Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 6, 2012

Dalton column: Death Defying Frye

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — 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.

Even with the provincial militia present, the siege was one-sided in terms of men and artillery; the French were pounding the fort to pieces. Monro surrendered to Montcalm after receiving assurances that the troops, women, and children within the fort would be guaranteed safe passage to nearby Fort Edwards. The promise proved worthless, as Montcalm couldn’t control the 2,000 Indians under his command. The defenseless surrendering troops were allowed to keep muskets but no ammunition or powder.

The massacre was not without warning: Col. Frye later reported that, on the night of the surrender, great numbers of Indians came to the fort threatening harm, and he felt impending doom. As the British and provincial troops began their march to Fort Edwards the next morning, the Indians entered the fort hospital and butchered the wounded who were supposedly under French protection. This was the beginning of the atrocities. The Indians then attacked the women and children, who were to the rear of the line of march, and what was done to the victims was too heinous to be described here. Maine Abenakis then attacked the New Hampshire militia, the last troops in the line of march, and it was these men who took the worst losses, with 80 of their number killed. According to the book, the total number of troops killed was 200, with 900 captured and taken away by the Indians. There was no count of women and children killed or any accounting of the wounded.

Col. Frye was attacked, stripped of much of his clothing, and, expecting death at any moment, ran to the woods to escape. Covering himself with dirt he laid motionless on the ground expecting a tomahawk at any moment, but the Indians failed to find him.

Frye, making his own path through the 14 miles to Fort Edwards, arrived two days later, exhausted and close to collapse. Two days after that, the 48 year-old Frye led the remaining Massachusetts Militia on a march to Albany.

Lt. Col Monro dropped dead three months after the massacre. Montcalm died a hero’s death in combat two years later, but history carries the stain of the massacre on his record. The result of the massacre enraged the colonies and British so much that it changed the course of the war.

As compensation for his wartime efforts, an undeveloped township in Maine was awarded to General Joseph Frye by the General Court of Massachusetts - Maine then being part of Massachusetts. Frye divided the town into lots, proving himself a good businessman. The township was located at or near the site where Joseph Frye’s nephew had earlier been killed, and it is now the beautiful town of Fryeburg, Maine. Frye lived to be 84.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman, and his email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com. He thanks to Major General John Deyermond (U.S. Army ret.) of Andover for directing him to the book mentioned above.