THE GREAT WINDHAM FROG FIGHT: A HISTORY THROUGH DOCUMENTS
Edited by Jamie H. Eves
It Was a Dark and Bloody Night….
People visiting Windham and Willimantic, CT, today cannot help but notice the frogs. In fact, the second most common question asked by out-of-town visitors at the Mill Museum (after “What are old mill buildings used for today?”) is, “What’s with the frogs?” Four giant, bronze statues of frogs by the artist Leo Jensen occupy the corners of Thread City Crossing (nicknamed the Frog Bridge), the main thoroughfare spanning the Willimantic River, each sitting serenely on top of a huge concrete thread spool. Two frog statues (one in a Rodinesque Thinker’s pose) adorn the grounds of the Windham Town Hall. Fiberglass frog statues in human garb perch in strategic locations around town. The town seal features a frog.
All those frogs celebrate Windham’s most famous folktale, the story of the Great Windham Frog Fight. The event that inspired the folktale occurred in either 1754, 1756, or 1758, depending on which sources you read, and was first written down in 1781 as part of Rev. Samuel Peters’s General History of Connecticut. Peters was a Connecticut native, hailing from the nearby town of Hebron, and was a student at Yale when the Frog Fight occurred, so he could be expected to give a good account of the incident. But he was also a fervent Loyalist at the time of the American Revolution, harassed, harried, and threatened by his Patriot neighbors, and driven into exile in 1774. So his General History (including the part about the Windham Frog Fight), published anonymously in 1781 during the Revolutionary War, was a bitter attack on Connecticut’s Patriot leaders that, in its bias, frequently shaded the truth in order to make the Patriots look bad. And two of the main characters in Peters’s version of the Frog Fight, Eliphalet Dyer and Jedidiah Elderkin, were leaders on the Patriot side, whom he portrays as bumbling idiots and comic cowards. Dyer was a member of the Second Continental Congress, and Elderkin was an advisor to Jonathan Trumbull, Connecticut’s Patriot wartime governor. In Peters’s telling, one dark summer night in 1758, an army of noisy frogs marched (hopped?) into Windham village (now known as Windham Center), startling local residents. Hearing the racket and convinced it was an invading force of French Canadians, Algonquins, and Wabanakis, the women cowered and the men — led by Dyer and Elderkin — abandoned their families and ran, hiding in the woods. Eventually, the men returned, attempted to negotiate with what they still believed to be human enemies, and — once they realized that the invaders were frogs — did battle with them, slaughtering thousands. Unfortunately, other late 18th- and early 19th-century writers accepted Peters’s account uncritically, in part because it provided wags from surrounding towns the opportunity to poke fun at folks from Windham, wiseacres from Rhode Island the chance to jibe Connecticans, and everyone an excuse to throw shade at officious, self-important lawyers like Dyer and Elderkin. And truth to tell, Dyer was an easy target, as he could be quite long winded and lawyerly (or, so said John Adams). Indeed, making jokes about lawyers was a common trope of the day. Even Dyer’s colleagues at the Continental Congress got a good laugh when he arrived in Philadelphia only to discover that someone had tied a dead frog to the back of his carriage. The legend of the Windham Frog Fight quickly became a popular and oft-repeated anti-lawyer folktale, retold in comic ballads and newspaper stories throughout the new United States.
In 1857, roughly one hundred years after the Frog Fight, Windham/Willimantic resident William Lawton Weaver undertook a more serious investigation of the event, with the goal of finding out what had really happened. Weaver was Windham and Willimantic’s first historian, and he brought to the task a teacher’s love of tale-telling, a historian’s zeal to get the facts straight, and a Windham resident’s hankering to restore his hometown’s honor. A newspaper writer, publisher, and editor; the owner of a newsstand, bookstore, and print shop; a one-time public schoolteacher; Windham’s Town Clerk; a state legislator; a vocal Whig; and Willimantic’s postmaster in the 1840s, Weaver collected documents and conducted interviews about Windham’s past with the intention of some day writing the history of the town where he had grown up and lived all of his life. He was born in 1815, six decades after the Frog Fight, and died in 1866, only 51 years old. Sickly through most of his life, he wrote, but never published, a manuscript history of Windham. Alas, his history has since mostly disappeared, although he did bequeath the manuscript to his son Thomas, who later published some pieces of it. Weaver’s contemporary, Lloyd Baldwin, wrote of him:
“Wm. L. Weaver was a man of more than ordinary ability. He taught several terms in our schools, and did quite an extensive business at one time in the book and stationery trade. His manuscript history of Windham has been and will be appreciated by the future historian of old Windham. He was a representative to the legislature from his town in 1850, and had the respect and esteem of his fellow citizens. From his boyhood he labored under a physical disability, which ended his life. His death took place in 1866, at the age of 51 years.”
For the last four years of his life, Weaver was frequently bed-bound. It is impossible to be sure, but Weaver’s disability sounds a lot like tuberculosis. Despite his illness, he was in the 1860s the co-editor and co-publisher of Willimantic’s newspaper, the Journal. Quite likely, he had edited and published the Journal in the 1850s, as well. The Journal had begun publication around 1847 (the 1857 issues, the oldest that exist today, were numbered vol. 10) and continued publication — sometimes weekly, sometimes daily — until 1912, although not always with the same name. It was not Willimantic’s first newspaper (the Gazette had appeared in 1836), but for many years it was Windham’s paper of record. Like all nineteenth-century newspapers, the Journal also did job printing. One of the things the Journal printed (it says, “Printed at the Journal Office, Willimantic,” right on it) was a broadside titled “Windham Bull-Frog Song,” which contained both a prose summary of the Windham Frog Fight and the lyrics to a comic ballad about it written by Ebenezer Tilden, a resident of the neighboring town of Lebanon. There is no date on the broadside, but it was probably printed sometime before 1857, when Weaver incorporated most of its contents into a pamphlet, The Battle of the Frogs. Was it Weaver, as the publisher of the Journal, that had had the broadside published? (A digital image of the broadside appears below.)
The Battle of the Frogs reprinted not only the broadside, but also several other versions of the Windham folktale by various writers, along with both Weaver’s own conclusions about what had really happened and his careful analyses of the historical veracity of the other accounts, in anticipation of what he believed would be the event’s one hundredth anniversary the following year. Weaver’s stated goal was to cut through legend and arrive at the truth, and in the process perhaps restore some honor to Dyer, Elderkin, and the other participants. The pamphlet was published by James Walden, who had only recently purchased Weaver’s stationary shop and bookstore, which we can guess was also a print shop and the home of the Willimantic Journal. Weaver concluded that the residents of Windham village had indeed been awakened on a dark summer night in 1758 by a raucous racket they could not identify, and yes, they had wondered if it could be an invading force of French, Algonquins, and Wabanakis. Investigating the next day, they found the bodies of hundred of frogs in and around the town’s millpond. Something had killed the frogs, and they had been loud in their dying, but no one knew what. Weaver thought that the frogs most likely had killed each other, although why they would have done so was a mystery. Although many townspeople had been frightened by the racket, women had not fainted and men had not run away, hidden in the woods, nor given battle. However, the townspeople were embarrassed at having been frightened by frogs and hoped that word of the incident would not get out, but it did, and for many years they had to live with snide jokes told at their expense.
A few words about dates: The broadside printed at the Willimantic Journal office in the 1850s placed the Frog Fight in June of 1756. However, in his pamphlet, The Battle of the Frogs, Weaver wrote that it occurred in 1758. Indeed, when he included the text of the broadside in the pamphlet, he changed the date in that account from 1756 to 1758, probably because he thought the broadside had been in error. Either date is plausible: Dyer, one of the main participants in the incident, was at Crown Point in the summer of 1755 and Quebec in the fall of 1759, leading a regiment of Connecticut militia in the French and Indian War, but would have been in Windham in either 1756 or 1758. Weaver seems to have based his choice of 1758 on when people in Windham remembered the event took place. One of his chief informants was Abner Follett, Jr., the owner of the millpond where the battle had occurred, and whose father, Abner, Sr., an eye-witness as a boy, had often spoken of the incident. In 1889, the author Jane Gay Fuller, a Windham native whose account is almost certainly based on local traditions, also wrote that the Frog Fight had occurred in 1758. However, the historian Ellen Larned, writing some fifteen or so years after Weaver but a few years before Fuller, was adamant that the Frog Fight had happened not in 1758, but June of 1754, the year before Dyer was at Crown Point and, indeed, a month before the opening skirmish of the French and Indian War. (Her reasoning is explained in her account, reprinted below.) Weaver thought of the Frog Fight as a chapter in the specific history of the French and Indian War (1754-63), so 1758 made sense to him, but Larned saw it instead as part of the broader history of conflict between English colonists and indigenous peoples of which the French and Indian War was just a part. Moreover, she had evidence in the form of a letter dated 1754 that referred to the Frog Fight. However, to further complicate matters, Fuller referenced the same letter that Larned did, and further wrote that the letter had been written to a resident in Windham and still existed — implying that that it existed in Windham and that she had perhaps seen it herself — and indicated that it had been written in 1758, not 1754. What is clear, though, is that the Frog Fight occurred in the 1750s and that it was NOT part of the American Revolution. This editor has had more than a few conversations with members of the public who believe that the story of the Frog Fight is that loud frogs awakened residents of Windham during the Revolutionary War, warning them of an impending British attack. But there was no British attack on Windham during the Revolutionary War, and the Frog Fight actually took place more than two decades earlier, in the 1750s, at the time of the French and Indian War.
Also, a few words about race: Not surprisingly, many of the accounts of the Windham Frog Fight characterize both Native Americans and African Americans in ways that today would be considered racist. For all of her skill as a historian, Ellen Larned unfortunately exhibited the deep ethnocentrism typical of late-1800s rural Connecticut. She was proud of her English/Yankee heritage, understood northeastern Connecticut to be a Yankee heartland, and in her writings either ignored other cultures or misrepresented them. She characterized enslaved African Americans as happy, loyal servants. She decried the “grog shops” that appeared in cotton mill towns along with the Industrial Revolution and the arrival of non-English immigrants. (Colonial taverns, however, she thought were just fine.) She described indigenous peoples as “bloodthirsty,” “murderous,” and “savage.” Other writers were, by comparison, more subtle, but they were people of their time and place, and we should not be surprised that they employed such racial and ethnic stereotypes. Fuller, like Ebenezer Tilden and other authors of ballads about the Frog Fight, had African American characters speak in “dialect,” and referred to Algonquins and Wabanakis as “savages.” When it came to Black Connecticans, Fuller — who was generally sympathetic to Black people and their struggles — should have known better. She lived with African Americans most of her life, as two members of the Black Dicky/Dickson/Dickens family, Mary and her son Alexander, resided with Fuller’s family as live-in servants.
The Wikipedia article on the Windham Frog Fight is quite good, and this editor recommends it. Authors of Wikipedia articles are anonymous, of course, but this one was clearly written by someone local, and although this editor does not know for sure who wrote it, he does know who came to him a few years ago asking if the Mill Museum had a copy of a late nineteenth-century comic operetta about the legend, so he has his suspicions. (The Museum, alas, does not have a copy of the operetta.)
Thank you to Kay Warren for transcribing much of the material into digital format.
Below is the text of Weaver’s The Battle of the Frogs, lightly edited for clarity, followed by Larned’s 1874 version of the tale. Weaver’s spelling, correct for its time, has been retained. Readers are invited to make up their own minds about what really happened on that dark, bloody summer night, so long ago.
William L. Weaver, The Battle of the Frogs, at Windham, 1758: With Various Accounts and Three of the Most Popular Ballads on the Subject (Willimantic, CT: James Walden, 1857).
INTRODUCTION, CELEBRITY OF THE AFFAIR
The town of Windham has been rendered famous for all time, by a memorable event which occurred within its borders about a hundred years ago, when the inhabitants were greatly alarmed and frightened by some unusual demonstration among the bull-frogs. This really singular affair has obtained a wide-spread notoriety, and the story of the Windham Frogs is well known all over the country. Indeed, the fame of it has been so extended, that a citizen of the town can hardly go so far from home, but he will hear something about bull-frogs if his place of nativity is known. This occurrence has been celebrated in song, and sung in rhyme and doggerel of all kinds of measure and metre; it has found a place in grave history; the most exaggerated accounts have obtained credence in some quarters; various traditions and anecdotes in relation to it, have been remembered with remarkable tenacity, while it has afforded an inexhaustible theme for the indulgence of wit and pleasantry at the expense of the inhabitants of the town.
We may presume the actors in the scene did not wish to hear much about it, nor always relish the jokes and jibes to which they were subject, but their descendents have received the ridicule which has been showered upon them from all quarters, with great good nature. They have laughed with those that laughed at the ludicrous aspects of the affair, and have not been disposed to get angry with those who were inclined to “poke fun” at them on this account. In fact, they have accepted the bull-frog as a device, have stamped his image on their bank-bills, and were it in the days of chivalry, their heraldic devices and coats of arms would blazon with bull-frogs.
WINDHAM AND THE FROG POND
Before noticing the different accounts and traditions relating to the affair, or attempting any explanation of it, a few facts will render the subject more intelligible to those unacquainted with the geography and topography of the town. Windham is situated in the eastern part of Connecticut, about thirty miles from Hartford, and was at the time of the occurrence, (1758,)  and for many years subsequent, the most important town in that section of the State. It had been settled about sixty years and contained a thousand or more inhabitants. 
The village of Windham is located on a hill of considerable elevation, which rises to its highest point a short distance east of the public green, called “Swift Hill,” because the residence of the celebrated Judge Swift was situated on it.  From the summit of this hill, the ground gradually descends eastward to the Frog Pond, which is just a mile from Windham village on the Scotland road. The intervention of this hill, may in a measure explain the confusion of noises heard at the time of the alarm, which appeared to many to be in the air.
The Frog Pond, or rather pond of frogs, at the time of the occurrence, was a moderate sized mill-pond, caused by damming a small stream. The pond is somewhat larger now than formerly, caused by raising the dam, and when full, covers a surface of about twenty acres. 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. It is not necessary, however, to suppose it contained as many as Peters, in his History of Connecticut,  would have us believe; for, at a moderate estimate, his account would give more than five millions; but there were enough to make a great deal of “noise and confusion” when they became excited. There are not probably as many frogs in the pond now as formerly, yet there are a “few left.” A friend, sometime since, fishing in its waters, had a powerful bite, when he “hauled in” and found he had caught a big bull-frog.
THE ALARM OF THE TOWN
It was, according to most accounts, in the month of June or July, 1758, on a dark, foggy night, the wind easterly, with an atmosphere favorable to the transmission of sound, that the event happened. It was past the midnight hour, and the inhabitants were buried in profound sleep, when the outcry commenced. There were heard shouts and cries, and such a variety of mingled sounds, which seemed to fill the heavens, that soon roused the people from their slumbers and thoroughly alarmed the town.
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. We are not about to draw upon the imagination, to depict the scenes that then and there transpired, as others have done, our only object being to give such facts and incidents, as will enable the reader to arrive at a correct solution of the affair. But the alarm and turn out of the whole town at the dead hours of night, the darkness and confusion in consequence, the cries and screams of the terror-stricken women and children, running hither and thither of the half-naked inhabitants, a continuance of the strange and perfectly unaccountable rises, [that] must, without any exaggeration, have produced a scene, [in the] common phrase, “more easily imagined than described.”
It should be remembered, that it was then comparatively a new country, and during the time of the French and Indian war that resulted in the conquest of Canada. Col. Dyer  had just raised a regiment to join the expedition against Crown Point, and many of the brave men of the town belonged to it, and were at this time on the banks of Lake George, under the heroic Putnam , battling with their savage foes. (Col. Eliphalet Dyer, the same for whom the frogs called so loudly, was one of the most eminent men in the town and State. He was agent for the Colony to England, member of the first and second Congress, Chief Justice of the State, &c. It is related of him, that on one occasion his arrival in the city to attend Congress was greeted with shouts of laughter; when alighting, he discovered the cause of merriment to be a monstrous bull-frog, dangling from the hinder part of his carriage, appended probably by some wag on his route.)
Many incidents of the fright are related, and the names of some of the prominent men of the town have been immortalized by this affair, but we do not choose to give any, except such as are brought out in the following accounts and ballads, and those are probably pure fictions, or greatly exaggerated.
Towards morning, the sounds began to die away, and order and quiet was restored to this usually peaceful town. To those who took the trouble to go to the pond — and we presume many did go next day — the scene of the disturbance was manifest. Dead frogs by hundreds, some say thousands, were lying on the shores of the pond or floating on its surface, either killed in battle, or by some dire catastrophe. The mortification and chagrin of the citizens, when the facts became known, may well be imagined, and we presume they never heard the last of it. To be frightened half out of their senses by a parcel of contemptible bull-frogs, was too ludicrous an affair not to make them the butt of ridicule ever afterwards.
ACCOUNT OF PETERS
That the people of Windham were aroused from their midnight slumbers; that the town was thoroughly alarmed and many terribly frightened; that there was great confusion and consternation, caused by some extraordinary tumult among the frogs, as has been stated, all this is undoubtedly true; but the occasion of this unusual outcry in frogdom, the why and how of it are not so clear, there being many versions and explanations of the affair.
The account of Peters, given in the following pages, in his veracious History of Connecticut, which has probably been more widely published than any other, is that the frogs finding their pond becoming dry, left it in a body for the river, and were so numerous that, in his own language, “They filled a road forty yards wide four miles in length” and the noise and clamor made by them in passing through the town at midnight, caused the alarm. This account has obtained extensive belief, especially abroad, and the first ballad following, is founded upon it. The absurdity and evident exaggeration of this statement, are truly laughable, and were it not that his narration has been, and still is considered by many, a veritable history of the affair, it would be unworthy a moment’s notice. Mr. Peters resided at Hebron, Conn., only about a dozen miles from Windham, soon after the occurrence; he had evidently been in the town and describes its appearance; he might then have easily obtained the facts; his account is apparently candid, and were there nothing else incorrect or untrue in his book, his statements, however wonderful, would seem to be founded on fact.
But his whole book is most grossly and unpardonably inaccurate and reckless in its statements, besides its downright falsehoods. As a specimen or two of his incorrectness, he says, the Frog Pond is five miles from Windham, whereas it is only one; that it is three miles square, when it never was a fourth of a mile in extent. From this and other exaggerated statements with which his book abounds, it is plain that no reliance whatever can be placed on his account, clergyman though he was, unless sustained by other testimony, and his object probably was to make out a large story to add to the attractions of his book.
There are, however, some traditions that the frogs left the pond and started towards the town and were met by the armed men, and a battle, or rather a massacre did take [plac]e, when the frogs were slaughtered without mercy by the enraged inhabitants, whose slumbers had been so much disturbed. But these accounts seem to be all founded on the statement of Peters, or ballads based on the same.
The other and more favorite theory is, that 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. This view of the matter is fully set forth, suitably embellished, in the account given in the following pages, and first published as a preface to the song, entitled “Lawyers and Bull-frogs.” It is probably more generally believed by the present inhabitants of the town than any other, as giving the most rational explanation of the affair; yet it is not by any means established, as we shall see.
TRADITIONS IN THE FOLLETT FAMILY
Supposing the facts and particulars would be better known, and the traditions more reliable by those living in the immediate vicinity of the pond, we have taken some pains to learn the views of those on the spot, as obtained from their fathers, living at the time of the occurrence.
The Frog Pond was then owned by a Follett family, and the premises have been in possession of their descendants ever since. The privilege is now owned by Abner Follett, Esq. , who has very kindly given the writer of this article his views of the affair, founded on traditions preserved in the family. He says that his father, though young, remembered the occurrence, was on the ground at the time, and he has often heard him relate it.
These traditions are briefly as follows: The event occurred in the month of June, though whether O. S. or N. S., Mr. Follett does not know. The pond was not dry, nor had there been any drought, as is so 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. The outcry was loud and very extraordinary, the noises seemed to fill the heavens, and are described as thunderlike. Some near by declared that they could feel their beds vibrate under them, yet knowing from whence the sounds came, and that they were made by the frogs, they were not frightened, as were the inhabitants of the village. The real cause of the outcry is unknown. Various opinions were entertained at the time; some attributed it to disease, as so many dead frogs were found on the shores of the pond.
Such is the substance of Mr. Follett’s statement, and coming so direct, and from such a source, is entitled to the greatest weight. To those who know Mr. F., it is unnecessary to say that nothing exaggerated or savoring of romance would be stated or entertained by him. No man has had better opportunities to learn the facts; no one, we think would be more likely to discard all fiction, and if these statements can not be credited, we can place no reliance on any traditions relating to the affair.
CAUSE OF THE OUTCRY
From the lapse of time since the occurrence, the few reliable facts preserved, and the conflicting accounts, it is not so easy to decide positively, as to the cause of the disturbance. It occurred when newspapers were scarce, and no account, so far as we can learn, was published at the time. It is very certain that the sounds heard were not the ordinary croakings of the frogs, for their usual notes could hardly be heard a mile, under favorable circumstances; besides, their common sounds would not have caused alarm, or attracted any particular attention. It must have been something unusual and very extraordinary to have produced such an excitement.
The statement of Peters, and others, that the frogs left the pond, is rejected, not only from its inherent improbability, but as not warranted by the circumstances, or sustained by the most reliable traditions. The other and more favorite theory is, as has been stated, that owing to a severe drought, there was a short supply of water, and that the frogs fought among themselves for the enjoyment of what remained. The writer, with many others, has believed that the frogs did have a fight, that they “fought like dogs,” and that many did not live to fight another day. This view would certainly seem to be inconsistent, or at least not sustained, by the account of Mr. Follett. If the occurrence was in June, it is not probable that there was a drought so early in the season, and if there was no drought, the cause universally assigned as the origin of the fight did not exist. Yet notwithstanding these statements, we think the possibility of a fight is not absolutely precluded, though rendered less probable. But if the frogs did not have a fight, what caused them to make such a terrible outcry? Was it disease, as suggested by some, at the time? It is hardly probable that an epidemic would have been so sudden in its attack, have produced so great mortality, and have been so soon over. 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 it is possible, yet there are no facts or traditions besides, to warrant such a supposition. Were there thunderings and lightnings, and were the frogs somehow affected and killed by electricity? There is nothing to justify such a conclusion. What was it then that killed the frogs? The two facts undisputed are, that there was an unusual outcry and a large quantity of dead frogs found about the pond next morning, which, taken together, we think plainly indicates that the noise had some connection with the death of the frogs. It has been suggested that when frogs make the most noise, they are in the highest state of enjoyment, and if the traditions are correct, the sounds made were [not] of the same kind as heard from frogs on ordinary occasions. This would show that they were having a high time, were very happy, and therefore vociferous; perhaps striving with all their might to excel each other. But in this case, what killed the frogs? Is it possible that it was the excitement or over-exertion on that memorable night?
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? We believe they are not naturally very belligerent, yet like other inoffensive creatures, they can and sometimes do fight, and it is also said that the big ones will destroy and eat up the little ones. Some facts with regard to the habits and peculiarities of frogs, would be interesting, and perhaps help solve the difficulty, but we can only allude to them. That a frog is not exactly a fighting animal, is shown from the fact that he is not possessed of any formidable means of offense or defense, and has no teeth, only a hard membranous gum, extending around the mouth. Their mode of combat is peculiar. They grapple each other with the fore paws, get hold with their mouth, and when firmly fastened together, will kick with their hind feet at the most vital parts. Besides their capacity for making their usual sounds, they will, when injured, at times, utter a cry like that of a young child. We should suppose that in this mode of fighting they would make a good deal of fuss and noise, and it is a fact that while so engaged they do sometimes cry out or “squall” as a person remarked who had often observed them. In such a contest the strongest would most likely prove the victor, and as the frog is rather tough-hided, death by such a process might not leave any visible wound on the victim. It has been suggested that had there been a battle, there would have been profound silence, but we have it on good authority, that frogs do at times, when engaged in fighting, make more or less noise; yet whether they would, or did, make such a racket as was heard on this occasion, while having a general melee, is a question. But as frogs will fight, and do sometimes make a noise when engaged in combat — even if there was no lack of water in the pond, and no cause known for a conflict — can we not more rationally account for the outcry, and the dead frogs, by supposing that for some reason or other, there was a battle, than on any other hypothesis?
But we can devote no more space to the consideration of this “strange eventful history.” It was certainly one of the most remarkable events that ever occurred in the country, the like of which was never known before or since. With the facts and speculations given above, and the accounts following, we leave our readers to form their own opinions of the occurrence, and its cause.
As many have a desire to preserve the old songs and traditions relating to this affair, the writer has collected the following accounts and ballads, which are “Curiosities of Literature” in their way, and presents them as amusing relics of the olden time, in a style and form suitable for preservation.
THE WINDHAM FROGS BY REV. SAMUEL PETERS
[The following marvelous “account of the Windham Frogs, is extracted from Dr. Samuel Peters’ General History of Connecticut. Mr. Peters resided at one time in Hebron, Conn., previous to the Revolutionary War, and living so near the scene described, and it being so soon after the event happened, it is rather strange that he should give such an exaggerated account of the affair. But Dr. Peters was a decided Tory, and found it convenient to leave for England soon after the breaking out of the war. In 1781, he published in London, his famous History of Connecticut, in which he attempted to show up the people of the colony, with their manners, customs, laws, &c, in no very enviable light. This extract is a fair specimen of its correctness. No wonder President Dwight called it “a mass of folly and falsehood.”]
“Windham resembles Rumford and stands on the Winnomantic River.  Its meeting-house is elegant, and has a steeple, bell and clock. Its court-house is scarcely to be looked upon as an ornament. The township forms four parishes, and it is ten miles square. Strangers are very much terrified at the hideous noise made on summer evenings by the vast number of frogs in the brooks and ponds. There are about thirty different voices among them; some of which resemble the bellowing of a bull. The “owls and whip-poor-wills complete the rough concert, which may be heard several miles. Persons accustomed to such serenaders are not disturbed by them at their proper stations; but one night, in July, 1758, the frogs of an artifical pond, three miles square, and about five from Windham, finding the water dried up, left the place in a body, and marched, or rather hopped, towards Winnomantic River. They were under the necessity of taking the road and going through the town, which they entered about midnight. The bull-frogs were the leaders, and the pipers followed without number. They filled a road forty yards wide, for four miles in length, and were for several hours, in passing through the town, unusually clamorous. The inhabitants were equally perplexed and frightened; some expected to find an army of French and Indians; others feared an earthquake and dissolution of nature. The consternation was universal. Old and young, male and female, fled naked from their beds with more shriekings than those of the frogs. The event was fatal to several women. 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 halt, and summoned resolution enough to venture back to their wives and children ; when they distinctly heard from the enemy’s camp these words, Wight, Hilderken, 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 three men approached in their shirts, and begged to speak with the general, but it being dark, and no answer 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. Such an incursion was never known before nor since; and yet the people of Windham have been ridiculed for their timidity on this occasion. I verily believe an army under the Duke of Marlborough would, under like circumstances, have acted no better than they did.”
THE FROGS OF WINDHAM, AN OLD COLONY TALE, FOUNDED ON FACT — BY ARION
[The following ballad is from an old Providence Gazette, and appears to be founded on Peters’ account of the affair:] 
When these free States were colonies
Unto the mother nation,
And, in Connecticut, the good
Old Blue Laws were in fashion,
A circumstance which there occurred,
(And much the mind surprises
Upon reflection,) then gave rise
To many strange surmises.
You all have seen, as I presume,
Or had a chance to see,
Those strange amphibious quadrupeds,
Call’d bull-frogs commonly.
Well, in Connecticut ’tis said,
By those who make pretensions
To truth, those creatures often grow
To marvelous dimensions.
One night in July, ’58,
They left their home behind ’em,
Which was an oak and chestnut swamp,
About five miles from Windham.
The cause was this: — the summer’s sun
Had dried their pond away there
So shallow, that to save their souls,
The bull-frogs could not stay there.
So in a regiment they hopp’d,
With many a curious antic,
Along the road which led unto
The river Willimantic. 
Soon they in sight of Windham came,
All in high perspiration,
And held their course straight t’wards the same
With loud vociferation.
You know such kind of creatures are
By nature quite voracious;
Thus they, impelled by hunger, were
Up flew the windows, one and all,
And then with ears erected,
From every casement, gaping rows
Of night-capped heads projected.
The children cried, the women scream’d,
“Lord have mercy on us!
The French have come to burn us out!
And now are close upon us.”
A few upon the first alarm,
Then arm’d themselves to go forth
Against the foe, with guns and belts,
Shot, powder-horns, and so forth.
Soon all were running here and there,
In mighty consternation;
Resolving of the town to make
A quick evacuation.
Away they went across the lots,
Hats, caps, and wigs were scatter’d;
And heads were broke, and shoes were lost
Shins bruis’d and noses batter’d.
Thus having gain’d a mile or two,
These men of steady habits,
All snug behind an old stone wall
Lay, like a nest of rabbits.
And in this state, for half an hour,
With jaws an inch asunder,
They thought upon their goods at home,
Exposed to lawless plunder.
They thought upon their hapless wives,
Their meeting-house and cattle;
And then resolv’d to sally forth
And give the Frenchmen battle.
Among the property which they
Had brought with them to save it,
Were found two trumpets and a drum,
Just as good luck would have it.
Fifteen or twenty Jews-harps then
Were found in good condition,
And all the longest winded men
Were put in requisition.
Straightway, in long and loud alarm,
Said instruments were clang-ed,
And the good old one hundredth psalm,
From nose and Jews-harp twanged.
Such as were arm’d, in order ranged,
The music in the center —
Declar’d they would not run away
But on the French would venture.
There might have been among them all,
Say twenty guns or over —
How many pitchforks, scythes and flails,
I never could discover.
The rest agreed to close the rear,
After some intercession,
And altogether made a queer
And curious procession.
Some were persuaded that they saw
The band of French marauders;
And not a few declared they heard
The officers give orders.
These words could be distinguish’d then,
“Dyer,” “Elderkin,”  and “Tete,”
And when they heard the last, they thought
The French desired a treaty.
So three good sober-minded men
Were chosen straight to carry
Terms to the French, as ministers
These, moving on, with conscious fear
Did for a hearing call,
And begged a moment’s leave to speak
With the French general.
The advancing foe an answer made,
But (it was quite provoking,)
Not one of them could understand
The language it was spoke in.
So there they stood in piteous plight,
‘Twas ludicrous to see ;
Until the bull-frogs came in sight,
Which sham’d them mightily.
Then all went home, right glad to save
Their property from pillage;
And all agreed to shame the men
Who first alarm’d the village.
Some were well pleas’d, and some were mad,
Some turn’d it off in laughter;
And some would never speak a word
About the thing thereafter.
Some vow’d, if Satan came at last,
They did not mean to flee him;
But if a frog they ever pass’d,
Pretended not to see him.
God save the State of Rhode Island
And Providence Plantations;
May we have ever at command
“Good clothing, pay, and rations.”
One good old rule, avoiding strife,
I’ve follow’ d since my youth —
To always live an upright life,
And tell the downright truth.
THE FROG BATTLE [BY] ANONYMOUS
[The following account of this singular event is undoubtedly much nearer the truth than the narration of Peters. It was first published as an introduction to the ballad following. The latter is said to have been composed by Master Ebenezer Tilden, of Lebanon, father of the somewhat noted Col. Tilden, of the same town.  The most ancient looking copy the writer can find, has the following long and rather quaint title: “A true relation of a strange battle between some Lawyers and Bull-Frogs, set forth in a new Song, written by a jolly farmer of New England.” In the one following, which appears to be a revised edition, seven new verses are added and three omitted from the old copy, supposed to be the original. We have been unable to ascertain who wrote the subjoined account, or revised the ballad, or to find the date of their first publication, but it was many years ago. This song, under the titles of “Lawyers and Bull-Frogs,” and “Bull-Frog Song,” has been extensively published, and has been very popular. In fact, it has been considered the Bull-frog song. In it an attempt is made to hit off some of the magnates of the town, and we presume it was not very well relished by them on its first publication. The cause assigned in it for the disturbance among the frogs, is of course, purely fanciful, and the description of the scenes occasioned by the alarm, probably contain more poetry (or rather rhyme) than truth.]
“On a dark, cloudy, dismal night in the month of July, A.D., 1758, the inhabitants of Windham, a small town in the eastern part of Connecticut, (family prayer having been duly and reverently performed around each altar,) had retired for rest, and for several hours, all were wrapt in profound repose — when suddenly, soon after midnight, the slumbers of the peaceful inhabitants were disturbed by a most terrific noise in the sky, right over their heads, which, to many, seemed the yells and screeches of infuriated Indians, and others had no other way of accounting for the awful sounds, which still kept increasing, but by supposing that the clay of judgment had certainly come, and to their terrified imaginations, the awful uproar in the air seemed the immediate precursor of the clangor of the last trumpet. At intervals, many supposed they could distinguish the calling out of the particular names, as of Col. Dyer, Elderkin, two eminent lawyers, and this increased the general terror. It was told me by my reverend grandmother, and I do not doubt the fact in the least, as it has been confirmed by many other aged and venerable standbys of the town, both male and female, that the minister of the parish, surrounded by his trembling family, fell on his knees in an agony of prayer, and, (as expressed in the verses which follow,) in his garden among the bean-poles, (but this probably is an embellishment of the poet,) and that by a simultaneous movement, a great proportion of the inhabitants resorted to the same expedient for succor. But soon there was a rush from every house, the tumult in the air still increasing. Old and young, male and female, poured forth into the streets, “in puris naturalibus”  entirely forgetful, in their hurry and consternation, of their nether habiliments, and with eyes upturned, tried to pierce the almost palpable darkness. My venerable informant, who well recollects the event, says, that some daring spirits, concluding there was nothing supernatural in the hubbub and uproar over head, but that rather they heard the yells of Indians commencing a midnight attack, loaded their guns and sallied forth to meet the invading foes. These valiant heroes, on ascending the hill that bounds the village on the east, perceived that the sounds came from that quarter, and not from the skies, as at first believed; but their courage would not permit them to proceed to the daring extremity of advancing eastward, until thy should discover the real cause of alarm and distress which pervaded the whole village.
“Towards morning the sounds in the air seemed to die away, and the horror-stricken Windhamites, discovering that no Indians made an attack, and that for that time they had escaped from being called to their account, (a general impression prevailed for a time among the females and the more timid of the male population, that the day of judgment was at hand,) retired to rest, but not until the two robust Colonels had planted sentinels in every place where there was the least danger of an attack from the Indians.
“In the morning, the whole cause of alarm, which produced such distressing apprehensions among the good people of the town, was apparent to all who took the trouble to go to a certain mill-pond, situated about three-fourths of a mile eastward of the village. This pond — hereafter in the annals of fame forever to be called the FROG POND — in consequence of a severe drought which had prevailed for many weeks, had become nearly dry, and the Bull-Frogs it was densely populated with, fought a pitched battle on the sides of the ditch which ran through it, for the possession and enjoyment of the fluid which remained. Long and obstinate was the contest maintained. Several thousands of the warrior hosts were found dead on both sides of the ditch the next morning. It had been remarkably still for several hours before the battle commenced, but suddenly, as if by a pre-concerted agreement, every frog on one side of the ditch raised the war cry, Col. Dyer! Col. Dyer! and at the same instant, from the opposite side shouted the adversaries, Elderkin too! Elderkin too!
“Owing to some peculiar state of the atmosphere, the awful noises and cries appeared to be directly over their heads; and considering all the circumstances, it is not at all surprising that many ludicrous, and even distressing events, should have occurred on that eventful night, among the affrighted inhabitants of the city of ‘BULL-FROGS.'”
BULL-FROG SONG, ORIGINALLY ENTITLED “LAWYERS AND BULL-FROGS”
Good people all, both great and small,
Of every occupation,
I pray draw near and lend an ear
To this our true relation.
‘Twas of a fright happened one night,
Caused by the bull-frog nation,
As strange an one as ever was known
In all our generation.
The frogs we hear, in bull-frog shire,
Their chorister had buried ;
The saddest loss, and greatest cross
That ever they endured.
Thus being deprived, they soon contrived,
Their friends to send to, greeting,
Even to all, both great and small,
To hold a general meeting.
Subject and lord, with one accord,
Now came with bowels yearning,
For to supply, and qualify,
And fit a frog for learning.
For to supply immediately,
The place of their deceased,
There did they find one to their mind,
Which soon their sorrow eased.
This being done, the glorious sun,
Being down and night advancing,
With great delight they spent the night,
In music and in dancing.
And when they sung, the air it rung,
And when they broke in laughter,
It did surprise both learned and wise,
As you shall find hereafter.
A negro man, we understand,
Awoke and heard the shouting,
He ne’er went abroad, but awak’d his lord,
Which filled their hearts with doubting.
They then did rise, with great surprise,
And raised the town or city,
Although before unto the poor
They ne’er would show pity.
With one accord they went abroad,
And stood awhile to wonder,
The bull-frog shout appears no doubt
To them like claps of thunder.
Which made them say, the judgment day,
Without a doubt was coming ;
For in the air, they did declare,
Was very awful drumming.
Those lawyers fees would give no ease,
Though well they’re worth inditing;
To pray they kneel — alas ! they feel
The worm of conscience biting.
Being thus dismayed, one of them said,
He would make restitution —
He would restore one-half or more —
This was his resolution.
Another’s heart was touched in part,
But not pricked to the centre,
Rather than pay one-half away,
His soul, he said, he’d venture.
Then they agreed to go with speed,
And see what was the matter ;
And as they say that by the way
Repenting tears did scatter.
They traveled still unto the hill,
With those men they did rally,
Then soon they found the doleful sound
To come out of the valley.
Then down they went, with one consent,
And found those frogs a singing,
Raising their voice for to rejoice,
This was the doleful ringing.
Home those great men returned then,
Now filled with wrath and malice,
And mustered all, both great and small,
From prison and from palace.
Swearing, I say, thus in array,
To be revenged upon them ;
Thinking it best, I do protest,
To go and fall upon them.
Then armed all, both great and small,
With guns and swords and hatchets,
The Indian king could never bring
An army that could match it.
Old Stoughton he ran and charged up his gun,
And flourished his sword in the air,
“But not being stout,” he at last gave out,
And fell on his knees to prayer.
Then armed with fury, both judge and jury,
Unto the Frog-Pond moved;
And as they say, a fatal day
Unto the frogs it proved.
This terrible night the Parson did fright
His people almost to despair,
For poor Windham souls, among the bean-poles,
He made a most wonderful prayer.
[The following are the verses here omitted in this edition, but in the original.]
Being I say, thus in array
Upon the mountains early,
These Lawyers they, did send away
With them to hold a par-ley!
Who did demand, I understand,
Of them what was the reason
That they did cry, so hideously
Saying it was high treason!
The bull-frogs brave, the reason gave
And their own cause defended!
Telling their case, before their face,
As it was apprehended.
Lawyer Lucifer called up his crew,
Dyer and Elderkin, you must come too.
Old Col. Dyer you know well enough;
He had an old negro, his name was Cuff. 
Now massa, says Cuff, I’m now glad enough,
For what little comfort I have,
I make it no doubt my time is just out,
No longer shall I be a slave.
As for Larabie, so guilty was he,
He durst not stir out of the house;
The poor guilty soul crept into his hole
And there lay as still as a mouse.
As for Jemmy Flint, he began to repent,
For a Bible he never had known,
His life was so bad he’d give half he had
To old Father Stoughton for one.
Those armed men, they killed them,
And scalped about two hundred;
Taking, I say, their lives away,
And then their camp they plundered.
Those lusty frogs, they fought like dogs,
For which I do commend them;
But lost the day, for want, I say,
Of weapons to defend them.
Then with a shout they turned about,
And said we’ve now been crafty,
Our city’s peace shall now increase,
And we shall dwell in safety.
Home those great men returned then,
Unto the town with fury,
And swore those frogs were saucy dogs,
Before both judge and jury.
I had this story set before me
Just as I have writ it,
It being so new, so strange and true,
I could not well omit it.
Lawyers I say, now from this day,
Be honest in your dealing,
And never more increase your store,
While you the poor are killing.
For if you do, I’ll have, you know,
Conscience again will smite you,
The bull-frog shout will ne’er give out,
But rise again and fight you.
Now Lawyers, Parsons, Bull-frogs, all,
I bid you each farewell;
And unto you I loudly call
A better tale to tell.
THE BULL-FROG FIGHT; A BALLAD OF THE OLDEN TIME
[The verses following were published in the Boston Museum, in 1851, and it is supposed were written by a native of Windham.]
A direful story must I tell,
Should I at length relate
What once a luckless town befell
In “wooden nutmeg” state.
‘Twas in the days of old King George,
The Dutchman, who did reign
O’er England, and her colonies,
And islands in the main. 
The Frenchmen, in those troublous times,
With Indian tribes did strive
To shoot, and scalp, and tomahawk,
And burn our sires alive.
And many a village was burned down,
And many a shot and scar
To our forefathers oft was given
In the French and Indian war.
But the direst fray in all that war
To shake King George’s crown,
Was when the bull-frogs marched by night
Against old Windham town.
These bull-frogs lived a mile away,
Beyond the eastern hill,
Within a rich and slimy pond
That feeds an ancient mill.
And there, at night, their concerts loud
Rolled up from stump and bog,
As bass and treble swelled the throat
Of bull and heifer frog.
But “on a time” the greedy sun
Had drunk their lakelet dry;
The reckless mill had drained it out,
With grinding corn and rye.
And they but met an angry glare,
When they reproached the sun;
Their bitter tears moved not a mill
Nor broke its heart of stone.
The drinking sun and mill had drained
A domain wide and rich,
And dissipation, not their own
Brought the frogs to a narrow ditch.
Nature a living owed to them —
‘Twas very plain — and yet
They watched in vain for clouds to come,
And liquidate the debt.
They often gasped and prayed for rain,
And she did oft refuse,
And each dark eve conviction brought
That she grudged them their dews.
At length, one night, when human kind
In sleep had settled down,
They heard Shetucket rolling on,
Beyond old Windham town.
The murmur of that rushing stream,
Borne on the western wind,
Filled them with frenzy, and they left
Their native pond behind.
They sallied forth, a mighty host,
They swarmed upon the hill
Beneath whose front the village lay,
In slumbers deep and still.
And now Shetucket’s gurgling roar
Came freshly from the wood,
And maddened them with strong desire
To leap into the flood.
They piped, and screamed, and bellowed forth,
In accents loud and deep,
Their frantic joy, and like the ghost
Of Banquo, “murdered sleep.”
The villagers whose rest was slain
By this advancing crew,
Awaked from horrid dreams, in fear
That they’d be murdered too.
For ne’er did angry foemen raise
So loud and fierce a din —
Nor Scotch, nor Dutch, nor mad Malay,
Nor ancient Philistine.
The frightful sounds were now like yells
From painted savage grim,
And now — more terrible than that —
Like Cromwell’s battle hymn.
Then forth the people rushed, to hear
Those noises rend the air ;
And some resolved to meet the foe,
Some, refuge sought in prayer.
Some thought the judgment day at hand;
But their fears were banished quite,
By a funny black, who ‘clared ’twas strange
That that day should come in the night.
And soon were gathered on the green,
Old Windham’s valiant sons,
Some armed with pitchforks, rakes, or scythes,
And some with rusty guns.
And there, in hurried council met,
They trembled and stood still,
To listen to the cruel foe
Who thundered from the hill.
The fiendish jargon that so loud
From throats discordant rung,
They doubted not conveyed fierce threats
In French or Indian tongue.
But how their warmest blood was chilled,
To hear the foe demand
The lives of their best citizens —
Much noted in the land.
How quaked their very souls with dread,
As, mid the grievous din,
The foe, remorseless, bellowed forth
The name of “Elderkin.”
Their very hearts within them died,
When, as the host drew nigher,
They heard resound, in guttural notes,
The name of “Colonel Dyer!”
But fiery Mars inspired a few,
Who stalwart were in frame,
To meet the enemy in fight,
His insolence to tame.
They girded on their armor strong,
They charged their guns with lead;
Their friends gave them the parting word,
And mourned o’er them as dead.
And then this gallant company
Marched boldly up the hill,
Resolved to quell the raging foe —
His fevered blood to spill.
They reached the spot from whence was heard
The fearful hue and cry,
And, though no murderous foe was seen,
They let their powder fly.
Ensconced behind a granite wall,
They poured a leaden rain
From blunderbuss and rusty gun,
At random o’er the plain.
But strange to tell, the stupid foe,
Returned no answering fire;
They only bellowed louder still
The name of Colonel Dyer!
And when another volley spoke,
And cut through thick and thin,
They bawled more loudly than before
The name of Elderkin!
The courage of the Windham men
Now rose exceeding high,
And so they blazed away till dawn
Lit up the eastern sky.
The enemy dared not assail
This valiant band at all,
But screamed and groaned and shouted still,
Behind the granite wall.
“Pe-wwg-,” “pe-Mttg-,” “go-row,” “go-row”
“Chug,” “chug,” “peep,” “peep ” and “tee-tef.”
“Cease firing, boys,” the Captain said,
” The dogs desire a treaty.”
Our heroes rested on their arms,
Till morning’s light revealed,
The bodies of the prostrate frogs
Stretched out upon the field.
But when they saw their waste of shot
And fright had been in vain,
Some made a solemn vow that they
Would ne’er bear arms again.
And they all returned with wiser heads
To the heart of Windham town;
While the remnant of the frogs went home,
And soon the rains came down.
And at this day when evening shades
Envelope brakes and bogs,
The tenants of that pond rehearse
The battle of the frogs.
And to this day, each Windhamite
Unto his little son
Relates how on a summer’s night,
The Bull-Frog Fight was won.
This tale is true, and years far hence
It must be current still
For bull-frogs two are pictured on
Each current Windham bill.
[See bills of all denominations on the Windham (Conn.) Bank.]
WILLIMANTIC BOOKSTORE, NEWS OFFICE, AND PAPER-HANGING DEPOT, AT THE [?] STORE, (three doors east of old stand in Franklin Building), WILLIMANTIC, CONN. JAMES WALDEN, (successor to W. L. Weaver), has removed to his new and commodious store, where he is prepared to do a much more extensive business than formerly. SCHOOL-BOOKS, School Stationery, and School Apparatus, including every article used in the school rooms of best quality. STATIONERY of every variety, at wholesale and retail. NEW BOOKS received as soon as published, with a good selection of miscellaneous and standard works constantly on hand. PAPER HANGINGS, Borders, Shades, Window Curtains, &c, a large assortment at all seasons, both Foreign and American. NEWSPAPERS, Daily and Weekly, with the Magazines, furnished at subscription prices.
Ellen D. Larned, History of Windham County, Connecticut, Vol. I, 1600-1760 (Worcester, MA: Charles Hamilton, 1874)
[Ellen Douglas Larned (1825-1912) was a nineteenth-century historian. She was a lifelong resident of Thompson, CT, in the state’s northeast corner. Like all nineteenth-century historians, she had no formal academic training in history. Proud of her Anglo-American, Yankee heritage, Larned spent many years composing her opus, a massive two-volume history of Connecticut’s Windham County, which combined documentary sources with what seem to be oral traditions. Her account of the Windham Frog Fight is close enough to Weaver’s that she either used his pamphlet as a source or perhaps even interviewed him before he died.]
The rival claims of France and England to American territory had involved the Colonies from the outset in frequent war and bloodshed. The final controversy, extending from 1754 to 1760, cost them many lives, much treasure and great suffering. The breaking out of this War was at the darkest period of Windham’s history. Religious dissensions had divided and weakened her churches, and malignant distempers decimated and desolated her families. Six of her ablest ministers and many prominent public men had been stricken down. Children had died in great numbers, so that scarce a household was left unbroken. In these mournful days, when many hearts “were trembling at the manifest judgments of God,” a rumor of impending war deepened the gloom. Tales of Indian attrocities and butcheries had been handed down from generation to generation. War with France was a war with ferocious savages, incited and guided by skilled brains and backed by all the resources of civilization. The colonization scheme by which many had hoped to escape difficulties and discouragements and begin life anew under more favorable auspices, was likely to be blighted or deferred. Her citizens would be called out to engage in this deadly carnage, and her homes and villages left exposed to the incursions of murderous savages. These gloomy prospects filled many hearts with anxious forebodings and subjected Windham to that ludicrous panic more widely known than any event in her history; to magnifying an uproar in her Frog Pond into the clamor of an approaching army.
This memorable incident occurred in June, 1754. Though war was not formally declared, hostilities had begun. A Virginia regiment, led by Colonel George Washington, was already in the field, laboring to expel the French from possessions claimed by the Ohio Company. Delegates from many of the Colonies were in session at Albany, endeavoring to concert a scheme of common defence. The public mind was disturbed and apprehensive. Windham’s prominence in the recently-formed Susquehanna Company gave her especial cause for anxiety. This attempt to rescue from the Indians a large tract of land bordering on the disputed territory might have aroused suspicion and hostility, and exposed them to the vengeance of the enemy. The feverish enthusiasm with which they had hailed that attractive scheme gave place to doubts and misgivings, and premonitory croakings were heard on every side. Thus troubled and perturbed, the residents of Windham Green were aroused from their slumbers one sultry summer night by sounds wholly unlike anything ever before heard or reported even by the oldest inhabitant. Mr. White’s negro-man, returning from some nocturnal rendezvous, was the first to hear these sounds and give the alarm to his master and the neighbors. Rushing out from their beds, they listened with horror and amazement. A din, a roar, an indescribable hubbub and tumult seemed to fill the Heavens and shake the earth beneath their feet. The night was still, cloudy, and intensely dark. Sky, village and surrounding country were shrouded in thickest blackness, and thus the terrified listeners were thrown wholly upon conjecture and imagination. Some feared that the Day of Judgment was at hand, and that these unearthly sounds were but the prelude to the Trump of Doom. Others seized upon the more natural but scarcely less appalling explanation, that an army of French and Indians were marching upon the devoted village. Distinct articulations, detected amid the general Babel, made this conjecture more probable, and ere long the name of Windham’s most honored citizen, most prominently connected with the Susquehanna Purchase, was clearly eliminated. “We’ll have Colonel Dyer,” “We’ll have Colonel Dyer,” was vociferated in deep, gutteral tones. “Elderkin, too,” “Elderkin, too,” responded a shrill tenor. Yes! both these noble young men were demanded by the insatiate savages. The words “Tete,” “Tete,” next detected, inspired some hope. It was possible that even then a treaty might be effected. Thus in fear, terror, and conjecture passed the night — the astonishing clamor continuing till the breaking of day. That any terrified Windhamite was so demented as to sally out with gun and pitchfork to meet an army of famished frogs en route for the Willimantic, is extremely doubtful.
The morning brought a solution of the mystery from families near the mill-pond. Windham’s own amphibious population had broken her peace and made all the disturbance. The family of Mr. Follet, who owned the mill-privilege and lived adjacent, were awakened by a most extraordinary clamor among the frogs. They filled the air with cries of distress described by the hearers as continuous and thunderlike, making their beds shake under them. Those who went to the pond found the frogs in great apparent agitation and commotion, but from the extreme darkness of the night could see nothing of what was passing. In the morning, many dead frogs were found about the pond, yet without any visible wounds or marks of violence. There was no evidence that they had been engaged in battle. Some mysterious malarial malady, some deadly epizootic, had probly broken out among them and caused the outcries and havoc. The report of their attempted migration in search of water is positively denied by trustworthy witnesses. There had been no drought, and the pond was abundantly supplied with water, being fed by a never-failing stream.
The mortification of the Windham people upon this unexpected and humiliating revelation is quite beyond the power of description: —
“Some were well pleased, and some were mad; / Some turned it off with laughter; / And some would never hear a word / About the thing, thereafter. / Some vowed that if the De’il, himself, / Should come, they would not flee him, / And if a frog they ever met, / Pretended not to see him.”
No people were so fond of playing jokes upon others as these same residents of Windham Green, and now that the joke was turned upon them, no mercy was shown them. Those of their fellow townsmen who had not been victimized overwhelmed them with banter and ridicule. The tragic alarm was made the most comical of farces. The story flew over the Country with innumerable additions and exaggerations — a bit of choice fun, pleasantly enlivening the cares and anxieties of that mournful period. Rev. Mr. Stiles of Woodstock, forgetting his losses and conflicts, thus playfully decants upon the affair to his nephew: —
“WOODSTOCK, July 9, 1754.
“If the late tragical tidings from Windham deserve credit, as doubtless they do, it will then concern the gentlemen of your Jurispritian order to be fortified against the dreadful croaks of Tauranean Legions; Legions, terrible as the very wreck of matter and the crush of worlds. Antipathy relates that the elephant fears the mouse; a hero trembles at the crowding of a cock — but pray whence is it that the croaking of a bull-frog should so Belthazzarize a lawyer? How Dyerful ye alarm made by these audacious long-winded croakers: ‘Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme, / Tauranean terrors or Chimeras Dyer.’ I hope, sir, from the Dyerful reports from the Frog Pond, you’ll gain some instruction, as well as from the report of my Lord Cook.”
Nor was the report of the Windham panic confined to its own County. Even without the aid of newspapers and pictorial illustrations, it was borne to every part of the land. It was sung in song and ballad; it was related in histories; it served as a standing joke in all circles and seasons. Few incidents occurring in America have been so widely circulated. Let a son of Windham penetrate to the uttermost parts of the Earth, he would find that the glory of the Frog-fight had preceded him. The Windham Bull-frogs have achieved a world-wide reputation, and with Rome’s goose, Putnam’s wolf and a few other favored animals, will ever hold a place in popular memory and favor.
Jane Gay Fuller, “The Battle of the Frogs,” in Richard M. Bales, ed., History of Windham County, Connecticut (New York: W. W. Preston & Co., 1889), 207-213.
[Jane Gay Fuller (1820-1897) was born and raised in Windham, Connecticut, although the rural neighborhood where she lived her entire life became the separate town of Scotland in 1857, when she was 37. Fuller never married. She lived in the farmhouse of her father David and mother Hadassah until her death at the age of 77, still caring for her younger sister Sarah. In addition to Sarah, Fuller had nine other siblings. Her father was properous, both a merchant and a farmer, with an estate that at its heightin 1850 was worth $3,000. Jane Fuller worked as a teacher and a professional writer. She authored five children’s novels, from 1864 to 1888. She also contributed a chapter on Windham folktales and legends to Richard M. Bales’s 1889 History of Windham County. It was there that she retold the story of the Great Windham Frog Fight. Her chief sources were probably her friends and neighbors, but she also included the lyrics to “The Bull-Frog Song,” the ballad that Weaver had printed at the Willimantic Journal in the 1850s and included in his 1857 pamphlet. Fuller referred to the ballad by its original title, “Lawyers and Bull-Frogs,” so she may have had access to an earlier edition. Reprinted below is Fuller’s version of the Frog Fight.]
“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 Indiasn 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 nocyurnal 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 shieked 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. An 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 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 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 at their expense. The Windham wits 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 doggerel 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 sent 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 and 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.
As we have stated before, the frog-fight was the theme of many ballads, some founded on Peters’ narrative, others on a more truthful statement of facts. All are amusing relics of the times, and worthy of being preserved as curiosities of history as well as of literature. The following, believed to be the most ancient, is said to have been composed by a youthful son of Lebanon, who was undoubtedly glad to have a hit at his rival townsmen, and Windham’s numerous lawyers. It bore the following lengthy title:
“A true relation of a strange battle between some Lawyers and Bull-frogs, set forth in a new song, written by a jolly farmer of New England.”
LAWYERS AND BULL-FROGS
[What follows are the lyrics to “The Bull-Frog Song,” printed in the broadside shown above and quoted by Weaver in his pamphlet.]
- Other sources give the date as 1754. The editor has included a discussion about the two dates in the introductory remarks to Ellen Larned’s description of the Frog Fight, following the Weaver document.
- The first non-indigenous people to settle in what is now Windham, the Englishman John Cates and an enslaved African named Jo, arrived in 1688 or 1689. The population of Windham in 1756 was 2,446.
- Judge Zephaniah Swift (1759-1823). The Swift house still stands adjacent to Windham Green. The village — called Windham Center or Windham Green in the 1800s, simply Windham village in the 1700s, and Hither Place in the 1600s — was located atop a low rise at the foot of Swift Hill. Swift’s house was in the village, at the base of Swift Hill, which rose to the east. As Swift was not born until 1759, and was born in Massachusetts, obviously the hill was not called Swift Hill at the time of the Frog Fight in the 1750s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zephaniah_Swift.
- Samuel Peters, General History of Connecticut, from its First Settlement under George Fenwick, to its Latest Period of Amity with Great Britain Prior to the Revolution; Including a Description of the Country, and Many Curious and Interesting Anecdotes. With an Appendix, Pointing out the Causes of the Rebellion in America; Together with the Particular Part Taken by the People of Connecticut in its Promotion. By a Gentleman of the Province (1781). Peters was an embittered Loyalist who fled Connecticut for England during the American Revolution. General History was written as an anti-Patriot screed intended to belittle Patriot leaders like Eliphalet Dyer and Jedediah Elderkin, and is not considered accurate history. See, e.g., New England Historical Society, “Samuel Peters Writes a Fake History of Connecticut,” https://newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/samuel-peters-and-the-true-history-of-connecticut/.
- Col. Eliphalet Dyer (1721-1807). As the county seat of Windham County, Windham village was home to the Windham County Courthouse and County Jail. Several lawyers and judges, including Dyer, had residences there. Dyer was born in Windham and attended Yale, graduating in 1740. He apprenticed with a lawyer was admitted to the bar in 1746. He was elected justice of the peace and a member of the Connecticut assembly in 1747. During the French and Indian War, Dyer was a lieutenant colonel in the militia. He participated in the expedition that in 1755 attempted to capture Crown Point (Fort Saint-Frederic) from the French. Fort Saint-Frederic, located on the southern shores of Lake Champlain, guarded the route from New York City up the Hudson River to Albany, and then north to Lake St. George and Lake Champlain, and thence down the Richelieu River to Montreal. Because the route followed an ancient rift valley, it was fairly level with rivers and lakes in its center, and had long been used as an invasion route by Algonquins attacking Mohawks, Mohawks attacking Algonquins, French forces attacking British colonists, and British forces attacking French colonists. The purpose of Fort Saint-Frederic was to protect Montreal from British attacks. The leader of the Crown Point expedition (Crown Point was the English name for Fort Saint-Frederic), Sir William Johnson, leading a force of New England and New York militia, expected the attack on the French fort to be a surprise, but the French had been tipped off when plans for the attack had been captured by French forces at Braddock’s defeat in Pennsylvania only two months earlier. French forces intercepted the British at Lake St. George before they even reached Fort Saint-Frederic. The British (which included Connecticut militia led by Dyer, Israel Putnam, and others) fought off the French attack, but advanced no further, electing to construct Fort William Henry on the south shore of Lake George. The French constructed Fort Carillon further north, between Fort Saint-Frederic and Fort William Henry. The Mohawks called Fort Carillon Ticonderoga. In 1759, Dyer led a regiment of Connecticut militia into Canada as part of the British siege of Quebec. During the Revolution, Dyer (a staunch Patriot) served on Connecticut’s Committee of Safety. He was sent to the Continental Congress as a delegate in 1774. He served in the Congress during 1774–1775, 1777–1779, and 1782–1783 — missing the chance to vote on and sign the Declaration of Independence. His fellow Congressman John Adams characterized Dyer as “longwinded and roundabout, obscure and cloudy, very talkative and very tedious, yet an honest, worthy man; means and judges well.” Dyer was the largest slave owner and one of the largest landowners in Windham. During the early 1750s, he had invested heavily in the Susquehanna Company, a scheme to settle Connecticans on Pennsylvania’s northern frontier, which may have affected his perceptions of indigenous peoples and the danger of raids from Canada. (More on that later.) See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliphalet_Dyer.
- Israel Putnam. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Putnam. When Weaver writes that Dyer and other Windham men were at Crown Point fighting French, Canadian, Algonquin, and Wabanaki forces, he gets his dates wrong. The fighting around Crown Point took place in 1755, three years before Weaver says the Frog Fight took place in 1758, and a year after Ellen Larned says it occurred in 1754. Weaver seems to be trying to excuse Dyer and many of the men from the events of the Frog Fight, but in fact Dyer and his regiment would have been home when it occurred.
- Abner Follett, Jr. (1791-1868). His father was Abner Follett, Sr. (1747-1825), who would have been seven years old in 1754 and eleven in 1758.
- While the Willimantic River did run through the northwest part of the town of Windham, it was just a tributary of the town’s largest river, the Shetucket. The waters of the Frog Pond drained into the Shetucket, not the Willimantic, and it was the Shetucket that lay closer to Windham village.
- That is to say, White, Elderkin, and Dyer. The word “tete” is supposed to mean “to treat” or “to negotiate,” as in “tete-a-tete.”
- The Providence Gazette was published in Providence, RI, from 1762 through 1795. It espoused the Patriot cause during the Revolution and became an Anti-federalist paper thereafter.
- Again, if the frogs were on the hop, the road from the Frog Pond led to the Shetucket River, not to the Willimantic. But, as Weaver, indicates, they probably never left the vicinity of the Frog Pond.
- Jedediah Elderkin (1717-1792). Born in Norwich, CT, Elderkin moved to Windham in 1745 as a young lawyer. He was a major landowner and was elected to the Connecticut Assembly in 1751. He was active on the Patriot side in the American Revolution and was a close associate of Gov. Trumbull. He was also known for his attempts to raise silkworms in Connecticut, transplanting mulberry trees into Windham. During the Revolution, he operated a gunpowder mill at the Falls of the Willimantic River. https://www.livingplaces.com/CT/Windham_County/Windham_Town/Windham_Center_Historic_District.html.
- Ebenezer Tilden (1757-1823) of Lebanon, CT, a town just west of Windham. Tilden was a Private in the Revolutionary War. He would have been too young to have remembered the Frog Fight, but certainly would have heard the story growing up. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33694768/ebenezer-tilden. The authorship of the introduction to Ebenezer Tilden’s ballad, which Weaver included in his pamphlet, has been ascribed to Thomas Tilden (Ebenezer’s son, 1801-1869), Stephen Tilden (1769-1851), and Weaver himself. See, “Battle of the Frogs,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Frogs#:~:text=In%201857%2C%20William%20Lawton%20Weaver%20compiled%20the%2048-page,Weaver%20offers%20his%20own%20interpretation%20of%20the%20events.
- In puris naturalibus, i.e. buck naked.
- A colonial census taken in 1756 counted 40 “negroes” in Windham, most of them enslaved — a number that is quite possibly an undercount. Eliphalet Dyer was Windham’s largest slave owner. As late as the first federal census in 1790, by which time about half of the enslaved population of Windham had become free, Dyer still owned eight slaves. His household also included one free Black person, possibly Jube Dyer, recorded as “Jube Negro” in the 1800 Census, when he was the head of his own household. Jube served in the Continental Army during the Revolution as a substitute for Dyer’s son, for which he received his freedom. No enslaved people were recorded by name in any Census, but it is possible that Cuff was a real person, although caricatured in the ballad.
- George II (r. 1720-1760). He was actually German, not Dutch.
- Fuller was visiting her sister, Abby Ann Fuller Abbe, in Minnesota. One of Fuller’s novels, Bending Willow (1872) was set in frontier Minnesota.
- George Bancroft (1800-1891) was the foremost American historian of the early-to-middle years of the 19th century. He was a native of Massachusetts. His ten-volume History of the United States of America (1854-78) established the model for writing American political history. The Bancroft Prize, awarded by the trustees of Columbia University since 1948 for exceptional writing in American political history is named for Bancroft and is considered one of the most prestigious awards given to American historians. It is interesting that Bancroft was aware of the legend of the Windham Frog Fight.
- It was a great exaggeration to characterize Windham as a frontier community in the 1750s. Windham’s first non-indigenous inhabitants, the Englishman John Cates and enslaved African Jo, had arrived in 1688, and Windham was incorporated in 1692. By the 1750s, the New England frontier was many miles away to the north, in Vermont. Western Massachusetts towns like Deerfield had good reason to fear frontier raids, but towns in eastern Connecticut were quite safe.
- In having an African American speaking in dialect, Fuller incorporates a familar trope of her time. One of her novels, The Brownings (1867), was set in the Civil War-era South, and Fuller had her African American characters in the novel use the same dialect. We should not assume that Black people in Connecticut in the 1750s really talked like that. Fuller did know 19th-century Black Connecticans intimately: two members of the African American Dicky/Dickson/Dickens family, Mary and her son Alexander, lived in Fuller’s household for may years as live-in servants, showing up in the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses. Fuller also considered herself sympathetic to the struggles and hardships of Black Connecticans. In a bicentennial poem she delivered in Windham in 1892, five years before her death, she slyly chided her fellow Windhamites for not deeming the enslaved man Jo (known also as Joe Ginne) one of the founders of the town, despite the fact that he was one of the first two non-indigenous people to reside there. Race was a complex and complicated issue.