Bennington's visitor from the 18th century
Each spring, Mike Cutler puts on his white wig and becomes Colonial Man, spreading the word about Bennington's Revolutionary War history
BENNINGTON — Pre-pandemic, you might have spotted Colonial Man chatting with people on the streets of downtown Bennington, or at Mayfest, Bennington Battle Day weekend and a host of other events. These days, you can find him on his website, https://www.thecolonialman.com/, where you can watch his exploits — a visit to Midnight Madness, or Ye Olde Tavern in Manchester, or the Garlic Festival, where he tries on a garlic hat and talks with visitors. Think of him as a roving goodwill ambassador from the 18th century, unceasingly upbeat, curious and friendly.
In real life, Colonial Man is the creation of Mike Cutler, a videographer, filmmaker and amateur actor who works as a production manager at CAT-TV. We caught up with him at the Bennington Battle Monument one recent morning.
Q: Where did Colonial Man come from?
A: He was born just after the Battle of Bennington. His father fought in it. And that's where he got his great love of history. I found Colonial Man several years ago, in wanting to promote the Battle of Bennington weekend. A: good friend of mine, Mr. Willie Jones, I have to give credit to him because, as Willie said, Colonial Man would be naked without him. This is his costume. He used to read the Declaration of Independence in this costume. It's a little big in spots for me, which I think adds to the authenticity and goofiness of the character. From there, we did a video about the Battle of Bennington in a kind of a funny, quick, less than 10-minute way. And then it kind of took off from there, going to Mayfest, going about town.
Q: So Colonial Man is born out of your personal desire to make people make people aware of Bennington's colonial history?
A: Yeah, I would agree with that. I didn't expect it to become what it is today. I thought, you know, we have this great monument here in town this reminder of our history and the importance of the battle that took place here in helping us to defeat the British. So I think it's important that we honor that. There's only two of these in the country, and we've got one of them.
Q: Do you consider yourself an expert in Colonial era history?
A: I am not an expert. No, no, I'm learning all the time. And I think that's important for anyone — always keep learning. There are several good history buffs in town, Jonah Spivak, Phil Holland, Bob Hoar — they know a lot more than I do.
Q: How would you describe Colonial Man's personality?
A: He is a little goofy. I think he's very off the cuff. He likes to do things, just let it flow and let it be what it is. And I think he definitely takes advantage of any situation, and likes to be the heart of it and the fun of it. Such as walking through Mayfest — which we will unfortunately not have this weekend. It was nice to just converse with people. Participating in CPR training or jump roping with the hospital. He's really game for anything. And I think we like him to be approachable. We want people to come and ask questions, or as many people do, take pictures with him or of him. We want him to represent the history of the area, and Bennington as a whole.
Q: So he's not meant to be taken as authentic, what a person of the 18th century would be like to talk to?
A: No, no, he's definitely not the average cut of the cloth in that time frame. He is equipped with modern technologies to to bring people joy. So that's his role, but he's certainly not a man of that time. He was born then, and he went away for a while and came back recently.
Q: What's the secret to his longevity?
A: That is a good question. I think it's good sleep. Good sleep, and the spirit of Bennington.
Q: Where does he sleep? Is this his home, the monument?
A: Yes. It's a little cold to go out in stockings in the winter, so Marylou [Chicote, the site administrator] and the monument people are very kind to let him slumber in the monument during the winter.
Q: As someone who's been around for nearly 250 years, do you think Colonial Man has any kind of perspective on our history that might be particularly interesting for people in this moment?
A: It's certainly a strange world we're living in these times. But we survived the Spanish Flu nearly 100 years ago. And we did so with masks. Unfortunately, back then we didn't have the modern technologies of today of making vaccines or other drugs that could help, or other modern medical things that we have today. But I think Colonial Man would say that in 1777 we had a quote-unquote virus in this country, you know, the British. And back then we could fight them off with muskets and cannons and things. The enemy we face today, the virus, has to be fought off with smarts — being socially distant with people, washing our hands often, and, most importantly, wearing a mask. I know that's a bit of a conflict these days, but, you know, I certainly think it's important to wear the mask to protect yourself and other people.
Q: Where does Colonial Man's accent come from? He has a particular way of talking.
A: Yes! Who is that? That's a very good question. I don't know where that came from, actually. He kind of talks in a goofy manner.
Q: I've noticed that he doesn't travel by car or bus. When he wanted to go to Manchester, for instance, he walked.
A: He tries to walk, yes. Embraces that green, less-fossil-fuels perspective. But yes, Colonial Man loves to walk. I'd say he's pretty fit. Obviously, he's 200 and some odd years old, he's pretty fit.
Q: He must be missing seeing people out in public and going to events. How does Colonial Man interact with the public when we have this self-isolation going on?
A: I would love to maybe at some point head down to the Four Corners hold up a little sign, you know, "honk for frontline workers," so we'll see if we can get that going. Yeah, it's quite different, because we like to talk to one another, shake hands or high five or take pictures. Colonial Man is lucky enough to have a Facebook page and website, www.thecolonialman.com, where people can go watch his videos or look at his pictures.
Q: What is Colonial Man working on these days?
A: I'm on a committee for this year's Battle Day, and currently the committee is looking at different ideas, whether it's a reverse car parade, or a walk up to the monument from the Catamount Tavern, or a driving parade over to the battlefield. So there's a host of ideas coming forth. And we do know that the governor is still on schedule to come here for that weekend, and Colonial Man will certainly be involved in some manner. As will CAT-TV, obviously, with any filming. What's important is that this is the start to look at great big things for the 250th. In seven short years, we're going to be looking at 250th anniversary of the Battle of Bennington. And that's marvelous! It's fantastic. And, and we need to think about these big ideas today.
I guess a silver lining in the cancellation of the Battle Day parade this year is that it's allowed us to think bigger. Ideas that may not happen this year we've tabled to think about for the 250th. Colonial Man wants to start doing more videos and things to get people excited about that. We're hopefully creating a documentary and a website for the countdown, and hopefully Colonial Man will be a big mascot of the 250th, getting people excited for this.
Q: So it sounds like Colonial Man is keeping quite busy.
A: Today we're going downtown to check out all the things that are happening, from the Putnam Block to the new brewery at the Four Corners to the splash pad to the pocket park. There's a lot going on in Bennington, and, you know, it's great to see so many things happening. It's great for our community. And Colonial Man loves to tie it all back to the great things happening here. It's because we won the battle back in 1777. We're here to make Bennington thrive.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space.
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