J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Ammi Cutter and the Old Men of Menotomy

Yesterday I quoted the part of “The White Horseman,” the earliest known story about Hezekiah Wyman on 19 Apr 1775, which makes it also the earliest known story about Ammi Cutter on that same day.

We know that there really was a man named Ammi Cutter in the western part of Cambridge, now called Arlington. The Independent Chronicle newspaper for 1-8 Feb 1776 has an advertisement from “Ammi Cutter of Menotomy” about a two-year-old red steer he’d found.

Ammi Cutter (1733-1795) was a miller and farmer on his third wife, the former Hannah Holden. Like Asahel and Abigail Porter, the Cutters got married in Samuel Perley’s church in Seabrook, New Hampshire; Massachusetts couples went to that neighboring colony if they wanted to marry quickly with no questions asked. In Ammi’s case, the questions would have been:

  • Isn’t Hannah the younger sister of your second wife, who died sixteen months ago?
  • Are you sure you’ll be able to get home before the baby comes?
The marriage took place on 27 Oct 1774. Hannah gave birth to Joshua Cutter on 1 December.

There was, in fact, another Ammi Cutter in Menotomy at the time: the first one’s son (1755-1830). He was “a large man, broad in chest,” who at nineteen almost certainly marched with the town’s regular militia company on 19 Apr 1775. According to the family history, he “is said to have disabled three British foemen on the retreat from Concord.”

And that leads us from the written vital records into unverifiable oral traditions. In his early forties (and with an infant at home), the older Ammi Cutter was reportedly exempted, along with other older men, from marching off to confront the redcoats. Instead, he and a bunch of “exempts,” some of them war veterans, stayed in Menotomy and ambushed a British supply convoy.

How did that story come down to us? The first hint comes in “The White Horseman,” which credits “Ammi Cutter” with masterminding the attack. That 1835 story says, “Ammi had planted about fifty old rusty muskets under a stone wall, with their muzzles directed toward the road.”

A more detailed story appears in the Rev. Samuel Abbot Smith’s history of west Cambridge on 19 Apr 1775, published in 1864. Based on interviews with local residents about what they’d heard growing up, Smith said that the “old men…in all about twelve” chose David Lamson to lead that attack, but he credited Cutter with being part of it. For different parts of that story Smith cited Dr. Benjamin Cutter (1803-1864), the older Ammi’s grandson; Mrs. Lydia Peirce, actually alive in 1775; a Miss Bradshaw, granddaughter of the parish minister in 1775; and Col. Thomas Russell, grandson of Jason Russell.

Smith told two other stories involving Ammi Cutter, citing Dr. Cutter. The same stories appear in two books the doctor drafted and his son William R. Cutter finished: A History of the Cutter Family in New England (1871) and History of the Town of Arlington (1880). According to those books: That makes Ammi Cutter appear crucial to much of what happened in Menotomy on 19 Apr 1775. It may be safer to say that his family was crucial in preserving and publishing the town’s stories.

Because of the contemporaneous reports and the number of people in Arlington who recalled hearing about the event, it’s clear that a group of Menotomy men did ambush British supply wagon. (The “Old Men of Menotomy” historical marker appears above, courtesy of the Historical Marker Database.) Ammi Cutter was most likely in that group, and his family definitely passed down the tale.

One descendant, also named Ammi Cutter and born in 1777, became a prominent merchant in Boston and a captain in the town militia. If he told the story about his grandfather on lots of occasions in Boston, it could have become a well-known anecdote of 19 Apr 1775, attached to the name Ammi Cutter, even before it was printed. And that’s just as “The White Horseman” presents it.

COMING UP: What about “Mother Barberick”?

6 comments:

Greg said...

Hi,

I had often seen her referred to as Mother Batherick.

re: ambush
Maybe you've already read this entry in Dr. David McClure's diary entry from April 19th which briefly mentions the ambush (page 161). It was described to him the day after the battle. You can view it online
http://www.archive.org/stream/diaryofdavidmccl00mclu#page/160/mode/2up

-Greg Aimo

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, as I’ll discuss tomorrow, that woman’s name was Batherick, Bathrick, or Baverick, depending on what old records one looks at.

Thanks for the link to the Rev. David McClure’s diary! I’ve actually been looking for that, and I didn’t know he had further details on the ambush.

Captain Matheney said...

Greetings!

I hope I'm not too late to the dance? I enjoyed your article on Dr. Cutter...and would like to point out (if ye didn't know!) that Ameriah Ruhamah Cutter served (according to B. Loescher's Vol. III History of Rogers' Rangers) as a Surgeon to Rogers' Rangers. "Commissioned May 25, 1757 by Lord Loudoun to be Surgeon to the Rangers." It further states that he left the Rangers on Oct. 10, 1757 "to recover his health." (Loescher, Vol. III, pg. 55) Mayhap his time with the Rangers gave him the wherewithal for later adventures?
Ye Servant,
Christopher Matheney
Captain of Rangers

J. L. Bell said...

In addition to the line of Ammi Cutters in Menotomy and Boston, there were other men of that name in the extended family. Dr. Ammi Ruhamah Cutter of northern Massachusetts/Maine was the surgeon in Rogers’s Rangers. (His name appears in several forms.) The history of the Cutter family has a lot more about him.

Captain Matheney said...

Mr. Bell,
Greetings once again!

Thank you for the further enlightenment regarding the Cutter family. For a moment I thought there may just be a connection between this "Old Man from Menotomy" and Rogers' Rangers. I stand corrected! Thanks also for this incredibly informative blog...I check in regularly, and read enthusiastically. Keep up the great work!
Christopher Matheney
Captain of Rangers

J. L. Bell said...

It was a good possibility. I’m not sure about the Menotomy Ammi Cutter’s military experience, but some of the other “old men” involved in that confrontation definitely fought in the French wars.