Suicide attempt doesn’t alter life for Johnston man

Posted 5/15/24

On June 9, 1908, an agent representing the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals squared off in court against Welcome Hoyt Cottle, a farmer and expressman who resided on Snake …

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Suicide attempt doesn’t alter life for Johnston man


On June 9, 1908, an agent representing the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals squared off in court against Welcome Hoyt Cottle, a farmer and expressman who resided on Snake Den Road in Johnston. The agent told the judge that he had warned Cottle repeatedly about the inhumane treatment he showed to his horses. One horse in particular, who was totally unfit for work, was ascending a hill when Cottle took it upon himself to violently beat the animal for moving too slowly. He was arrested earlier in the day for ignoring the warnings of the agent, who described him as a heartless man worthy of the harshest punishment.

Cottle was placed in a cell at the Central Police Station to await his arraignment. While one of the officers was making the rounds of the lock-up, he noticed Cottle hanging by the neck from the door of his cell and quickly cut him down. The 35-year-old had knotted several handkerchiefs together and attempted to commit suicide. He had left a note addressed to his wife, Sarah “Lettie” (Elgar), which read, “Dear Lettie, Please forgive me for what I have done. For four years I have tried to do the best I could by you and the children. Pray for me and when the children grow up tell them that I did the best I could for them and ask them to pray for me.”

The officer revived Cottle who was very distraught to find himself still alive. He was taken before the judge again and asked about the present state of his life. He stated that he had a wife and seven children depending on him for support and that he was renting the farm he lived on from Cyrus Brown. No matter how hard he tried to be a good provider, he explained, so many problems and obstacles followed him that he often felt that suicide was the only way to make the misery end.

The judge arranged for Cottle to be examined by two doctors, who diagnosed him with melancholia. He then ordered him admitted to the Rhode Island State Hospital for the Insane so that he was not free to make another attempt at taking his own life. He promised Cottle that his wife and children would be cared for in his absence and that he could leave the facility as soon as his condition improved. Cottle thanked him and promised that he would try to get over his depression and refrain from anymore suicide attempts in the future.

Eleven days later, Cottle escaped from the hospital and there was reason for worry. His path through life had been anything but smooth. The son of Edwin and Harriet (Wing) Cottle, he’d been born in Massachusetts and had first married at the age of 18 in 1891. On the morning of Nov. 23, 1892, his wife Mary (Vallily) petitioned for divorce on the grounds of desertion and non-support. In the time they had been married, she had only spent two or three hours with him as, three days after their wedding, he was arrested on two larceny charges and sentenced to serve a total of almost five years in prison. Mary was granted a divorce and given permission to resume her maiden name.

Cottle had just barely gained his freedom when he was arrested on Westminster Street on the night of Sept. 10, 1896. He had in his possession two horses which had been stolen from E.M. Pierce of New Bedford. Police, as well as Pierce had been looking for him and were just about to give up for the evening when he passed by them in front of the railroad station. When he noticed the officers, he began to run. The chase ended when an officer caught him in front of the Western Union Telegraph Company office.

Cottle allegedly didn’t spend much, if any, time in prison on the charge as he married again on Christmas day of 1897. He was the father of possibly as many as 19 children. Daughter Amy died at the age of three months due to nephritis caused by malnutrition; son Nelson died at the age of three months due to entero colitis and ear infection; an unnamed son was born premature with congenital defects; and son Walter died at the age of three months of gastro enteritis. In 1910, he was awarded a settlement of $600 when a Hartford Fire Department team passed over and injured one of his daughters.

Cottle died at the home he shared with his daughter Bertha and her husband, located on Penelope Place in Providence, at 6:00 on the evening of Dec. 16, 1940. His cause of death was acute intestinal obstruction, which he had suffered from for three days due to a strangulated hernia. He is buried in Pocasset Cemetery where his simple, slender gravestone is merely etched with the number “3838.”


Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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