Nina Dutton’s Engagements: Testing the Family Lore

The story that has been passed down in the family has never lacked for sensationalism:

Nina Dutton, the youngest daughter of B. F. Dutton, fell in love with a local doctor and they soon became engaged. Great preparations were made for the wedding. Invitations were sent out and presents were pouring in. But suddenly one day, a woman with a baby in her arms visited B. F. Dutton in his offices at the Houghton & Dutton store and showed him papers proving she was married to Dr. Jones. The marriage was immediately called off and poor distraught Nina was sent to Europe to her Aunt Ellie to recover. Upon her return to America, Nina met John Everhart, a lawyer from Pennsylvania, and they were soon married at Glen Rock, the ceremony being a much smaller affair than the original one planned for her. A few years later, Everhart died suddenly, leaving Nina with two small children. Nina eventually got back together with Dr. Jones and they were married, but against the wishes of her family. The resentment against Dr. Jones among the Duttons was such that he and Nina moved away from Malden to Cape Cod, where they lived the remainder of their lives.

That is the official story. Newspaper accounts, however, reveal it was more complicated than that.

Massachusetts vital records show that Nina and John Everhart were married on September 19, 1900. If the official story above is true, then it can be estimated that her ill-fated first engagement to Dr. Jones probably took place about 1898 or 1899. Surprisingly, the first engagement notice found for Nina in the Boston papers is dated several years earlier than that, and the intended groom was not Dr. Jones!

In the Boston Daily Advertiser of November 2, 1896, the following announcement was published:

Engagement1

At the time of this announcement, Nina was 21 years old and Everhart was 37. For reasons unknown, the marriage did not take place, but this shows that Nina did not first meet Everhart after calling off her engagement to Dr. Jones. She had known him much longer than that.

On January 27, 1898, more than a year later, Nina applied for a U.S. passport, stating that she was “about to go abroad temporarily” and that she “intend[ed] to return to the United States in six months.” A week later, the Boston Herald reported that “Mrs. B. F. Dutton went over to New York on Friday with her daughter, Miss Nina Dutton, who sailed on the North German Lloyd Line yesterday for a four months’ trip abroad.”

Nina was back home in Malden by the summer, since on September 19, 1898, her engagement to Dr. Jones was reported in the Boston Daily Advertiser:

Engagement2

Nina was now 23 and Dr. Jones was a 33-year-old physician with an established practice in Malden. What is particularly extraordinary about this announcement is that it was published on September 19 and the wedding was scheduled for October 6—only two weeks and three days later! This was definitely not the large wedding that family tradition claims was being planned, there hardly being enough time to send out invitations and receive the multitudes of presents that were supposedly flowing in.

It is unclear why the youngest daughter of one of the Boston area’s most prominent families would have wanted such a rushed wedding, and there is obviously more to this story than we know. The “woman with the baby” claim seems doubtful, however, as there is no official Massachusetts vital record that Dr. Jones had been previously married and no record of his fathering a child. Nevertheless, whatever happened, Dr. Jones became persona non grata within the larger Dutton family and again Nina’s engagement was cancelled.

Nina promptly went off, or was sent off, to Europe. While there was no notice of her departure in the Boston papers, the Malden newspaper reported in early July 1899 that Mr. and Mrs. [B. F.] Dutton and Mr. and Mrs. George Dutton “all sailed on the New England this week to pass a few weeks in Europe, to join Mrs. J. B. Claus [i.e., their daughter Ellie] and Miss Nina Dutton, who have been abroad a year [sic].” Mr. B. F. Dutton and wife, Mr. G. C. Dutton and wife, and Miss Nina Dutton all returned to Boston on the New England, which sailed from Liverpool on October 12 and arrived in Boston on October 20, according to the ship’s passenger list.

The rest of Nina’s story falls in line with the family tradition. She became re-engaged to John Everhart and married him the next year. Daughters Helen and Mary were born in 1902 and 1904, respectively. Everhart died the same year Mary was born, and Nina moved back to Glen Rock with her two small children. By 1908 she was seeing Dr. Jones again and they were married in a very small ceremony in Hillsboro, N.H., on September 29.

When B. F. and Harriet Dutton had their 50th wedding anniversary celebration in March 1910, Nina and her family did not take part in the festivities, at least none of them were present for the elaborate family portrait taken on the occasion. The month after the party, Nina’s son Louis B. Jones was born in Malden, and soon after the Joneses moved to Falmouth on the Cape and lived there the rest of their lives.

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