Although only five children were listed, Fischer came to discover there was another brother, Henry, 1794 – 1856.
The book describes much of the family’s lineage and includes a photo of the two Prince Street homes.
It also included images of portraits of Elizabeth, Peter and Benjamin Thomas. In searching for more images of Elizabeth on the internet, Fischer came across a color photo of the portrait. She discovered the original portrait, which was painted in 1825, was listed for sale at a Nashville antique store.
“I called the store and told the owner the whole story and said I wanted that portrait, it should be in the family.”
She spent $4,000 on the painting and now it hangs over her mantle.
“It fits perfectly into my home.”
Elizabeth was “no great beauty,” Fischer said, and her family has fondly nicknamed the painting “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
Once she discovered the portrait of Elizabeth, Fischer began searching for the painting of Peter.
She found him in Rome, Ga., in the home of Susan Cuttino Gilbert Harvey, a distant relative and descendant of Peter Cuttino who had inherited the portrait.
Fischer found a kindred spirit in Harvey, who was also interested in the family genealogy, and had many resources to share.
Among them was a memoir she wrote in honor of her cousin, George Peddy Cuttino, the author of the book Fischer bought from the Huguenot society.
According to Harvey, G. P. Cuttino published a piece of Georgetown history in the Georgetown Times in the 1970s, a story he called the “Merry Widow of Georgetown,” but is also commonly known as “The Fire Story.”
In the story, Esther Ann Toomer Porter tried to murder the Cuttino family three times of the course of several weeks by hiring a family slave to burn their houses down with the family inside.
Porter was jealous of Peter’s eldest daughter, Mary, who was going to marry the man she loved, Anthony Dozier, a junior partner at her dead husband’s law firm. Peter eventually caught the slave and found out about Porter’s intents, although she was never convicted for her crimes and the slave was eventually hanged.
The Cuttino family lost everything in the fires. They searched the ashes of their home for melted silver, which was reforged into flatware. Harvey has two pieces of the family flatware – spoons – which she received as a wedding gift.
Harvey also had a memoir her grandmother wrote when she was searching for family information. Harvey’s grandmother traveled to Georgetown in 1935 and later in 1940, both times in search of Cuttino family history. She wrote in April of 1940 she visited a cousin, Julia Smith Pope, who was living at 421 Prince Street.
In Pope’s house, Harvey’s grandmother found many family heirlooms including a portrait for Elizabeth Coon Cuttino, the children’s mother, and a portrait of Henry Cuttino, the missing sibling.
“She also had a portrait of Peter Cuttino’s brother ‘Henry’ and he looked very much like our portrait of Peter,” the memoir states.
According to the memoir, Pope was not cooperative and Harvey’s grandmother left empty handed.
The missing brother has perplexed Fischer and Harvey.
“We think Henry is still around, and we would like to know where Henry is,” Fischer said.
Fischer has never been inside either of the Prince Street homes, although she did knock on the doors during her most recent visit to Georgetown. No one was home.
Since discovering her family history, Fischer said she always stops at the cemetery on Hwy 17 to visit her ancestors. Elizabeth and Henry are both buried there.
The Baptist church the cemetary belongs to burnt down years ago; now it’s flanked by a Pizza Hut and the Carolinian Inn.
“I stop there every time I come to pay my respects.”
Fischer said, now she knows of her family history, she hopes to one day move back to Georgetown.
And, she said, as long as she keeps visiting the town that holds so much history for her family, she will continue to search for Henry Cuttino’s portrait.