Colonial Lolita

Jonathan Frye was smitten.  The young parson, a Harvard graduate from Andover, Massachusetts, was hopelessly in love with thirteen-year-old Susanna Rogers, and had a plan that would let them be together despite the objections of his parents.

James and Lydia Frye were members of the upper crust of Andover society.  In their eyes, their son had found a completely unsatisfactory match in this uneducated little girl with a skimpy dowry, and since Jonathan depended on his parents’ support, he had little choice except to obey.  However, a ranger captain named John Lovewell was rounding up a crew for a spring raid against an Abenaki village at Pigwacket, and Lovewell's two previous expeditions had demonstrated how lucrative scalping Indians could be.  Returning from his most recent foray into the wilderness in February, he had paraded down the streets of Boston with ten scalps, worth a bounty of a thousand pounds sterling.  Jonathan Frye signed on with the rangers as their chaplain, bringing his musket and a scalping knife, and planning a future with the girl he might soon be able to afford to marry.

Of the forty-six men who set out on Lovewell’s third expedition in April of 1725, Frye may have been the most fervently-motivated.  When Benjamin Kidder fell ill along the way, Lovewell ordered the construction of a stockade and log hut at Ossipee, where he left his surgeon to treat Kidder, guarded by seven men.  The ranger captain chose to take his chaplain along on the final stage of the march toward their target at Pigwacket.  Frye was leading the group in prayer on the morning of May 9th, when they heard musket-fire to the east.  Someone spied an Indian hunting ducks along the eastern edge of Saco Pond.  Leaving their packs on the trail, hastily stowed and unguarded, the rangers headed off to intercept him.  The rumor, whispered by survivors of “Lovewell’s Fight,” was that it was Frye, eager for bounty money, who insisted on going after the lone Indian.

An exchange of shots with the duck hunter left two rangers wounded, one of them Captain Lovewell, whose injuries were not immediately crippling, though the few pellets of beaver shot lodged in his abdomen might have proved fatal in coming days.  Seth Wyman and Jonathan Frye took aim at the fleeing Indian.  While all agreed that it was Wyman’s shot that brought him down, the honor of taking his scalp fell to the chaplain.  Perhaps his fellow rangers knew about his forbidden romance and sympathized with him.

Just as the rangers returned to the trail and discovered that their packs had been stolen, shots and war whoops rang out, and a fierce day-long firefight was joined.  Captain John Lovewell and half his crew would die that day or during the long trek home, after the rangers who were still able to walk slipped away in the dark.  Surprisingly, the Indians, who greatly outnumbered them at the start of the fight, may have fared even worse than Lovewell’s men.  According to some estimates, as few as a quarter of the eighty warriors who participated in the ambush made their way back to Canada.

Chaplain Jonathan Frye was one of four wounded men who managed to stagger away from the scene of the battle, but after traveling only a few miles, had to be left along the trail.  When the group had endured three days with no food and fading hope of being met by rescuers from Ossipee, they tried to push on a little farther.  Jonathan Frye, the most desperately-injured member of the little band, urged the others to abandon him.  He asked Eleazer Davis to console his father with the news that he expected to be in eternity soon.  Another of the group, Josiah Farwell, died along the way, but Eleazer Davis and Josiah Jones finally did straggle home by separate routes.

For two centuries, a pamphlet written by one of Frye’s former teachers, the Reverend Thomas Symmes of Bradford, Massachusetts, was considered the standard account of what was called “Lovewell’s Great Fight,” or sometimes simply “The Fight.”  Then, in the 1930’s a determined researcher named Fanny Hardy Eckstorm discovered that Symmes’ historical memoir was, in part, a carefully-constructed fib designed to show Lovewell’s young chaplain in a flattering light.  Even the date of the ambush was nudged from May 9th to May 8th, to conceal the fact that Jonathan Frye had scalped an Indian on the Sabbath for money.

For such was the unkind rumor.  Survivors of the fight, who indiscreetly told the truth, must have been responsible for it.  Just because, so it was whispered, a young chaplain needed scalp money to marry, against the wishes of his family, a girl not yet fourteen years old, he stirred up undisciplined volunteers in such a fashion that, against the judgment of Captain Lovewell and his experienced scouts, the whole troop went off after one lone Indian who had been seen at a distance by the pickets while the rest of the troop were having devotional exercises on a Sunday morning.  As a result of this goose chase they were ambushed by Indians twice their own number.

Fanny Eckstorm surely went too far when she pinned the blame for the whole debacle on the enflamed passions of its chaplain, but she was undoubtedly right about the coverup, and what today seems a silly motive for rewriting history.

The quote above, from The New England Quarterly, is found in The Scalp Hunters: Abenaki Ambush at Lovewell Pond, 1725 by Alfred E. Kayworth and Kenneth G. Plovin.  The place-name “Pigwacket" in this blog entry is the one used by Kayworth and Plovin.  The title of this piece is not an effort to defame young Miss Rogers, but what I hope is my final effort at pandering to the baser instincts of Internet search engines.  

© Dale Switzer 2023