THE BATTLE OF THE FROGS:
The direst fray in all
To shake King Georges crown,
Was when the Bull-frogs marched at night
Against old Windham Town.
A few years since, while traveling
in the Northwest I met a party of Eastern tourists at the Falls of
St. Anthony. Among them was our honored historian, George Bancroft.
After a pleasant introduction he exclaimed, From Windham, Connecticut!
Yes, I said, I acknowledge the Frog! Here is one perched
on one of our bank notes. It is the Windham coat-of-arms; and the
note was handed round with much merriment. Most of the party were familiar
with the story of the frogs, but for the amusement of those who were
not, it was briefly repeated.
It was the summer of 1758, during the memorable French and Indian war,
when bloody incursions were being made all along the northern boundary.
Windham was then a frontier town, the most important in eastern Connecticut.
Colonel Eliphalet Dyer, a prominent citizen and one for whom the enemy
so loudly clamored, had just raised a regiment to join the expedition
against Crown Point, and many of the bravest men of the town were already
in the field with General Putnam, battling with the savages. Rumors of
massacre and bloodshed were in the air, and doubt and apprehension had
taken possession of every heart. No wonder the inhabitants were filled
with alarm when, one dark, foggy night in July, they were aroused from
midnight slumber by sounds such as no mortal had ever heard before. Parson
Whites negro, returning from a nocturnal carousal, appears to have
been the first to hear the startling clamor. Rushing frantically to his
master he exclaimed, O Massa, Good Lordie Massa, dont you
hear dem comingde outlandish?
Sure enough, the parson heard and raised an alarm that brought from their
beds as incongruous a mass of humanity as can well be imagined. Women
and children shrieked and cried and ran hither and thither, adding to
the general din and hubbub; while men armed themselves valiantly to meet
the foe. The night was pitchy dark and the direction of the sounds not
easy to determine. At first they seemed to fill the whole heavens, which
led many to believe the day of judgment was at hand; but a wise old darkey
declared de day of judgment couldnt come in de night.
Distinct articulations were at length imagined, and there was no longer
a doubt of their source. Any army of French and Indians was at hand calling
loudly for Colonel Dyer and Elderkin tootheir prominent
lawyers. Every man who had a gun, sword or pitchfork rushed up the eastern
hill whence the clamor now seemed to proceed, but no foe was met and
darkness covered all. Borne through the hollow night, the
dreadful sounds continued, while the dauntless pursuers, utterly confused
and bewildered, stood with their arms awaiting the dawn. The solution
of the mystery was then made clear. A mile away to the east of the town
was a marshy pond, the home of thousands of batrachians, large greenbackers
and mottled little peepers, such as often make night hideous. A drought
had reduced their pond to a narrow rill, and for this the poor thirsty
creatures had fought and died like Greeks at the pass of Thermopylae.
Tradition says thousands of the dead frogs were found the next morning
on both sides of the rill, and the terror-stricken Windhamites turned
their prayers to praises for so gracious a deliverance.
The above is the simplest and we believe the only authentic account of
the most wonderful, and at the same time the most ludicrous event in
our early history. The occurrence certainly made old Windham famous,
but it does not appear that the actors in the comedy very much enjoyed
the merriment a their expense. The Windhamites had long been the terror
of the county. Their practical jokes are traditional. The tables were
fairly turned upon them now, and as the story flew, gathering increased
strength in its flight, fresh outbursts of retaliatory fun were borne
in upon them from every quarter. Rhyme and dogerel circulated freely,
and ballads of the frog fight were sung both in high places and low.
Even grave clergymen condescended to banter, and a letter from the Reverend
Mr. Stiles of Woodstock to his nephew, a Windham lawyer, is still extant,
in which the spirit of fun is manifest, while its puns are atrocious.
It is related that once, when Colonel Eliphalet Dyer was went as a delegate
to the first congress held in the city of New York, his arrival was greeted
with shouts of laughter. Alighting from his carriage he found a big bull-frog
dangling from the hinder part, hung there, presumably, by some wag en
route. Whatever may have been his feelings at the time, the inhabitants
of Windham have long since ceased to be sensitive in relation to the
affair. The story is their own and they love it wherever it is told,
and they love the old pond, with its fragrant lilies, which vandal hands
are attempting to drain and destroy.
Of all the exaggerated accounts of the above, the most marvelous and
untruthful is that of the Reverend Samuel Peters in his General
History of Connecticut, which President Dwight unhesitatingly called a
mass of folly and falsehood. He stated that one night in
July the frogs of an artificial pond three miles square and five miles
from Windham, finding the water dried up, left in a body and marched,
or hopped, for the Willimantic river. Taking the road through the town
which they entered at midnight, bull-frogs leading, pipers following
without number, they filled a road forty yards wide for four miles in
length, and were several hours in passing the town. This is a fair
sample of the whole book, and proves its author a very Munchausen for
THAT LITTLE GOD BACCHUS:
Travelers on the old stage route from
Providence to Hartford cannot fail to remember a quaint little figure
perched on the outstretched arm of a great elm that stood directly
in front of the Staniford House. The figure represented the jolly
god Bacchus, nude and chubby, sitting astride a cask and holding
in his arms before him a basket of fruit, grapes, lemons, peaches
and pears, all colored so naturally as to tempt the youthful passer-by.
The image had a saucy look. There were great dimples in his chin
and cheeks, a roguish laugh in his shining black eyes and on his
parted lips. Grape leaves and clusters of grapes circling his head.
His naked body had the look of flesh, and he sat astride his red
cask with an air of festive enjoyment. This strange figure had a
most singular history. On the 10th of June, 1776, the Americans captured
in Long Island sound the British ship
Bombrig, Captain Sneyd, of the royal navy, with all her officers
and crew. Four of the prisoners, including the captain, were brought to Windham
and lodged in the old jail, where they remained for several months. Their names
were Edward Sneyd, commander; John Coggin, boatswain; John Russel, ships
carpenter, and William Cook, seaman. The fate of their fellow prisoners is
unknown. The widow Carey, afterward Mrs. John Fitch, was at that time landlady
of the inn adjoining the jail, and her kindness to the prisoners warmed their
hearts with gratitude and incited them to the only return in their power, the
carving of a wooden image for a keepsake. The subject was well chosen for those
times when conviviality and good cheer were supposed to be the special attractions
of a country tavern. Russel, the carpenter, was undoubtedly the suggester and
master workman, as he had served an English apprenticeship and understood the
carving of figure-heads as well as the fashioning of masts. In some way they
got possession of a huge pine log, and with no other implements than their
jack knives, they assailed it as the sculptor assails the block of marble to
bring out the hidden image it conceals. Many days of wearisome captivity were
thus beguiled and brightened by this labor of love; but little could they have
dreamed that they were thus transmitting their own names and history to future
In due time the work was completed and presented to their kind benefactress,
who placed it as a sign in front of her hotel, where it remained until
her marriage with Mr. John Fitch, when it was removed to the old Fitch
tavern. The heirs of Mr. Fitch are said to have sold it to the landlord
of the Staniford House, by whom it was placed on the outstretched arm
of his great elm to smile a welcome to coming guests. For a quarter of
a century it enjoyed this lofty elevation, when a storm, more fierce
than had ever before assailed it, hurled poor Bacchus to the ground.
One arm was broken, but with the other he clung firmly to his basket
For some time the pretty wine god had been frowned upon by some of the
straiter of the modern moralists as an emblem of license, rather than
of hospitality; so with the temperance movement, bruised and sore, the
innocent little fellow, like Dicens poor Joe, was forced to move
and for three years lay in the vile obscurity of a wood house. But better
days were dawning. A true son of Windham discovered his retreat at last,
and for a paltry sum became possess of one of the finest historical relics
of the revolution.
After surgical treatment and a fresh coat of paint Bacchus was taken
to New York for exhibition, and old friends who chanced to see it were
surprised to behold there the pet of their childhood. In 1872 it was
removed to Hartford and placed in the window of A.E. Brooks, where it
still remains, gazing roguishly out on the passers-by and telling its
wonderful tale of the past to the thoughtful inquirer.
Many anecdotes are related of it. While on its way to Hartford a lady
in the car saw it and was filled with indignation that a monstrosity
should be allowed to travel thus. Her wrath was only appeased when the
history of the singular traveler was explained and comprehended.
An old lady, leaning on a cane, was walking slowly up the street in Hartford
when she came to a sudden standstill at sight of the well remembered
Why! If there isnt Bacchus, she was heard to exclaim.
I havent seen him for years and years! and she went on murmuring, for
so many, many years. What memories of childhood that figure evoked.
Before closing this brief sketch it may be of interest to the reader
to know the fate of those British prisoners who wrought under so many
discouragements so lasting a mark. Their story was published in the New
London Gazette of November 29th, 1776. By some means the four men had
managed to escape from jail and make their way to Norwich, hoping to
reach Long Island and regain the British army.
The Gazette says: Tuesday night last, one John Coggin, late boatswain
of the Bombrig who, with the three other prisoners broke
out of Windham jail, was found on board a brig in this harbor. He gives
the following account of said prisoners, viz: That the night after breaking
out of jail they, with one Lewis, who was taken in a prize vessel captured
in New York harbor by a party under Captain Nathan Hale, stole a canoe
near Norwich Landing, in which they attempted to cross the sound to Long
Island, but at the entrance of the Race near Gull Island the canoe upset,
when all of them except Coggin were drowned. Coggins story
is probably true, as nothing was ever heard of the men afterward, although
Captain Sneyd was an officer of ability and high rank in the British
Heartfelt sorrow for the fate of the gentle mannered men whom the fortune
of war had placed in their midst for a season was undoubtedly felt by
many a good Windhamite who read the above; and the token of their gratitude,
wrought with such skill and patient care, was the pride, not only of
its fair recipient, but of the whole town. No one lives now who looked
upon it then. Children and childrens children have passed away,
old animosities are forgotten; a New World has sprung from the wilderness
with more than a century of growth and unparalleled prosperity, but that
little image remains as a link to the past. Were it mine I should write
upon it the names of the four prisoners and Sacred to memory.
THE HOUSE THE WOMEN RAISED:
The women of the American Revolution
were worthy of being the wives and daughters of brave men. Strong
and courageous, they were not only the inciters to patriotism, but
most ardent workers in its cause. They accepted privation and sacrifice
as a pleasure, and took up the burdens imposed on them with a cheerfulness
that made them light. It has often been stated that at one period
during the war not an able bodied man was left in Canada parish.
The women planted and harvested, then had their merry huskings; pulled
the flax and hatcheled it, and had their spinning bees; thus aiding
and encouraging one another while keeping the wolf from the door.
These same women were undoubtedly the first celebrators of the declaration
of American independence, not with cannon and drum beat, but in a
much more novel manner.
Only the parish minister, well advanced in years, an old doctor,
and a one-legged carpenter, represented the adult manhood of the
place; all were in the army. One of these men who left with the first
volunteers had been collecting lumber preparatory to the erection
of a new tenement. As months passed and he did not return, it occurred
to his wife to set the lame carpenter to work and have the frame
ready against his coming. When this was done and still the army claimed
its soldiers, another idea was suggesteda proposition to the
women to have a merry-making on the 4th of July, and with the instructions
of the carpenter, to raise the house. Never did proposal meet a heartier
response, and on the morning designated, the young girls and strong-handed
women were assembling from every quarter of the town, ready for service.
Before nightfall a frame, two stories and ample, was ready for covering,
the carpenter insisting that never before in his experience had a
building gone up so smoothly.
A few years since, when the good people of Hampton were celebrating the
4th of July, a patriotic address was made by the late Governor Cleveland,
in which he told the story of the house the women raised and the names
of the parties interested. At the close of the exercises a procession
was formed and marched to the spot, where three hearty cheers were given
to the brave women who celebrated the 4th of July for the first time
in so remarkable a manner, and who left behind them a monument of strength
and courage, we venture to say, unparalleled in history.
THE BLACK SHEEP:
Baa! Baa! Black sheep,
Have you got any wool?
Some one of our colonial ancestors
brought over from the Old World a heraldic bear with a crown on its
head, and called it the family coat-of-arms. It became obsolete with
our independence. Were we to choose another, it would be a black
Historic mention has often been made of the seventeen cousins from one
school district in the second society of Windham who enlisted in the
revolutionary army, and of their noble record. In that cold winter of
1777-8, a regiment of the continental troops was ordered from Rhode Island
to New Jersey. The line of march lay through Connecticut, only a few
miles south of the home of these cousins, the survivors of whom were
scattered far and wide in the ranks of the patriot army.
One of these, a mere youth, who had already seen more than a year of
hard service, was a member of the regiment which was making its way to
New London. So near his home, he felt a great desire to see his mother
and friends, and at his request his kind captain gave him permission
to turn aside for a single night. The February snow was falling thickly
when he reached the homestead, and the ragged soldier, powdered and white,
was not at first recognized. His aged grandmother was dozing in the corner
arm chair, with her knitting work in her lap; his mother, who had been
busy at her loom, left it to question the new comer of news from the
army; while his young sister was stirring a pot of bean soup for the
family dinner. The poor boy was too much overcome at first to speak,
but a moment after was weeping in his mothers armsweeping,
not for himself, but for the darling son and brother who went forth with
him to return no more. Poor Willie had fallen in the woods of Maine in
that terrible march of Arnold to Quebec.
It was long before the old grandmother would be satisfied that the poor,
ragged, famished-looking youth was her own sturdy boy, her especial pet
and favorite; but when convinced of his identity, her knitting needles
clicked louder than usual, while tears streamed down her furrowed cheeks. I
knew poor Willie would never stand soldiering, she said after awhile,
but Jimmie was stouterbuilt just like his grandfather. He has come
home all skin and bones.
Not quite, Granny dear, he said, turning and caressing her in his
old way; you just see me eat now!
His sister had just placed before him a bowl of warm soup, which he devoured
eagerly, while his mother unbound the rags from his travel-sore feet
and washed them, then drew on a pair of warm socks and a pair of his
fathers half-worn shoesbetter than he had seen for months.
The clothing they sent him in autumn never reached him, and the government
had done nothing for its soldiers that winter, except to furnish a scanty
supply of blankets.
Never mind, Jimmie, his sister said cheerfully, we can make
you another suit before you go. We have just commenced the summer cloth.
I have to leave in the morning, he replied, rather sadly.
My regiment broke camp yesterday, and is on its way to New Jersey to
be ready for some early movement. My orders are to be in New London to-morrow
What a damper his words cast over their joy! Only one night, and what
could they do for him in that brief period? There was not a yard of cloth
in the house, except a few yards of white flannel which had been sent
to the mill in autumn and returned undressed, as the clothier had gone
to the army. There was not a yard in the neighborhood, nor an inch for
sale in the market. What could they do? A bright thought flashed through
the young girl' mind. Her little brother had just come in from
the barn, and was sitting on Jimmie's knee. She whispered something in
his ear, and he was off in a moment.
Do you remember Dido, Jimmie? she asked her brother.
Youd better believe I remember her, he said. Whatever
became of the ugly imp?
She is alive and well, and has turned patriot.
Dido was a black cosset, given to Hettie by one of the royalists, who
left the country at the commencement of the war, and was as vicious a
creature as could be imagined. Nor another sheep on the farm would eat
at the same rack with her, and she had to be confined in the winter in
a solitary outhouse. Before her brothers left home they advised their
sister playfully to tie the kings documents around the critters
neck and make a colonial messenger of her, or else send her to England
with the other black sheep.
Nevertheless, Dido had been tenderly cared for by her young mistress,
to whom she was uniformly gentle and docile. The little brothers
orders were to lead the cosset into the cellarnot an easy task,
for while he slip-noosed a cord around her neck she stamped at him, butted
him with her hard head, and tried to bite his knees; but the boys
will was as strong as her own and she was pulled into the cellar. Hettie
was there before them with a large pair of shears in her hand.
Now, Dido, she said, you have never made any sacrifice for
your country, but you must do so now. Lie down, my pet, and give me your coat!
At a wave of her hand the creature obeyed, and caressing her, Nettie
began to shear the long, coarse wool from her back.
Take this to grandma, Eben, and ask her to card it before I come up.
And then you must run as fast as you can to Aunt Remembers, and ask her
and Cousin Sallie to come here right away, and help get Jimmie off in the morning.
Theyll want to see him and hear from the army.
It did not take Hettie long to shear the wool from Didos body and
sew around it a warm blanket. Then she hastened up the stairs with her
burden, which was laid at her grandmothers feet. The great wheel
was next brought nearer the fire, and the rolls, already carded, laid
How glad I am you finished weaving in that web this morning, mother!
she said, gaily. We can now send Jim away with a new suit of linsey-woolsey
black as Dido. It will at least look better than a white flannel one
at this season of the year.
Is the gal crazy? asked the old grandmother, resting for a moment
on her cards.
Crazy with joy, then! Your rolls run beautifully grandma; warm from the
sheep, you know. Jimmie, cant you quill?
A hearty laugh, the first they had heard from the young soldier, did
their hearts good. Hetties tongue buzzed as fast as her wheel.
As soon as she had spun enough for a single quill, she called on her
mother to wind it, fill her shuttle, and begin the fabric. Never had
they wrought more cheerfully; there was no time to think of the morrow.
Cousin Sally and her mother soon joined them, and another pair of cards
and another wheel helped on the work. The carding and spinning were finished
at nightfall, and the evening was not spent when the fabric was cut from
the loom. Aunt Remember was a tailoress, and while the supper was preparing
she measured Jimmie for the round jacket and loose trousers, which she
said could easily be made before morning.
A pleasant night they made of it while the storm wind whistled without.
The boys cracked nuts and Jimmie told camp stories until after midnight,
when the two were sent to bed in their mothers room, which opened
from the warm kitchen. Early the next morning she stole softly in and
awoke little Eben, that he might feed old Dolly and make ready for departure,
as he was to accompany his brother on his way. Jimmie appeared at the
breakfast table in his new suit, and laughingly promised his sister that
Dido should have a pension at the close of the war if she was living.
When the sword of Cornwallis was placed in the hands of their beloved
commander-in-chief, that broken band of cousins, with their surviving
comrades, came marching home. There was a wedding at the old homestead
not long after, and when Hettie left her fathers house for a new
home of her own, proudly in the train that accompanied her was led the
old cosset, with one of her lambs as black as herself at her side. For
more than a century the story of Dido and that linsey-woolsey suit has
been an heirloom. The children and childrens children have heard
it, and from that day to this a black sheep has been the family pet and
Nothing delighted the Windhamites
so much as the tidings of the destruction of those ship-loads of
tea in Boston harbor, and nothing since the passage of the stamp
act had aroused their indignation to such a pitch as the closing
of the harbor in consequence. The news reached Windham on Saturday,
and before night handbills were posted all over the town. Mr. White
took the subject into the pulpit the next day, and made a most earnest
appeal for their brave suffering brethren, exhorting his listeners
to concert some speedy measure for carrying aid to the beleaguered
city. There was no need of such exhortation, for already had the
citizens resolved in their minds what they could best spare from
their own necessities.
A town meeting was called at once, and there was a grand rally from every
section of the town. The old meeting house was crowded to its utmost
capacity, women and children filling the galleries. Solomon Huntington
was moderator, and soon announced that two hundred and fifty-eight sheep
were contributed and ready for delivery. A number of the young men volunteered
to go with their offering, and remain to fight if needed.
Mr. Bancroft, in his History of the American Revolution,
makes very honorable mention of this Windham donationthe first
from Connecticut, and the earliest save one from any of the American
[Above taken from History of Windham
County, Connecticut, by Richard Bayles, 1889]