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Biography of Ephraim Cutler
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Ephraim Cutler, known in the early history of Athens county as Judge Cutler, was the oldest son of Dr. Manasseh Cutler, and was born at Edgartown, Duke’s county; Massachusetts, April 12th, 1767. He did not receive A collegiate education, but, being an industrious reader; he acquired during youth considerable mental culture, and a large store of useful knowledge. From the age of three years he lived with his grandparents, at Killingly, Connecticut, both of whom he was wont to mention in after life with great respect and affection. His grandfather was a pure and pious man, and an ardent patriot. In a sketch written long afterward, Judge Cutler says:
“I well remember that the express with the news of the battle of Lexington, which was the commencement of the revolutionary struggle, came directly to my grandfather’s house in the night after the battle. He was in bed, and I slept with him. He arose immediately and fired his gun three times, which was, doubtless, the agreed signal, as it was universally expected that there would be an attack from the British. Before sunrise he, with fifteen others, had started for the battlefield. Before leaving he gave a particular charge to his housekeeper to provide carefully for the wants of any soldier who might call during his absence.”
In 1787 Mr. Cutler married Miss Leah Atwood, of Killingly, a lady whose great worth and excellence of character were for many years well known in Athens county. After his marriage he engaged for a few years in mercantile pursuits at Killingly. In 1795 he accepted the agency of the Ohio Company, in which he had been a shareholder from the beginning, and, on the 15th of June in that year, set out with his wife and four children for the company’s purchase in the northwestern territory. The journey was made in the usual way of that time-in wagons across the mountains to the headwaters of the Ohio, and thence down the river in a small flat boat. While descending the river they lost two of their children, Hezekiah, the youngest, and Mary, the eldest, whose remains were buried in the forest on the banks of the beautiful river. They arrived at Marietta, September 18, 1795, having been more than three months on the way, and thirty-one days on the river. At Marietta Mr. Cutler lay sick for several weeks in the block house. As soon as he was able they proceeded to the garrison at Waterford, where they remained till the spring of 1799. The circumstances of his removal to and settlement in Ames, in 1799, are narrated elsewhere. Mr. and Mrs. Cutler brought with them to their new home four children-Nancy and Charles, born in New England, and Mary and Daniel, born in Waterford. All of these, except Charles, are still living. Nancy, now Mrs. Carter, lives in Franklin county, Ohio. Mary, Mrs. Gulliver Dean, lives in Ames township, near the old Cutler homestead. Daniel lives in Kansas and is an intelligent and prosperous farmer.
For the next few years Mr. Cutler devoted himself with great energy to developing the interests of the Ohio Company, and of the Amesville settlement in particular, taking a leading part in all the social, political and educational movements of the day. During the first year of his residence in the territory he had been commissioned by Governor St. Clair captain of the militia, justice of the peace, judge of the court of quarter sessions and of the court of common pleas. He was appointed by the territorial legislature, at its first session, one of the seven commissioners to lease the school and ministerial lands in each township of the Ohio Company’s purchase. In September, 1801, while living in Ames, Judge Cutler was elected to represent Washington county in the territorial legislature. At this legislature, which sat at Chillicothe, the question of the formation of a state government came up, and Judge Cutler and his colleague, William R. Putnam, were the only two who voted against the measure. In doing this they represented the wishes of their constituents, who were opposed to forming a state government so soon. This vote made them for a short time very unpopular in Chillicothe, and for two nights a mob threatened to attack the house where they boarded. In September, 1802, still living in Ames, Judge Cutler was chosen as one of the four delegates from Washington county to the convention to form a state constitution. In this convention, and in the framing of the first constitution of Ohio, he exercised a large influence. Article III, establishing the judicial system of the state, was almost wholly shaped and drafted by him. But the greatest service rendered by Judge Cutler in this convention was his determined opposition to the introduction of slavery into the state of Ohio; for, strange as it may seem, a strong effort was made to fasten this system on the state, notwithstanding the positive language and the solemn compact of the ordinance of 1787. There were delegates in the convention who, representing the sentiments of settlers from slaveholding states, claimed that the ordinance was in the nature of a contract, and was not binding till its terms had been accepted by the new state; and, consequently, that if she chose to reject any portion of the proposed terms, it was competent for her to do so, while adopting her fundamental law and becoming a state. We have not space to describe the contest in detail. A determined effort was made by the party referred to to plant slavery on the soil of Ohio, and the great name and influence of Thomas Jefferson were used to further the attempt. It was then a theory of Jefferson’s that the extension of slavery diluted and weakened it. He desired, or at least professed to desire, its extinction. Judge Cutler stood in the breach, and with all his power and great persistency battled against this movement. His friends rallied around him; he was finally successful, and to Ephraim Cutler more than to any other man posterity is indebted for shutting and barring the doors against the introduction into Ohio of the monstrous system of African slavery.
Mr. Cutler also took a leading part in framing and securing the passage of secs. 3, 25 and 26 of article VIII of the constitution, relating to religion and education.
In December, 1806, Judge Cutler removed from Athens to Washington county, settling on the Ohio river about six miles below Marietta. Here his first wife died in 1807. In 1808 he married Sarah Parker, a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Four of the children by this marriage are still living, the only son, William P. Cutler, being esteemed among the first men in the state.
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