The Windham Frog Fight of 1754

Oct 6, 2022 0 comments

Drive through the small town of Windham in Eastern Connecticut, United States, and you’ll wonder why the people here have a strange obsession with frogs. Many local businesses are named after frogs. You will see frogs in their logos, frogs graffiti painted on the walls and frog statues everywhere, including four large bronze pieces at the four corners of a bridge across the Willimantic River. Even the town’s official seal has a frog in it.

The source of this obsession is an incident that occurred more than 250 years ago at a time when the thousand or so settlers who inhabited this tiny village on the Connecticut frontier lived in constant state of anxiety of being attacked by Indians. Everyday there were new rumors of massacre and bloodshed. The paranoia was extreme.

One of the frogs on Thread City Crossing, also known as Frog Bridge in Willimantic, Connecticut. Photo: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

On a dark June night in 1754, shortly after midnight, the residents of Windham were roused from sleep by a violent cacophony of cries that seemed to resound through the surrounding hills. Many thought that the Indians were upon them. Some thought they were the trumpets of Judgment Day. Others heard drums beating in the air. Some terrified villagers even thought they could hear the sound of names being called out. Some witnesses declared that they could feel their beds vibrate under them, but not knowing from whence the sound came.

The men armed themselves with guns and knives and began running helter-skelter. Some began firing into the darkness. According to the account of Reverend Samuel Peters, then a student at Yale University, some residents fled naked from their beds fearing an earthquake or “dissolution of nature.” It was only at dawn, the true cause of the noise was revealed.

Also read: The Great Sheep Panic of 1888

The village of Windham is located on a hill, from the summit of which, the ground gradually descends for a mile to a small pond. Upon this small body of water, the villagers found the carcasses of hundreds of bullfrogs. Windham was under a severe drought for some time and every available source of water had dried up. This tiny pond was the last remaining. Apparently, the frogs having found their water had dried up, hopped their way towards the pond and fought with each other for the scarce resource. The ruckus they created was mistaken to be that of a marauding army of Indians and the villagers panicked.

The story spread throughout Connecticut and the townspeople became the butt of frog jokes, but instead of trying to live it down, Windham chose to embrace the story as part of its identity. Frogs soon found a place in the Windham Bank currency, and the official town seal was redesigned to include a frog. The pond, which was formerly known as Follett's Pond, was renamed Frog Pond. Residents wrote poems, songs and opera of the “frog battle”, and grandparents retold the story to their grandchildren with great mirth.

Banknote produced by the Windham Bank featured two frogs, one which is dead. Photo: Mansfield Numismatic Society/Wikimedia

In 2000, the town unveiled a new Frog Bridge that featured four 11-foot tall bronze frogs perched lazily on giant spools on either side of the bridge

Traditionally, the story claims the frogs were fighting for the dwindling water in the pond, but some question the validity of the explanation. In 1857, William Lawton Weaver compiled a 48-page booklet about the event where he offered his own interpretation. According to Weaver, there had been no drought and there was plenty of water in the pond at the time the incident occurred. There were also no evidence of fighting between the frogs, such as visible wounds, though many dead frogs were found the next morning. So if the frogs did not have a fight, what caused them to make such a terrible outcry?

Susan Z. Herrick, a researcher who specializes in frog biology, attempts to answer some of the questions raised by Weaver. Herrick suspects the bullfrogs were making ‘advertisement call’—loud calls that male frogs make to attract females, and also to let other male frogs know about their presence. Under normal circumstances, male frogs respect each other’s territory and their right to make mating calls. But under stress, such as when confronted with a shrinking shoreline and being pushed together as they lost physical territory, all the males probably “gave up on having any territory at all and focused strictly on at least getting a female.”

“With no coordination of calls, it must have been a God-awful noise, and I think this is what the villagers heard,” Herrick speculates.

Frog Bridge in Willimantic, Connecticut. Photo: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

# Kimberley Wadsworth, A Connecticut Town’s Tribute to a Bullfrog Battle, Atlas Obscura
# William Lawton Weaver, The Battle of the frogs, at Windham, 1758: with various accounts and three of the most popular ballads on the subject, Internet Archive


More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}