Judge Ephriam Cutler and Constitution
by Henry Robert Burke
Copyright 1998. Henry Robert Burke "Window to the Past"
Dr. Manasseh Cutler's eldest son, Ephriam Cutler, was born April 13, 1767. He was brought up in Killingly Connecticut by his grandfather Hezekiah Cutler. He left Killingly, Connecticut on June 15, 1795 with three shares of stock in the Ohio Company lands, and arrived at Marietta, (Ohio) on September 18, 1795. Two of his children died on the trip. In 1799 he moved from Marietta to Waterford in Washington county. In Waterford, he engaged in the mercantile business.
In May of 1799 Ephriam moved to his 1800 acre farm on Federal creek, where he erected a mill. Shortly thereafter Ephriam Cutler was appointed Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and Justice of the Peace, by the Northwest Territorial Governor, Arthur St. Clair. He was also appointed a member of the Northwest Territorial Legislature and in 1802 he became Washington county's delegate to the Ohio Statehood Constitutional Convention. His anti-slavery contribution to was made by introducing the section to the Ohio Constitution that excluded slavery from the State and casting the deciding vote for Ohio to enter the Union as a Non-Slave State.
By the time Ohio became a state in 1803, Washington county, Ohio had a small but growing population of anti-slavery advocates. As evidenced by events that had occurred in 1793; the invention of the "cotton gin" by Eli Whitney, and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, the anti-slavery advocates realized that slavery in the United States was never going to end on its own. With his extensive contacts with Quakers and other anti-slavery advocates throughout Ohio, Judge Cutler began to organize people willing to assist fugitive slaves. It should be noted here, that while the first two events of 1793 relative to slavery had worked against the anti-slavery principle, one very positive event favorable to anti-slavery also had occurred in 1793.
The Upper Providence of Canada (Ontario) had passed legislation to emancipate their slaves and had banned all forms of slavery. This meant that fugitive slaves from the United States could cross the international border into Canada, and avoid recapture under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. Thus Canada became the safe haven for fugitive slaves from the Southern states, especially those close enough to the Ohio river.
In 1806, Judge Ephriam Cutler established his family's home on the bank of the Ohio river, six miles below Marietta, at Constitution. His home became a staging area for fugitive slaves from south of the Ohio river in Virginia. His effort was the model for Ohio's Underground Railroad. In Ohio an informal system of referring fugitive slaves north to friendly havens called "safe houses" throughout Ohio at ten to fifteen mile intervals. By 1810 more settlers in Ohio were becoming aware of the brutalities of slavery as fugitive slaves told their sad and often terrifying stories.
In 1820 Ephriam Cutler became a trustee of Ohio University at Athens, and worked unceasingly to promote the prosperity of that institution. He was known as an advocate for common schools, introducing the first bill in Ohio for the regulation and support of schools. He was the author of the ad valorem system of taxation, which was the foundation of the credit enabling the State to build and maintain canals. He also was involved with duties for the Presbyterian Church. Judge Ephriam Cutler died peacefully at his home in Constitution at the age of eighty-six, in 1853.
The rural community of Constitution, situated on Ohio State Route# 7 in Washington county, Ohio is located six miles south of Marietta and about five miles north of Belpre. Besides its importance as an early Ohio river Underground Railroad station, it was the site of the Constitution Grindstone Co., one of a few companies that supplied huge millstones for Washington county, Ohio, which furnished about 90 percent of the heavy stone grinding wheels nationwide. The work was hard, but for many years it furnished employment for local residents including a number of African-American men living in that part of Washington County. Washington County Road #3 was the old route of the Underground Railroad that ran from Constitution northwest over the hills, across Barnett Ridge and over to the James Lawson UR station at Barlow.
Around 1861 after the American Civil War had begun, several people were killed in a train accident at Constitution when the engine jumped the track. At least two people were killed and several others were seriously injured. A witness was Civil War Veteran, Solomon S. Male, who was riding the train on his way to Harper's Ferry, (West) Virginia to join his unit, the 148th O.N.G.
From 1842-1853 Judge Ephriam Cutler opened and operated the first Post Office in Constitution from his stone house by the Ohio river. What is unique about Constitution is that it was the only place in the United States with a post office named for the U.S. Constitution. The former Zip Code number for Constitution was 45722. The Constitution was closed by the U.S. Postal System in 1974. The last post master there was Mrs. Naomi R. Morris who operated the Constitution Post Office from 1954-1974. In 1988 I was part of a volunteer crew which erected a small Pavilion beside the railroad tracks in Constitution to symbolize the community that once existed there in commeration of Rev. Dr. Manasseh Cutler and his son Judge Ephriam Cutler who contributed so greatly to African American Freedom in the United States.
Our Thanks to Judge Cutler!