Joseph Frye

Maine Proprietor & Soldier

by Pat Higgins

In the second half of the 18th century with the end of the Indian wars, Maine became a a safer place for settlement and prospects of capitalizing on Maine's resources became obtainable. Other areas of New England were more established, but land and opportunity were still available in the Maine interior. General Joseph Frye, another of those transplanted Massachusetts people, saw a good thing in Maine. Frye was a man with connections earned by years of military and government service which he cashed in for a grant of land in western Maine. But there is more to his story than that.

Joseph Frye was born in Andover, Massachusetts on March 19, 1712. He was the ninth of thirteen children born to Tabitha and John Frie. His father was a militia sergeant and, over a fifteen year period, served Andover simultaneously as selectman and town clerk. Despite the local prominence of his family, Joseph Frye was not a highly educated man although he was well read and articulate. The 1730's found him married to Mehitable Poor, living in Andover, and engaged in farming and surveying. The Frye's would eventually have eleven children; the first three were lost in the great diphtheria epidemic of 1738.

For the times, a very ordinary life. Then, in 1745, King George's War began and New England acted to end economic competition with the French by attacking Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Participation in the siege and defeat of the French stronghold marked a sea change in the life of 33-year old Frye who enlisted in Hale's Fifth Massachusetts as an ensign. Apparently he found military life more exciting than Andover. The following year found Frye serving in Falmouth, Maine this time as a lieutenant. From 1747 to late 1749 when the war ended, he was captain of a company posted in Scarborough.

Indian hostilities were still a real threat in Maine as can be evidenced by this story (or perhaps tall tale) about Frye's winter trip into the interior. Frye was exploring the Sebago Lake region not so very far from the site he later chose for his land grant at Fryeburg. Apparently he was alone when he ran into a party of hostile Indians who gave chase. Frye soon found himself on a ragged outcrop over the frozen lake and had no choice but to jump. The Indians, who were reportedly amazed by this feat, abandoned the chase, and Frye made good his escape across the ice to an island. Today the cliff at the end of Raymond Point is called Frye's Leap and the island is the summer resort of Frye Island.

Between the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle and the advent of the French and Indian War in 1754, Joseph Frye returned to civilian life and was elected to the Massachusetts General Court. This proved quite useful as Frye had incurred uncompensated expenses supporting himself and a number of his troops in Maine. He petitioned for reimbursement and was granted compensation. This began a long series of petitions and requests that, over the years, were successful and often lucrative to Frye's purposes. In 1754 Frye returned to Maine as a major of a regiment in General John Winslow's forces to protect Massachusetts eastern frontier on the Kennebec. The regiment built Fort Halifax at Taconic Falls in what is now Winslow. The following year as a major, again under Winslow, Frye was at the defeat of Fort Beausejour and Fort de Gaspereaux. He was charged with the responsibility of burning more than 250 farmsteads and evicting the Acadian population in what would become the Acadian diaspora. Surely this was a low point in our dealings with the French, but one in which Frye is said to have dealt with in as humanitarian a manner as possible. The war was not going as well elsewhere as it was in Nova Scotia. Young George Washington had a little disaster at Fort Necessity, and Braddock was massacred in western Pennsylvania. On the Great Lakes, Oswego fell to Montcalm and upstate New York was in danger of being snatched up by the French.

To this point, Frye's military service seems quite mundane despite his participation in important and, in themselves, exciting military conquests. Frye was an able and respected officer, but neither well trained or naturally gifted in military tactics. He worked hard and paid attention to detail, and he established important political and military ties that allowed him to advance in rank and later in civilian life. His next assignment took him to Fort William Henry at the foot of Lake George in New York to participate in the legendary English defeat at the hands of French General Montcalm.

The Defeat and Massacre at Fort William Henry, 1757

Upon Frye's return from Arcadia in 1757 he was immediately commissioned as a colonel and charged with raising a regiment of 1800 Massachusetts men to be sent to support English forces at the southern end of Lake George and to take part in a planned assault on the French. The French were ensconced at Fort Carillon, built in 1755 at Ticonderoga on the northern outlet of Lake George. In counterpoint the English built two forts in 1755 at the other end of the lake: William Henry and Fort Edward. The former was built on the site of the Battle of Lake George fought earlier in 1755 between William Johnson and the French general Dieskau. Fort Edwards was less than 20 miles to the south on the Hudson at the other end of the Great Carry. Between them and Carillon was no man's land.The French presence in this area was a serious threat to English settlement in Albany, along the Mohawk River and more importantly the Hudson River. All three forts held strategic positions on a corridor that provided direct and easy water access from the St. Lawrence to New York City. Furthermore, this area was contested land among the tribes who fought each other and made various alliances with the whites. It would see fierce warfare over a forty year period right up through the American Revolution between the colonists, French, Indians and English in every combination.

Joseph Frye provided modern historians with what historian Ian Steele calls "the most immediate and authoritative American eyewitness account" of the siege and fall of Fort William Henry. Few other accounts have survived; most are highly inflammatory at best and certainly less informed. Although known as a "Journal of the attack on Fort William Henry", the account is not really a record of events kept day to day during the siege but rather a recreation after the fact. It is not a personal diary but an official report submitted to Governor Thomas Pownall of Massachusetts hardly a month after the siege. The official copy resides today at the Public Record Office in Kew, England. A draft copy remained with Frye's personal papers until it was discovered by his grandson Nathaniel during a visit to Fryeburg from his home in Washington, DC. Nathaniel Frye released the "journal" for publication in The Port-Folio, a 19th century literary and historical periodical. There is some speculation that the popular Port-Folio and it's 1819 "Journal" article influenced author James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, the popular romance published in 1824 about Fort William Henry. Frye's original draft, in his own hand writing, can now be found in the collections of the Morristown (NJ) Historical Park.

Colonel Frye began his account on August 1, 1757 with his orders from General Daniel Webb, third in command of the king's forces in North America. Webb ordered all available men from Frye's Massachusetts regiment plus 100 men each from the Royal Americans and the Independents to march up to Fort William Henry from Fort George. Frye had at his command 823 troops; the rest were "at Saratoga, Stillwater, Half moon & Repairing the roads". The combined forces set out the next morning and made a fairly uneventful trip arriving at Fort William Henry about "sun sett".

During the night Frye saw several flashes from gunfire down lake towards the French, but it must have been quite a surprise early the next morning to see "a great number of boats, Batteaux, Canoes coming up the lake". Montcalm led an army of 2570 French regulars, nearly as many Canadian militia, at least 1500 Indians from a variety of tribes mostly from the west plus, and the coup de gras, 200 artillerymen, 36 cannon and four mortars. About half the force came overland and joined those who traveled by boat about three miles from the fort. William Henry was defended by comparatively meager 2400 troops. The fort, itself, would hold only around 500; the remainder were entrenched to the east between the fort and a swamp. Having only arrived the preceding evening, Frye's troops were hardly settled in or prepared. He placed his troops and two brass 6 pounders, and "fortified as the best manner we Could, with Logs and Stones". The odds were certainly against them.

As the French landed, Colonel George Monro, who was in charge of William Henry, sent out Capt. Saltonstall with 100 of Frye's men to protect the road to Fort Edwards. The French forces moved quickly and soon surrounded the fort and encampment. Just as quickly, they routed Saltonstall, killing a fifth of his small force, and then blocked the road and "Cutt off our Communication". The siege had begun!

By eleven o'clock, just a couple short hours after landing, Montcalm sent an aide under flag of truce demanding the surrender of the fort. Frye included the complete text of Montcalm's letter in his journal/report as he did other communications from the siege. The letter was completely candid in regard to the Indians: "I am Obliged in Humanity to desire you to Surrender yr Fort. I have it yett in my power to Restrain the Savages, and oblige them to observe your Capitulation as hitherto, none have them been killed, which will not be in my power in other Circumstances...". Refusing to surrender would "expose an unlucky Garrison who Can Receive no Succours". Monroe refused, and both sides opened fire.

In his report of the next morning, August 4th, Frye began what would almost be a litany of surprise that followed suit throughout the siege. "The Enemy we found had been buisy all the last night". During the night the enemy consolidated its position, dug in and brought up supplies. The forces in the fort were unable to prevent their attackers' further efforts during the day, but they could subject them to fairly continuous fire. Heavy artillery fire, from both sides, backed up by what was often a withering small arms barrage, became the daily routine. Unfortunately there was also a daily toll on the English artillery; the first day they burst a mortar. On Friday the fifth, they burst two 32 pounders and an 18 pounder. These were desperate loses; artillery was a critical factor for both sides in the siege. On Saturday the sixth at daybreak, Frye wrote they "discovered the Enemys Battery of Nine Cannon" apparently moved into position during the night. The French opened fire "very Quick one after ye other, which hott fire they Continued all day". At some point in the barrage it became evident that the French artillery were firing guns and shot that had been captured from the English at Oswego and even perhaps at Braddock's defeat. Frye said his men found shot marked with the king's broad arrow. The French guns had come into play and were beginning to do damage on the fort and encampment. The sentry outside Frye's tent was hit with an 18 pound shot. The English returned artillery fire, but their bad luck continued. "We were so unlucky as to burst One 18 pounder & One 12 pounder, and had one of our Brass Six pounders Ruined by a shott from the Enemy."

At daybreak on Sunday the 7th, the English discovered a new battery of eight cannon and two mortars trained against them. The fort opened fire but instead of the accustomed "hott" return the French put up a flag of truce. They sent an intercepted letter from General Webb at Fort Edwards to Monro. Webb, an ineffectual leader who preferred to command from behind the lines, was in charge of English and American forces during this campaign. Webb said in this letter that he would not attempt a rescue without the reinforcements that he had requested from the colonial militia. The letter gave little hope that help would be forthcoming, but even though both Montcalm and now Monro knew this, Monro still refused to give up. The day continued with "Constant & very warm fire" and also with the loss of another 12 pounder and one 6 pounder.

Daybreak of the 8th found that the French had again been "very Industrious" by extending their entrenchments from one of their batteries into the back of the fort's garden area. They also began a third entrenchment in the garden. On the 9th it was discovered that the entrenchment in the back of the garden was complete and that guns placed there (within 140 yards of the fort) had such a commanding view of both the fort and the encampment that if brought to bear "it would Certainly have oblig'd us to Quit". Furthermore, Frye recorded that the English had only two 6, two 4 and one 9 pounders plus a mortar and a howitzer still "fitt for use".The French were pulling the noose tight; the English had little left with which to resist. A council of war was called, and the English officers considered their options. They were isolated and outnumbered; their artillery was nearly depleted. The French were very close, and help was far away and, apparently, not forthcoming. The officers requested that Monro come to terms with Montcalm. Frye participated in this council. He does not include this in his journal, but tradition has it that he opposed surrender and wished to lead his regiment out to attack the enemy. This last seems a bit suspect and foolish in light of the overwhelming odds.

Montcalm was impressed with the defense the English raised against his overwhelming forces; his Articles of Capitulation, recorded verbatim in Frye's account, were extremely generous. In brief, all troops (and followers) from William Henry would be allowed to march to Fort Edward "with their arms, drums beating Colours flying". The wounded would be cared for and returned to Fort Edward when they became able. All artillery and war supplies would be forfeited to the French, but English officers and men would be allowed to keep their arms and personal property. Furthermore, officers and troops were forbidden to serve in military operations for 18 months.

Hindsight might explain Montcalm's generosity in allowing the captives to keep their arms and even, as a mark of his respect, one cannon. The French regulars immediately took possession of the fort and the encampment. Did he expect trouble with his Indian forces? His previous experiences clearly indicated there might be trouble. He had been unable to prevent an Indian massacre of the wounded at the surrender of Oswego and, therefore, his reputation had suffered greatly among both French and English.

Traveling with the French army, but not necessarily under the French command, were representatives from as many as thirty different tribes. The terms of the surrender were politely European; these warriors were from a completely different culture that believed implicitly that 'to the victor go the spoils'. Out of necessity, Montcalm held a meeting with the chiefs before he signed the terms of surrender. He needed to explain and gain the cooperation of the Indians before he committed to terms that he might not be able to enforce. Speaking through various interpreters Montcalm could not have known how accurately he was translated. It appeared that he had the cooperation of the chiefs who were present. It remained to be seen how perfect the understanding was, how well the chiefs could control their warriors and if the Indians would be satisfied with the leftover loot. The French had bargained for all military stores and provisions; the British officers and troops were to retain their personal effects. Everything that fell outside those two categories was available to the warriors. It all became a matter of interpretation.

At noon, for safety's sake, the British marched out of the fort and into the entrenchments in an effort to consolidate their forces. As the British left the fort, it was immediately overrun by Indians in search of loot. Some of the sick and wounded were killed in this rush. Timing would indicate that it was impossible for many of these warriors to know of Montcalm's meeting with the chiefs. Frye wrote that they "began to plunder many small things, as Brass kettles ... they were all this day troublesome, Stealing the Bagga[ge} of the Officers, and whatever they Could lay their hands on". Importantly, to Frye and the British this was stealing, but to the Indians, it was their due. Montcalm sent in French regulars to protect the combined English forces in the entrenchments. Munro ordered the destruction of all liquor to prevent the Indians from becoming drunk and, quite likely, more out of control. To the Indians, the whites seemed to be combining forces against them. They grew angry and felt that they were being cheated. The best loot was surely hidden away in the enormous quantities of British baggage! Considering their large numbers, very few Indians had actually taken much booty. Those that had not were jealous and impossible to placate. The spoils of war were not only the Indians only pay, but also loot (and scalps) were important signs of manhood and warriors' prowess. Conditions became extremely strained.

In a desperate move, Munro decided to begin the march to Edwards at midnight instead of waiting until morning, but it was soon determined that the Indians lay in wait on the road. "The Marquis of Montcalm signifieing that the Savages not satisfied with the Plunder they got in the Morning, intended to attack us on our March, and that it was more advisible we should remain until the Morning, when we should have an Escort of Four Hundred and Fifty Men", explained a Britrish artillery officer. The Indians were furious at this subterfuge of escape in the dark. Frye wrote, "All the Remainder of this night the Indians were in great numbers round our lines, and seemed to Shew more than usual malice in their looks which made us Suspect they Intended us mischief."

What has been called the massacre at Fort William Henry might best be described in the objective words of Col. Frye: "Wednesday August 10th. Early this morning we were ordered to prepare for our March, but found the Indians in a worse temper ( if possible) than last night, Every one having a Tomahawk, hatchett or some other Instrument of Death, and constantly plundering from the Officers, their Arms &ca. This Colo Monro Complain'd of, as a breach of the articles of Capitulation, but to no Effect. The French officers, however told us, that if we would give up the baggage of the Officers & men to the Indians, they thought it would make them easy, which at last Colo Monro Consented to. But this was no sooner done then they began to take the Officers Hatts, Swords, Guns & Cloaths, Striping them all to their Shirts, and on some officers Left no Shirt at all. While this was doing they killd & scalpt all the Sick & wounded before our faces, and took out from Our troops, all the Indians and negroes and Carried them off. One of the former they burnt alive afterwards...".

Things may have gone beyond the ability or will of the French to control. Nearby French officers and guards failed to make any effort to save the wounded within the encampment. As at Oswego, the sick and wounded were more valuable to the warriors as scalps and more of a handicap as prisoners to be ransomed. As the Indians perceived it, their behavior towards the camp followers, blacks, and Indians in service of the English fell outside of the conditions of surrender and were available to plunder. It would be important to note here, that the Indians, like the whites, considered the blacks to be property and therefore spoils of war. Both the French and the English must have realized that their only bargaining chip left was the importance of loot to Indians and so they gave up the baggage. To the Indians, there was little difference between property on the person of the enemy or in a baggage train.

Frye continued his account in his journal: "at Last with great difficulty the troops got from the Retrenchment, but they were no sooner out then the Savages fell upon the Rear killing & Scalping, which occassion'd an order for a halt. which at Last was done in great Confusion. But as soon as those in the front found the Rear was Attack'd, they began to press forward, and then the Confusion Continued & Increased til we Came to the Advance guard of the French, the Savages still Carrying away Officers, privates, Women & Children, Some of which Latter they killed & Scalp'd in the Road."

Pere Pierre Roubaud, a Jesuit from St. Francis, also wrote a description of the massacre which he says began in the entrenchments and spread briefly and violently from there. Whatever sparked the first deaths became "the signal which made nearly all of them so many ferocious beasts. They struck, right and left, heavy blows of the hatchet on those who fell into their hands". This caused "a crowd of unfortunate people who were running at random, some toward the woods, some toward the French tents, some toward the fort, some to every place that seemed to promise asylum". The disintegration of the ranks and of the body of camp followers in the rear may actually have been what saved the situation. At this point in a military campaign Indians generally concerned themselves more with the taking of prisoners who could be enslaved, traded or ransomed rather than with scalps. Seeing their terrified economic prospects wildly dispersing, they ceased killing and scalping to set about rounding up prisoners. Roubaud said that only forty or fifty were killed. Certainly 1500 Indians would make quick work of the scantily armed English if the killing went on more than a minute or two. Equally certainly, the whites would see the running down and dragging off of prisoners to a logical conclusion of death and scalping.

Then, Frye wrote, "This horrid Scene of Blood & Slaughter Obliged our Officers to apply to the Officers of the French guard for protection, which they refused, and told them, they must take to the woods, and Shift for themselves". Frye does not write that he was one of the officers seeking assistance, but it would be in character for him to seek assistance and protection for his men. Epaphras Hoyt's History of the Indian Wars has it that a Frenchman named La Come promised Frye and his men protection in gratitude for Frye's humanitarian treatment of his countrymen in Nova Scotia. Hoyt's La Come did not come to the rescue of the Massachusetts men nor did he try to influence the Indians behavior. The La Come that Hoyt refers to in this unsubstantiated story is probably Louis St. Luc de la Corne who commanded the Canadian troops and the Indians at Fort William Henry and who had previously served at Beausejour in Nova Scotia. Quite possibly Frye had previous dealings with him and, quite possibly, Frye approached him for help outside William Henry. La Corne did in fact turn his back on the fleeing English; this is quite well documented. His failure to help was critical as his troops, both white and red, were encamped straddling the Fort Edwards road. The English troops needed to pass through them on their way to Fort Edwards, and this put them temptingly and directly among the Indians.

Fortunately, not all of the French leaders behaved in such a manner. At the first sounds of chaos, the senior French officers, including Montcalm, rushed from their camp to stop the slaughter. The officers moved the escort to action and began trying to rescue various English from the Indians. The warriors were infuriated by the confiscation of their prisoners. Some of the Indians returned to killing and scalping captives rather than give them up to the French, but most carried their captives off into hiding in the woods. As the Indians dispersed with their booty, the French reasserted control. Some 300-500 English troops and camp followers were eventually rescued. By the end of the day most of the Indians had left the lake front to return to their homes with their prisoners and loot; that is, afterall, what they were fighting for.

Frye finished up his account of the 10th by writing that "many did (shift for themselves), and in all probability many perish'd in the woods Many gott into Fort Edward that day, and others daily Continued Comeing in, but vastly fatigued with their former Hardships, added to this Last which threw several of them into Deliriums." Frye did not write of his personal predicament in the march to Fort Edwards, but the story comes down to us from other sources. Frye was one of those officers accosted by Indians and stripped of his clothing and possessions. He arrived at the fort two days later starved and delirious. Again, Epaphras Hoyt gives an embellished but unreliable account: "An Indian chief seized Col.Frye, plundered and stripped him of his clothes, even to his shirt, and then led him into the woods in a direction and manner which left no doubt as to the design of the ferocious chief. Arriving at a secluded spot, where the Colonel expected to meet his fate, he determined to make one effort for his life, and roused by desperation, with no other arms than nature gave him, he sprang upon the savage, overpowered and killed him on the spot, and fleeing rapidly into a thick wood, he eluded the search of the Indians." If this story has any truth, in all likelyhood, this Indian was probably leading Frye away as a captive from any interference by the French. If murder was in his heart, he would have committed it right there in the road.

In another account, Frye and a fellow escapee encountered more Indians on their trip through the woods to Fort Edwards. "The Colonel being foremost saw Indians coming right towards them. Then the case was ticklish, but Colonel steped aside and they both dropped, the Colonel expecting a tomahawk in his skull every moment, but the enemy not seeing them passed them by. Then Colonel and his fellow traveler rubbed dirt on his white shirt that it might look like ground. Then they walked for the Fort and recovered it in about two and a half days from the beginning of their tedious and dangerous run and march, tired and faint enough." According to Hoyt, Frye survived the trip through the woods on blueberries. His grandchildren remember him keeping a fast every year in memory of his escape without food or clothing and from the attacking Indians and insects.

Horrific as all this sounds, actual accounts, like Frye's, written by observers soon after the event do not indicate a wholesale massacre. American storytelling tradition has turned the retreat from William Henry into a legendary slaughter by blood thirsty savages. This is a myth perpetuated by James Fennimore Cooper's American literary classic, The Last of the Mohicans and subsequent Hollywood extravaganzas. Modern historian Ian Steele has compiled data that indicates the contrary. According to his figures, 2308 regulars and provincial soldiers were paroled according to the terms of surrender; 792 of these were Frye's troops. By the end of August, 1783 (563 of Frye's Massachusetts men) escaped or otherwise returned to British lines. Some of these were actually escorted by the French on the same day as the retreat. By the end of the year, a total of 217 more returned, 102 of which were from Massachusetts. That left 308 (127 Massachusetts troops) unaccounted for. More returned over the next five years or were definitely known to have died or lived out their lives in Canada after the massacre. In the end, Steele comes up with a final figure of 175 killed at the massacre (or perhaps succumbing to some unknown fate elsewhere), 74 of which were from Frye's Massachusetts troops. It is impossible to trace the fates of the camp followers and families of the troops, very little numerical data exists, but Steele estimates less than 30 died on August 10th. Frightening, yes, but events at Fort William Henry stop short of the kind of wholesale massacre that occurred at Deerfield or Fort Loyal where the numbers might have been less but the percentages were far higher.


Historical marker at the Frye Homestead off Rt 5 in Fryeburg

The Frye Grant

So, apart from a few military postings, where does the Maine part come into this story? Certainly, Frye saw opportunity in Maine and maybe much more. In 1752, Frye and two others received a grant of 21,000 acres in what is now Gardiner, Maine. The partners were unable to complete the conditions of the patent due to Indian unrest and were forced to give it up. The patent was later taken up by Sylvester Gardiner.

After his return from New York and the serving of his 18 month parole, Frye continued his military service and was once again sent to Nova Scotia where he was the commander of Fort Cumberland until after the fall of Quebec. With the end of the final French and Indian War, Frye returned to Andover. His military life ostensibly finished, he once again was elected to the General Court and served in numerous other civil capacities. However, the driving force in his life became the acquisition of a land grant in Maine.

In 1761, after a brief trip to investigate the potential charms of the area, Frye petitioned for land on the Saco River at the old Indian village of Pequawket. He had a family connection to this land; his cousin Jonathan Frie was mortally wounded during the battle between Capt. John Lovewell and the Indians in 1725 on the banks of what is now Lovewell's Pond and died on the long trip back to Massachusetts. Joseph Frye offered to pay for this grant but implied that he was entitled to the land, free of charge, in return for his long and meritorious military service. Certainly, Frye was well known and had many friends in high places. In March 1762 Frye was granted six square miles of land on the Saco River.

There were stipulations; in fact, there was a whole list. He was required to submit a plan of the town within six months. This meant that Frye needed to fit a survey of his land in between his various electoral duties in Massachusetts. That was accomplished quickly enough that very June. Frye then set about working on the other requirements including: settling the grant "with Sixty good familys, each of which in the term of five years from the grant to have built a good house of twenty feet by eighteen and seven feet stud, and have clear'd for pasturage or tillage seven Acres each, and that they also, out of the premises grant one sixty fourth part to the first ordain'd protestant minister, One sixty fourth part for the use of a parsonage forever, One sixty fourth part for the Use of Harvd. College in Cambridge forever and One other sixty fourth part for the use of a School forever within the said town, and further that the said Joseph Frey give bond with sufficient security to the Treasurer to pay to him or his successor for the use of the Province One Hundred pounds Lawful money within twelve months from the date of the confirmation of the grant, and that the said Town shall within ten years have a protestant minister settled among them." This and other concerns of the town would keep him busy for the rest of his life.

Of the remaining sixty fourth parts, Frye kept eight parts for himself, and one each for his son Joseph Jr., his nephew Simon Frye, and his niece's husband Caleb Swan who had served with him at Louisbourg. For a price of twenty pounds sterling, each of the remaining 49 parts went to 39 non-family members, many of whom had some military connection to Frye. Captain (later General) John Stark and his brothers each received parts in recognition of their military service as Frye's comrades in arms; they never took up their land but instead gave them to their sister and her husband. The various required lots were assigned to the schools, church and parsonage. Finding a minister took a bit of effort, but Frye was eventually able to enlist Rev. William Fessenden in 1774 as the town's full time, permanent pastor. (The reverend's grandson was William Pitt Fesseden, US Senator and Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln.)

Frye originally laid out the town with the intention of having the town's center of activity actually fall near the geographical center on Frye Hill where he built his own house and laid out the church lots, cemetery and military training fields. His house was a large, two-storied, gambrel roofed building approximately 40 X 60' with a barn at the rear. It burned in 1812; only a cellar hole and a bronze tablet mark the location today. As the town grew and became more firmly established, the de facto center of Fryeburg grew up three miles to the south of Frye Hill. The first lots surveyed and sold by Frye to the public ran in a line from the provincial border along the Saco River. Called the Seven Lots, they were located in the prime location for commerce up the Saco River into Conway, NH. Frye Hill was just a little too far up the Great Bend of the Saco to be convenient. The original forty acres of each of the Seven Lots soon divided and subdivided into the town's economic center, the location of stores and businesses and, eventually, Fryeburg Academy, a highway and the railroad.

During his life time, Frye himself remained the center of his town. In addition to being the original proprietor, he held all manner of public office. His home, the largest building in town, was the location of town meetings. His opinion was valued and sought after; he was fair and honest. But he does sound a bit stiff! According to Barrows, Frye lived "in a sort of baronial style in his home, sitting in his own room, rarely occupying the same room with the rest of his family, which was increased by the addition of seven children. In his solitary grandeur he was attended by a negro slave man, whom he had brought from Andover where it was the custom for men of means to keep from one to three slaves." (Slaves were freed by statute in 1780.) Perhaps Frye adopted this life style as a military officer and found it convenient, and even necessary, to continue if he wished to accomplish anything in a large and noisy household.

Frye was a meticulous man who paid attention to every detail. He left copious records of his expenses and activities in the organization and operation of his grant. There are numerous communications and petitions to the Massachusetts General Court for services and necessities for the fledgling settlement. A field notebook of "Tables Useful in Surveying Land" that he compiled for his son Joseph, who also became a surveyor, is a tribute to his accuracy and professional precision. This notebook and his wooden surveying compass are now in the collection of the Smithsonian. But most telling is a small notebook that survives today as an ultimate tribute to this consummate detail man. It is entitled "MEMORANDm BOOK of the Loan of Tools" and was kept by Frye between 1773 and 1784 to record the loan of tools and equipment to his neighbors. It is full of entries for borrowed saws and 'chizells' and even books. Each entry includes the date, borrower's name, item and pertinent notes. Each entry closes with "Punctually brought home" or sometimes less satisfactorily with a statement like "brought home in pretty good season" or "after awhile". Some entries seem almost tongue in cheek : "1784 Jany 2nd, Benj Dresser borrowed my narrow chizeel for one Hour. Jany 5th brought home". On the last page of the book, he explains his reasoning, "Before I made this Book, People borrowed tools of me and would not bring them home by means whereof I lost tools . . . after I made this Book to remember who had them (I am told) it made some very angry, and pleased none very well, however it brought them into the habit of bring (sic) home my tools". As the supposedly rich proprietor of a small settlement many miles from the nearest economic center, Frye was the logical choice for a neighbor in search of a necessary tool. In fact, Frye was looked to so often for "necessaries" that he opened a store in his house and even sought a liquor license.

Frye was hardly a rich man. His petitions for reimbursement of expenses incurred for the town or the provincial governments were frequently "negatived". In one instance he recouped only 18 of 54 pounds in expenses enumerated in a lengthy list that included a bateau, a horse, pork, rum and other stores, road work, piloting, lawyering and preaching all paid for out of his own pockets. The store might have killed two birds with one stone: providing a place for the community to purchase previously unavailable but needed items and making a little money for the proprietor.

Revolutionary General?

Frye's last military contribution to his country came during the early years of the American Revolution. Based on his proprietorship or perhaps on his military service or political connections, one might expect Frye to have loyalist leanings. This is hardly the case; Frye and Fryeburg were firmly in the revolutionary camp. Fryeburg's location on the Maine frontier was far from the center of action but not out of danger.

The townspeople feared Indian attacks from Canada and sent Frye to Massachusetts to buy powder shortly after the fighting began. He was in Andover when the British assaulted Bunker Hill in June 1775. Frye reported immediately to American headquarters in Cambridge. He was, after all, one of the more experienced military men in New England. Before the end of June, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts appointed him Major General. Then the confusion began.

Each of the thirteen colonies could not wage war independently of the other twelve and expect to win. An organized effort was needed. The Continental Congress attempted to establish this organization by appointing George Washington as commander in chief. Frye and others lost their military appointments because they were not readily converted to Continental rank; the Congress down in Philadelphia had little knowledge or information about who was actually doing the job up in Boston. New England representatives lobbied for various appointments, but rivalries were already in effect between the various fledgling states. Congress muddled and postponed a decisive vote leaving Frye with no real position in the army surrounding Boston.

In November, the Massachusetts General Court took advantage of Frye's experience and his lack of military employment with the fledgling Continental Army. Falmouth (Portland) was attacked and burned by Captain Mowatt. The townspeople immediately petitioned General Washington for assistance and defense, but he said he could spare little to help them. The Massachusetts General Court could manage to do something and sent Frye, who had served in Falmouth thirty years previously, to take charge. The people of Falmouth were overjoyed. Despite shortages and difficulties, Frye was able to raise five companies for the town's defense. According to Frye genealogist Pamela Martin, "One was posted at Cape Elizabeth, one at the Lower Battery (in the area of India St.), one at the Upper Battery (at Free St.), and two at the Magazine Battery near the County Court House and Jail (now Monument Square). Besides this, the men were working on "the Great Fort on the Hill" which was located in what is now Fort Sumner Park on Munjoy Hill."

In the new year, 1776, Congress finally appointed Frye Brigadier General of the Massachusetts forces. John Adams (among others including John Hancock and James Otis) was instrumental in promoting "the Wishes of our Colony" and "the Honour and Interest of General Frie". Washington was not pleased; he did not care for Frye or for many of the New England officers. He ordered Frye to return to Cambridge where plans were underway to use guns from Ticonderoga to attack the British in Boston. Frye took ill and spent much of the late winter bedridden thus inspiring Washington's further disfavor. Washington wrote of Frye to Joseph Reed, his military secretary, that Frye "has not, and I doubt willnot, do much service to the cause; at present he keeps to his room and talks learnedly of emetics, carthatics, [etc.]. For my own part, I see nothing but a declining life that matters [to] him." When the British evacuated Boston in early March, Frye submitted his resignation for reasons of poor health and returned to Fryeburg.

One of Frye's stones at the Pine Cemetery in Fryeburg

If his life was in decline, it was a slow one; Frye spent eighteen more years working for his town on the Saco. Frye died on July 25, 1794 at Fryeburg at the age of 83. He was survived by four sons, two daughters and thirty five grandchildren. During his life time he served forty four years in public offices of one sort or another plus his military service covered three different wars. His oldest son, Joseph, was a captain in the Continental Army and commanded a company at the Battle of Monmouth. A great, great grandson, William Pierce Frye, served as Maine's attorney general, U.S. Congressman (1871-81) and U.S. Senator (1881-1911). But perhaps General Frye's crowning achievement is Fryeburg, the small Maine town that he fought so hard to establish.


Sources: Barrows, William. Fryeburg: An historical sketch. Fryeburg, ME: Pequawket Press, 1938.
Bendini, Silvio. "Joseph Frye of Fryeburg, Maine: Part 1." Professional Surveyor. November/December 1989.
Bendini, Silvio. "Joseph Frye of Fryeburg, Maine: Part 1." Professional Surveyor. January/February 1990.
Kochan, James L., ed. "Joseph Frye's Journal and Map of the Siege of Fort William Henry, 1757." The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.
Martin, Pamela Nunan. Ancestry of Joseph Frye of Fryeburg, Maine. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mainegenie/ .
Steele, Ian. Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the "Massacre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

c2001 Pat Higgins


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