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?
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:
- After Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould was captured while riding to Boston for medical care, men took him to Cutter’s house. (Incidentally, Gould would have his own quickie wedding when he returned to Britain.)
- Cutter told Jason Russell that it was dangerous to try to shoot regulars from his house near the road. Russell persisted, and was killed.
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”?