Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


September 6, 2012

Dalton column: Death Defying Frye

Born in Andover in 1709, Joseph Frye led a charmed, although difficult, life. He worked as a farmer until he was 36, marrying Mehitable Poor in the early 1730s; they had 11 children, although two died early. At middle age, Frye joined the militia in 1745 as an ensign, and received immediate combat experience during King George’s War, the third of the French and Indian Wars. He was among the 3,500 volunteers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire who sailed to Cape Breton Island to lay siege to the fort at Louisbourg, taking control of it after seven weeks of fighting.

Early in Frye’s military career he led a tragic expedition in Maine where he was ambushed by Abenakis, who overwhelmed the militia, killing Frye’s nephew. Frye escaped death by leaping off a spot so high above Sebago Lake that none of the Indians followed him into the water. That spot is called Frye’s Leap today.

Frye left the militia at the end of King George’s war in 1748, returning to Andover, where he was elected to serve in the General Court. When the French and Indian Wars resumed six years later, Frye was recommissioned and promoted to major.

The biggest event in Frye’s military career was a massacre following the 1757 battle for Fort William Henry, which is described in James Fenimore Cooper’s historical novel “The Last of the Mohicans” (1826). A more accurate account appears in a 2011 book, “The Siege of Fort William Henry - A Year on the Northeastern Frontier,” by Ben Hughes (Westholme Publishing). It is a well-written, scholarly book. In it, Colonel Joseph Frye plays an important supporting role, and the author says Frye was among the most experienced men of all the provincial troops. Much of the information stated below comes from that book.

Immediately upon arriving at Fort William Henry, a cannonball ripped through Col. Joseph Frye’s tent taking off the leg of his aide and missing Frye by inches. Frye had led 823 Massachusetts Militia men to the fort on the southern tip of Lake George, joining other colonial militia in the relief of British troops led by Lt. Col. George Monro; leading the siege by French and Indian forces was General Montcalm.

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