Hiram Adolphus Cutting

Vermont Historical Gazetteer

A Local History of


Civil, Educational, Biographical, Religious and Military



With Histories of

Sutton in Caledonia County, and Bennington in

Bennington County


Vermont Historical Magazine, pp. 729-736




A. M., M. D., PH. D.,

of Lunenburgh, Vermont, born in Concord, Vt., Dec. 23, 1832.

The Cutting family is of Welsh blood; its ancestors specially distinguished themselves in the Holy Wars for the recovery of Jerusalem from the hands of the Saracens, by raising, equipping and commanding a corps of soldiers, and by fitting out and commanding vessels. For this service they received, through the Heraldic College, a coat of arms bearing: "Shield with silver setting of light in red, on a blue relief, and a scallop shell in gold." The Crest is "a silver device - Griffin collared in blue; holding a scallop shell in gold within his claws."

Asa Cutting, the first American progenitor, emigrated from Wales, settled in Massachusetts, and died in 1707, leaving three sons. His great grandson, George Cutting, of Athol, Mass., was a soldier in the Revolutionary army. Oliver Cutting, of Concord, Vt., was the son of George, and the father of Stephen C. Cutting, who married Eliza Reed Darling on the 2d of September, 1830. Mrs. Cutting was a great-granddaughter of James Reed, the first Brigadier General commissioned by the Provincial Congress at the commencement of the Revolution, and one of the commanders in the historic battles of Bunker Hill, Bennington, Valley Forge and Monmouth. General Reed's ancestry was of illustrious character. Directly descended from the Cornwalls of England, who were part of the progeny of Henry II, King of England, he was as near to that Monarch as the royal house of England and France. Henry II was himself a descendant of the Emperor Charlemagne on the one side, and of the Saxon King Egbert on the other.

Royal blood is little esteemed in this republican country, except as it manifests itself in the moral and physical qualities, which constitute the real kinghood of men. Hiram Adolphus, son of Stephen C. and Eriza Reed (Darling) Cutting, derives no adventitious aid from ancestry or wealth. Entering the district schools of his native locality at an early age, he suffered so much from the habit of stammering that he could neither read nor recite aloud, until he was ten years of age. Yet his educational progress was remarkable. Finding the motto: "What I will, I find a way to accomplish" on a printed piece of paper, he adopted it, applied it to the cure of his impediment and in six months wholly relieved himself of that painful affliction.

When eleven years of age he entered the Essex County Grammar School, walked several miles daily to and from it, and diligently appropriated whatever advantages its fall terms had to offer.

Young Cutting, in his sixteenth year, was licensed by the County Superintendent to teach, and was engaged by that official - Rev. Joseph Marsh - to take charge of a school in his district. An average of 45 pupils, of whom one-half were older than the teacher, attended. The superintendent spoke of it "as the best school in the county."

Hiram A. Cutting

The term of the preceptor's engagement was extended from two to three months. His reputation was established, and from that on, until the attainment of his majority, he taught school from three to five months every year. He also attended school at St. Johnsbury East, and the St. Johnsbury Academy, in the spring and fall, - sometimes both - and served in them as assistant teacher.

Agriculture to which he was accustomed had few charms for the young man. Medicine attracted, and from the age of 15 he studied its theory and practice, under the tuition of Dr. Geo. C. Wheeler of St. Johnsbury. Zeal was not always tempered by discretion in his plans of study. Reading that two hours of daily sleep sufficed the need of Napoleon Bonaparte, he attempted to make a similar amount answer for himself, of which the result was a physical break down, that disabled him at the age of 20 from entering the Junior class, for which he was prepared, at college. Life was periled, but he recovered. The health acquired as a land surveyor from his 14th year contributed, doubtless, to speedy recuperation. Such was the celebrity acquired in this pursuit that he has frequently been called upon since then to settle intricate questions relative to boundary lines. His earnings were double those of an ordinary farm hand, and were judiciously laid up or expended in furtherance of ulterior objects. His genius was singularly resourceful and practical. He framed a barn which his father had contracted to do, and so successfully that thenceforward he acted as master mechanic, correctly laying out the work for 10 or 15 workmen on buildings, mills and bridges; much of which was done before and after the daily session of his school.

At 19, he became assistant to D. H. Hill. one of the first proprietors of an itinerant daguerreotype car in Vermont. For this, he was by natural endowment, especially fitted. He had already manufactured a small telescope and a compound microscope, and with the latter had successfully studied microscopic anatomy. He now with the knowledge of the laws of light already gained, readjusted the lenses of the camera, so that they cut a sharper, better portrait, than any hitherto obtained, Business crowded upon the associates, and richly remunerated both. Mornings and evenings he canvassed for subscribers for Sears' Pictorial Histories, and thus doubled his salary. Evening study was, also, assiduously prosecuted, and he found time to conduct a series of experiments upon growing plants and the flow of maple sap. An account of these he published, and other observers have verified his statements, which are now accepted as scientific facts. Many other matters of natural history were scrutinized, and subsequently led him to investigate the food of plants and the proper time for bestowing it. His opinions on these points were much controverted, but are now practically accepted by thousands. The result of his experiments has been the demonstration of the fact that nitrogen as usually applied to the soil, seldom pays its cost; that it is often an actual damage to the crop; and that farmers by judicious experimentation, can ascertain the needs of their own holdings, and thus obtain maximum crops for minimum outlays. (See Agricultural Report of Vermont from 1881 to '84 and '86.) The Doctor's industries are manifold. Jan. 1, 1855, John G. Darling, and H. A. Cutting opened a store at Lunenburgh. Mr. Darling was the uncle of Mr. Cutting and a successful merchant at Concord. The terms allowed either partner to dissolve the association at his pleasure. The partnership lasted 25 years; when Mr. Cutting purchased the entire stock and business and has since carried on the store alone, Mrs. Cutting, in his absence, efficiently taking care of the same.

The year 1866 was the only unprofitable one of his associate mercantile experience. In July a fire, supposed to have been caused by the spontaneous combustion of rags with which the painters had wiped up linseed oil and then cast in a heap, consumed the store with most of its contents. His loss was heavy and was aggravated by the destruction of a very extensive geological collection, and of more than a thousand volumes, mainly scientific works that had been placed in the second story of the building. Not one geological specimen out of 25,000 was saved. The blow was staggering; but by the aid of friends he built a new store and reestablished his business by December after. The new store is 32 by 96 feet with two wings, 24 by 40 feet, in one of which is a lecture-hall admirably fitted up for audience and experiment, seating 150 persons. On the top is an observatory, containing meteorological instruments for recording the direction and velocity of the wind. Accurate meteorological records have been kept by Dr. Cutting from Jan. 1, 1848, to the present.


The Smithsonian Institute provided him with a full set of meteorological instruments, and appointed him one of its special observers. He now acts in a similar capacity for the War Department. His observations, now extending through a period of 50 years, and made at an elevation of 1210 feet, above the sea level, in Lat. 44 28' Lon. 71 41' show the mean annual temperature to be 41.46 and the annual rainfall to be 14.19 inches. The latter includes a mean annual snowfall of 86 inches.

The medical ambition of Dr. Cutting revived as soon as he found himself in possession of a suitable microscope and of the necessary books. As an instrumental investigator, he studied microscopic anatomy and disease for 14 years. He devised new methods of mounting and preserving specimens, which are now numbered by the thousands, many of which are injected and prepared in the best and most scientific style.

In 1870, he and Dr. G. B. Bullard of St. Johnsbury, studied privately under the tuition of Prof. E. E. Phelps of Dartmouth College, and prepared various objects for purposes of illustration. Professor Phelps soon declared he would no longer continue his instruction to Cutting, who was more proficient than his teacher, and insisted he should lecture at Dartmouth. He accordingly announced a lecture by his old pupil, met him at the depot, conducted him to the hall, introduced him to the faculty, and invited an explanation of his methods of study, mounting, comparing, etc., of anatomical objects. This given, the professor presented the lecturer with the diploma of M. D. from the college, accompanying the presentation with a few felicitous remarks. From Nov. 3, 1870, the date of this event, to the present time, Dr. Cutting has made many microscopic examinations for different New England physicians. The results of these labors are as beneficent as they have been accurate and satisfactory. Life has repeatedly been saved from destruction. His professional practice is large, and his skill and success has been the topic of much conversation.

From 1863 to 1888 Dr. Cutting was postmaster of Lunenburgh. Five-sixths of the voters asked for his appointment, and have been rewarded by the increase of the mail service from thrice a week to twice daily, by prompt dispatch of documents, and by the institution of a money order office. His own mail matter was equal in amount to that of all the other inhabitants of the town.

During the war for the preservation of the Union, the doctor proved himself to be worthy of his old crusading and revolutionary sires. Unable by reason of ill-health to serve in person, he enlisted no less than 100 men. He himself made the preliminary examination as to physical fitness; and that with such care that only one man was rejected by the surgeons. The cost of transportation was thus saved to the people. He also, under appointment front Governor Washburn, ably cared for the families of the absent soldiers, as directed by the State law, and when this struggle had ended, he was importuned to collect the bounties, back-pay, pensions, etc., of the veteran patriots, and took out a license as a claim agent and prosecuted hundreds of claims to successful issue. His enemies attributed this success to other causes than the proper preparation of each case in detail; and in 1872 affirmed that he was defrauding both the Pension office and the claimants. The former detailed a special agent to investigate the charges which he found both mendacious and malicious, and reported so warmly in favor of Dr. Cutting, that June 3. 1873, he was appointed examining surgeon of the Pension Office. He also holds the office of special notary public and of master in chancery.

The scientific eminence of Dr. Cutting naturally led to his appointment as State Curator of Natural History, by Governor Stewart, Nov. 4, 1870. This gave him exclusive control of the State collections. Most of them had been purchased of the widow of Zadoe Thompson. The moths had injured or destroyed the birds, and the minerals were unnamed and unclassified. The doctor very soon clothed the whole with a new appearance. Fine specimens represent now the birds of Vermont. The minerals have been rearranged and labeled. Thousands of specimens have been added to their number which is so great as to imperatively demand additional room for their proper display.

Dec. 22, 1870, Dr. Cutting received the further appointment of State Geologist from Gov. Stewart and reappointment from Gov. Converse in 18;2, and was subsequently confirmed in the office until changes should be necessary. In this relation he has rendered material aid to the industrial interests of the State by his original researches into the capability of various building stones to withstand heat and change of climate. He has also ascertained and formulated their weight. specific gravity, capability of resisting pressure and of absorbing moisture. In connection with Prof. G. W. Hawes, late of the Smithsonian Institute, he has microscopically demonstrated the superiority of some Vermont marbles over other American and European products; and scientifically shown that the Sutherland Falls marble stands in the front rank in respect to compactness and durability.

Dec. 24, 1880, Dr. Cutting was by Gov. Farnham appointed to a position in the board of agriculture; was elected secretary at its first session and charged with the arrangement of its meetings and the expenditure of the moneys granted by the State. In this important post he has merited and received universal approbation. His reports from 1881 to 1886 received universally high enconinms.

The editor of the New England Farmer (Feb. 10, 1883) commends it as the best ever published, and recommends that it should be substituted for the reading books now used in schools.

The large number issued has been wholly inadequate to the demand. Reappointed secretary of the board in 1882 and '84.

Millions of dollars would probably be added to the value of agricultural products in Vermont were the outlays for plant food expended in harmony with his views. Whether potash, phosphoric acid, or any other kind of plant food be most needed can, in his opinion be best determined by the observant and judicious farmer. The quantity and mode of application can be decided by wise experiment.

The Connecticut board of agriculture endorse his doctrines, and the United States Commissioner of Agriculture in his report of 1861,'62, gives them the sanction of his authority.

The popular estimate of Dr. Cutting in this special relation is thus voiced by Editor Cheever of the New England Farmer:

Secretary Cutting is wonderfully well informed as a scientist; - being familiar not only with physiology, anatomy and medicine; but is also somewhat of a specialist in the studies of botany, mineralogy, entomology, meteorology and chemistry."

As chairman of the Board of the Fish Commission of Vermont, appointed by Gov. Farnham, Feb. 30, 1881, Dr. C. was no less useful. He at once inquired what had been done, and with what success, and began the survey of unstocked waters.

During 1883, he with his colleague, Herbert Brainard, planted many food carp and trout in all favorable waters, and vigorously did what he legally could to protect the fish already planted. His published report is as worthy of study as his opinions on plant food and growth.

In 1885 he was commissioned as State delegate to the "International Forestry Congress," and in 1886, as representative to the "Agricultural Congress" at St. Paul.

Collegiate corporations and scientific societies have been quick to recognize the many-sided merit of Dr. Cutting's services. In 1868 the Norwich University conferred the degree of A. M. and that of Doctor of Philosophy in 1879. In 1881, he was elected an honorary member of the AΣT Fraternity connected with the college. He is an active member of the Vermont Medical Society and one of its officers; a member of the White Mountain Medical Society of New Hampshire, and several other medical societies; also Fellow of the American Association for the Advance of Science; member of the American Association of Microscopy, member and officer of the Vermont Historical Society; member of the New Hampshire Historical Society; the Wisconsin Geographical Society The Essex Institute, (Salem, Mass.); The Providence Franklin Society American Institute of Christian Philosophy; American Forestry Congress, of which he is vice-president; American Chemical Society; Association of American Economic Entomologists; Society of Naturalists, Rome, Italy; etc., etc. In brief, he is a member - active, corresponding, or honorary, of no less than 89 scientific, literary or medical societies, scattered throughout America and Europe.

His fame as a lecturer is solid and widespread. The clergy of the Methodist, Episcopal and other churches first urged him to lecture on the Bible and Biblical history. In the former of these denominations he is an active and valued member. Next came pressing demands for lectures on the "Revelation of the Microscope," and on kindred subjects.

Popularity brought the usual penalty of excessive requirement. Lecturing twice or thrice daily, an hour and a half at a time, he could not meet the general wish, and he writes his lectures out - though an effective extemporaneous speaker, in order that they may be published and thus reach the more inquirers. In the latter shape they have often been sold to the Western press. The oral utterances have been chiefly confined to New England, and particularly to Vermont. Literary and scientific critics are invariably eloquent in their praise.

The printed works of Dr. Cutting will perpetuate the memory of his eminently useful life for centuries after his tongue has lost its eloquence and his hand its cunning.

He is a paid correspondent of many magazines and papers. His contributions are in the "Boston Journal," The "Christian Herald of Detroit," "The Weekly Call" of San Francisco, "The Architect and Builders News," (Osgood Co.) of Boston, "The Green Mountain Freeman" of Montpelier and in many others.

He has acted as Agricultural Editor of the St. Johnsbury Republican and also Littleton Journal of New Hampshire.

He has published books and pamphlets: "Plant Growth and Fertilization;" several Monographs on Insects, "Ventilation of Farm Houses," -"Mining in Vermont," "Parasitic Insects of Domestic Animals," "Insect Enemies," "Climatology of Vermont," "Microscopic Fungi," - "Notes on Building Stones," "Paper on Plant Growth," "Notes on a hail storm in Concord," "Foretelling Storms," "Catalogue of Birds of Vermont," "Farm Experiments," "Milk," Genesis and Geology," and different "Reports on Ornithology," and Natural History in connection with the State Cabinet. He was associate editor of the Archives of Science; Editor of the Agricultural Report of Vermont, 1861 and 1862, 1863 and 1861, 1865 and 1866, and as such did much literary labor.

The scientific and philosophical apparatus used by Dr. Cutting in his researches are very valuable. His microscope and its connections, including objects mostly prepared by himself are valued at $5,000. Telescope, specroscopic and battery with coil have cost as much more. Chemical apparatus for testing rocks and for the assay of minerals are of the best pattern. A stereopicon and microscopic connections for exhibiting minute objects on screens to an audience, and upwards of 2,000 transparencies for illustrating science and history, are owned by him. He possesses novel and interesting arrangements for testing and analyzing the air, for detecting impurities in rooms, &c., &c. Most of his costly and admirable set of meteorological instruments were manufactured by James Green of New York. His library consists of about 16,000 vols. largely medical and scientific, and selected with skill. He has besides, a good collection of miscellaneous books and documents which he lends to the public, whom he permits to consult his library at will. The building is in connection with his residence. Properly sub-divided, books shelved in glass cases, - with an office-room, 16 by 17 ft. No private collection in the country (to our knowledge,) agricultural, medical, scientific, theological, excels in interest and value. There are not a few single volumes that cost from $25 to $100 each.

His cabinet, attached to the library, and of the same finish, is divided so as to afford the most possible shelf room. The specimens, of the first quality, arc all labeled and arranged in harmony with the designs of Dana, and is richly worthy of minute study. The cabinet contains over 25,000 specimens, and is just what might be expected of the first living scientist of Vermont - 'where rocks are marble.' His observatory is a circular structure with revolving dome, and contains a telescope of first class character, manufactured by Alvin Clarke & Sons of Cambridge, Mass. This is the only observatory in Vermont. The Doctor lectures on Natural Science to the students of the Methodist Seminary at Montpelier, and to those of Norwich University at Northfield. These lectures are highly appreciated. His farming is chiefly experimental. The great crop of his more than 200-acre estate is hay. This some times amounts on his experimental fields at one cutting to 3 2/3 tons per acre. The land is upland. It was worn and neglected when it came into his possession, but has been brought info good condition by the methods recommended in his lectures and writings, and it has far more than compensated for outlays. The stock is young cattle and horses. with cows enough to supply all demands for milk. The Dr. moreover owns a grist mill, a cider, shingle and planing mill, and a butter-tub factory. These properties he pronounces convenient to have, but not remunerative as investments. The Doctor is necessarily a busy man. He thoroughly masters whatever he takes in hand and has no leisure. His excellent memory has been made more retentive by cultivation, and holds distinct and clear whatever has been committed to its keeping. His observant faculties are comprehensive and conjoined with ability to create as well as to understand whatever mechanism he examines. In reading, he absorbs the contents of a book with readiness and ease. He never went to a dance, drank intoxicating liquors, tea, or coffee, and never used tobacco or stimulating drugs in any form. Hitherto, he has eaten common food, only. and his drink has been cold water. His child motto: - "What I will, that I accomplish." has been exemplified, without exception by his whole life.

The Doctor has given liberally to his church, been generous to the poor and to the working classes, retained two of his women servants for 18 years, and all his farmhands for several years or since he contracted for their service, and he finds both men and women willing to exchange their labor for his capital at equitable rates. All his employees are paid on Saturday evenings, and none of them are permitted to drink, smoke, or swear.

Such a man, many-sided, resourceful, positive, bringing things to pass, - must have enemies; it cannot be otherwise, while human nature is what it is; all leaders of the race, to say nothing of the Divine Man, had them. But the issue is sure to vindicate the reputation of those who have freely and honestly given their knowledge, judgment and experimental results to their fellows for the public good. As geologist, metallurgist, mining expert, practical and consulting scientist, he is not excelled in New England, if in the United States. Such a life is a various blessing to mankind.

He was married Feb. 3, 1856, to Miranda Ellen Haskell of Lennoxville, C. E.; Mrs. Cutting died March 3, 1886, aged 54 years.

Their union was childless, but the doctor has an adopted son, Burt A. Cutting, born Sept. 24, 1878.

Posteript. Dr. Cutting in 1886 resigned his State offices and has accepted the appointment under the United States department of agriculture of "State Statiscal Agent for Vermont," which position gives him more time to attend to scientific work as well as to his profession.