I guess you could say the town of Windham, Connecticut was a bit on edge one hot night in June or July in the 1750’s. Historically, the colonists had been at odds with the local Pequots tribe (and others) for years, stretching back into the 1630’s. I should note that there doesn’t seem to be a specific date assigned to this particular event. Most references are to one hot night in June of 1754, although some sources refer to the event as taking place in June or July of 1758. If it was indeed 1758 then all the more reason for the local population to be on alert because the French and Indian War would have been in full swing.
Nevertheless, the event that took place has become legendary and is uniquely commemorated in Windham. The residents (and their descendants) endured a lot of good-natured ribbing over the years as well. In 1857 William L. Weaver even wrote a short book about it (The Battle of the Frogs at Windham 1758), including various accounts and “three of the most popular ballads on the subject.”
According to Weaver, the town of Windham had been settled about sixty years prior and had at that time around one thousand inhabitants. The town was somewhat elevated, its highest point called “Swift Hill” and named after Judge Swift whose residence was located there. Sloping downward from the hill’s summit, about a mile or so away, was a mill-pond, or as the story refers to it “the Frog Pond.” “This pond was of a marshy kind, well adapted to the taste of frogs, and must at the time, have contained a large number, of all sorts and sizes, with excellent voices.”
One historian had no doubt greatly exaggerated the number of frogs at five million. Weaver concluded that there were certainly enough to make a “great deal of noise and confusion when they became excited.” It was a dark, foggy night with an east wind which would have amplified and carried any sound that night toward the town. Well after midnight, while residents were deeply sleeping, loud shouts and cries suddenly roused them, thoroughly alarming the town. In Weaver’s words:
To the excited imaginations of the suddenly awakened and startled inhabitants, it is not strange that some thought the day of judgment was at hand, while others supposed that an army of French and Indians was advancing to attack the town.
Suddenly, in the dead of night, the entire town descended into terror-stricken confusion, “the running hither and thither of the half-naked inhabitants.” According to at least one account, the “event was fatal to several women.” The men had set out to find what the commotion was all about, only to return with broken shins, as Reverend Samuel Peters described it in his book General History of Connecticut.
Apparently the residents thought they were hearing actual voices (of the enemy, French or Indian). Reverend Peters described it like this:
The men, after a flight of half a mile, in which they met with many broken shins, finding no enemies in pursuit of them, made a hault [sic], and summoned resolution enough to venture back to their wives and children, when they distinctly heard from the enemy’s camp these words: Wight, Hilderkin, Dier, Tete. This last, they thought, meant treaty, and, plucking up courage, they sent a triumvirate to capitulate with the supposed French and Indians. These the men approached in their shirts, and begged to speak with the general; but, it being dark and no answer was given, they were sorely agitated for some time betwixt hope and fear; at length, however, they discovered that the dreaded inimical army was an army of thirsty frogs going to the river for a little water.
It seems the pond had dried up and the frogs, finding it so, had “marched, or rather hopped, towards Winnomantic [sic] River. . . . The bull-frogs were the leaders, and the pipers followed without number. They filled the road, forty yards wide, for four miles in length, and were for several hours in passing through the town unusually clamorous.” (General History of Connecticut ITALICS, p. 130).
The Mansfield Numismatic Society web site states that the men heard savages calling the names of two prominent lawyers in town, Dyer and Elderkin. The lawyers had recently organized a project to expand into the Susquehanna Valley, something that would have irritated the Indians. The “triumvirate” that Peters described was apparently Dyer, Elderkin and a man named Gray.
Ridiculous or not, Reverend Peters believed “an army under the Duke of Marlborough would, under like circumstances, have acted no better than they did.” There were other accounts that surfaced, however. Some even claimed that as the frogs advanced toward town, they were met by armed men and a massacre took place. Weaver’s favorite theory was there was “simply and literally a ‘battle of the frogs,’ or a fight among themselves, caused by a short supply of water, owing to a severe drought which had prevailed.”
The Follett family owned the pond and their account was quite a bit different:
The pond was not dry, nor had there been any drought, as is generally believed; there was plenty of water at the time in the pond, it being supplied by a never failing stream. The frogs did not leave the pond, as many now suppose, and there was no evidence of fighting, though many dead frogs were found about the pond next morning, yet without any visible wounds.
Weaver noted that the Follett family member giving the account for his book was not known as an exaggerator of the truth. He also believed that generally speaking the account given by Reverend Peters should be rejected, “not only from its inherent improbability, but as not warranted by the circumstances, or sustained by the most reliable traditions.” Was Reverend Peters an exaggerator?!?
Weaver further grappled with the issue:
Was there a shock of an earthquake, or some convulsion of nature in connection with the affair, that proved such a catastrophe to the frogs? The jarring thunder-like sounds would indicate that is possible, yet there are no facts or traditions besides, to warrant such a supposition. . .
We may tax the imagination to any extent, yet if the frogs did not fight among themselves, we are left entirely to conjecture as to the cause of the disturbance. But, will frogs fight?
Over the years, various ballads, poems and songs were written about the strange occurrence. In 1832 the Windham Bank was chartered and the bank later issued a series of notes commemorating the strange goings on (using the 1754 date):
Today the event is commemorated with a new bridge that was built over the Willimantic River in 2000. The bridge is decorated with large spools, denoting the town’s reputation for textiles and manufacturing – atop the spools are, you guessed it, frogs.
Although the details of the event, including when it actually occurred, are unclear, it is still apparently worthy of civic pride. In 1924 a granite boulder with a bronze plaque was placed at the scene of the “battle”. It reads:
THIS TABLET IS ERECTED BY
ANNE WOOD ELDERKIN CHAPTER, DAR
TO COMMEMORATE THE LEGEND OF THE BATTLE
OF THE FROGS
MRS. FRANK LARRABEE, REGENT
By the way, this is the second Far-Out Friday “frog” story I’ve written. If you missed the first, you can check it out here (Old Rip the Horned Toad).
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.