The bizarre story of the Great Windham Frog Fight spread across the United States and all the way to Europe during the 18th century.
People celebrated it in song and print in the 19th century and commemorated by 11-foot frog sculptures in the 20th. In addition, those sculptures appeared in a Zippy the Pinhead comic in the 21st.
One 1851 ballad, called The Bull-Frog Fight. A Ballad of the Olden Time, begins the tale:
A direful story must I tell,
Should I at length relate,
What once a luckless town befell,
In ‘wooden nutmeg’ State.
The Windham Frog Fight
Here’s the story of the Great Windham Frog Fight: In the summer of 1754, tensions ran high in the frontier town of Windham, Conn., because the French and Indian War had broken out in May. At the same time a drought threatened the farming community’s crops.
Shortly after midnight on a hot, muggy night in June, the residents of the town of Windham woke to a hideous sound, a shrieking, clattering roar.
The frightened townspeople jumped from their beds.
Some thought the horrifying sounds were the war whoops of attacking Indians. Some thought they were the trumpets of Judgment Day. Others thought they were native Americans saying ‘gin’ and ‘rum.’ An elderly African-American man argued it couldn’t be the Day of Judgment because it was nighttime.
Some terrified villagers thought they could hear the sound of names being called out: ‘Col. Dyer’ and ‘Elderkin’ — two of the town’s militia leaders.
Lawyer Eliphalet Dyer – described by John Adams as ‘longwinded’ and ‘tedious’ but an ‘honest, worthy man’ — led the town’s militia in military readiness.
Jedidiah Elderkin was another lawyer who, with Dyer, planned to colonize the Susquehanna Valley. Windhamites may have thought the plan would anger the Indians.
The militiamen were said to have fired their muskets into the darkness throughout the night. By morning, the sound died down, and the townspeople celebrated their victory in the Great Windham Frog Fight.
But as dawn broke, a scouting party ventured out toward the place from where the sound came. They realized the embarrassing truth. Hundreds of bullfrog corpses — all belly up — littered the landscape.
The sound had come from a pond belonging to Dyer. Because the drought had dried up all of Windham’s standing water, only a puddle remained at the bottom of the pond. A horde of frogs descended on that one remaining wet spot and fought over it.
What the Windhamites had heard were the battle cries and dying moans of thirsty bullfrogs, magnified by the cloud cover and muggy air.
The story spread far and wide. At least three ballads were written about the Great Windham Frog Fight, while an 1888 operetta, The Frogs of Old Windham, drew audiences throughout Connecticut.
After the American Revolution, the Windham Bank issued banknotes with an image of a frog standing over the body of another frog.
The Willimantic section of Windham grew into a factory town that produced silk and cotton thread. The American Thread Company located on the banks of the Willimantic River and became Connecticut’s largest employer.
Today, four 11-foot frogs sitting atop giant spools of thread guard the Thread City Crossing, or Frog Bridge.
Windhamites renamed the frog battlefield Frog Pond, which you can see today a mile east of Windham Center on the Scotland Road. Look on the left as you cross Indian Hollow Brook.
“Willimantic Frog Bridge 1” by Grendelkhan at English Wikipedia. Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Featured image By Carol M. Highsmith – Library of Congress Catalog: http://lccn.loc.gov/2012630525Image download: https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/highsm/19000/19098a.tifOriginal url: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.19098, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51655474,
This story about the Windham frog fight was updated in 2022.
Great story and great photo–makes me want to visit that sculpture!
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