CUTLER, THOMAS, lawyer, jp, office holder, judge, militia officer, politician, and merchant; b. 11 Nov. 1752 in Boston, fifth child of Thomas Cutler and Sarah Reade; m. 3 March 1783 Elizabeth Goldsbury, probably in New York City, and they had five children; d. 8 Feb. 1837 in Guysborough, N.S.
Thomas Cutler was descended from a family resident in Massachusetts for more than a century. Educated at Yale College, he graduated in 1771 and settled at Hatfield, Mass., where he is said to have studied law. He joined the British forces in Boston at the outbreak of the American revolution and in September 1778 was proscribed in the Massachusetts Banishment Act. Serving first as a captain in the Volunteers of New England, by the end of the war he was established in New York as an assistant barrack master. In September 1783 he was commissioned ensign in the Orange Rangers, apparently because regimental rank offered greater possibilities for compensation and advancement.
Cutler and his wife were evacuated to Nova Scotia late in 1783 as part of the refugee group known as the Associated Departments of the Army and Navy, composed principally of headquarters staff. The group first settled at Port Mouton on the South Shore, but after a harsh winter marked by quarrels with other loyalists moved east to Chedabucto Bay. On 21 June 1784 they landed at the head of the bay, where the village of Guysborough was already beginning to take shape. Along with his fellow veterans, Cutler was granted farm land along the Milford Haven (Guysborough) River as well as town and water lots in the village.
Cutler’s legal training and administrative experience stood him in good stead in his new home. He sat as one of the justices of the peace at the first sessions for the district, held in November 1785, and served as the first town clerk for Guysborough. He was later appointed judge of probate for Sydney County and a justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. For many years Cutler held a special licence to conduct marriages. He was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the newly organized Sydney County militia in July 1794.
In 1793 Cutler was elected to the House of Assembly for Sydney County. He and fellow refugee John Stuart were the first local residents to represent the district, which had returned two Haligonians in the previous election. Cutler took little part in the work of the assembly: he attended only two sessions and did not contest the election of 1799.
Like most pioneer inhabitants of rural Nova Scotia, Cutler turned his hand to a variety of occupations. He continued his legal practice and is said to have trained William Campbell*, later chief justice of Upper Canada. Cutler is chiefly remembered, however, for his commercial activities. As early as 1792 he was listed as a merchant in the district assessment rolls, and in the 1790s he was appointed to several local customs offices usually held by prominent traders. Cutler also took an interest in the agricultural development of the district, serving as one of the first vice-presidents of the Guysborough and Manchester Farmer Society, organized in 1819 in response to the enthusiasm generated throughout the province by John Young’s Agricola letters.
Local tradition honoured Cutler as “King” Cutler, reflecting his widespread influence in the county. Eulogized for his “strict and known integrity, loyalty, and ability,” he is remembered as one of the founders of Guysborough.
PANS, MG 100, 129, no.40; RG 1, 169, 171–73, 223. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 23 Feb. 1837. F. B. Dexter, Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale College, with annals of the college history (6v., New York and New Haven, Conn., 1885–1912), 3. J. H. Stark, The loyalists of Massachusetts and the other side of the American revolution (Boston, ). Harriet Cunningham Hart, History of the county of Guysborough (Belleville, Ont., 1975). A. C. Jost, Guysborough sketches and essays (Guysborough, N.S., 1950).