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Windham County Connecticut
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“The direst fray in all that war
To shake King George’s 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! A Bullfrog!” “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 White’s 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, don’t you hear dem coming—de 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 couldn’t 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 too”—their 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 veracity.


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, ship’s 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 generations.
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 of fruit.
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 on,” 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 image. “Why! If there isn’t Bacchus,” she was heard to exclaim. “I haven’t 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 navy.
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 children’s 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 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 suggested—a 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.


“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 sheep.
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 mother’s arms—weeping, 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 stouter—built 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 father’s half-worn shoes—better 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 night.”
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.
“You’d 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 king’s documents around the critter’s 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 brother’s orders were to lead the cosset into the cellar—not 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 boy’s 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 Remember’s, and ask her and Cousin Sallie to come here right away, and help get Jimmie off in the morning. They’ll want to see him and hear from the army.”
It did not take Hettie long to shear the wool from Dido’s body and sew around it a warm blanket. Then she hastened up the stairs with her burden, which was laid at her grandmother’s feet. The great wheel was next brought nearer the fire, and the rolls, already carded, laid beside it.
“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, can’t you quill?”
A hearty laugh, the first they had heard from the young soldier, did their hearts good. Hettie’s 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 mother’s 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 father’s 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 children’s children have heard it, and from that day to this a black sheep has been the family pet and pride.


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 donation—the first from Connecticut, and the earliest save one from any of the American colonies.

[Above taken from History of Windham County, Connecticut, by Richard Bayles, 1889]


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