Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poem: Col. Elderkin and the Battle of the Frogs


Mr. West of the blog West in New England challenged us to "find a poem by a local poet, famous or obscure, from the region one of your ancestors lived in" and post it on our blogs. He points out that "In the mid-to-late 19th century every region of America boasted of one or more poets whose works reflected local history and folklore."

He'll publish all the submitted links on Thanksgiving Day on his blog under Great American Local Poem Genealogy Challenge.

I LOVE this challenge because it shows another resource available to help us paint pictures of our ancestors' lives. It's the details between the dates that make them come alive in our hearts and in our minds. Thank you, Mr. West, for sharing your passion, your ideas, and your time to bring this together!

The poem I chose depicts a battle in which my 6th great grandfather, Jedediah Elderkin, was a main component. He was a Colonel during the American Revolution and signed the Connecticut Ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He was also a prominent lawyer and businessman in the little town of Windham, Connecticut. To this day residents know his name. The poem explains why...

The following poem was found within the pages of: Payne, Brigham. "The Bull-Frog Fight." The Story of Bacchus, and Centennial Souvenir. Hartford, CT: A. F. Brooks, 1876. 84-91. Print.

[ The verses following were published in the " Boston Museum" in 1851, and it is supposedly written by a native of Windham.]

THE BULL-FROG FIGHT;
A BALLAD OF THE OLDEN TIME.
A direful story must I tell,
Should I at length relate
What once a luckless town befell
In " wooden nutmeg " state.
'Twas in the days of old King George,
The Dutchman, who did reign
O'er England, and her colonies,
And islands in the main.
The Frenchmen, in those troublous times,
With Indian tribes did strive
To shoot, and scalp, and tomahawk,
And burn our sires alive.
And many a village was burned down,
And many a shot and scar
To our forefathers oft was given
In the French and Indian War.
But the direst fray in all that war
To shake King George's crown,
Was when the BULL-FROGS marched by night
Against old Windham town.
These bull-frogs lived a mile away,
Beyond the eastern hill,
Within a rich and slimy pond
That feeds an ancient mill.
And there, at night, their concerts loud
Rolled up from stump and bog,
As bass and treble swelled the throat
Of bull and heifer frog.
But " on a time " the greedy sun
Had drunk their lakelet dry ;
The reckless mill had drained it out,
With grinding corn and rye.
And they but met an angry glare,
When they reproached the sun ;
Their bitter tears moved not a mill
Nor broke its heart of stone.
The drinking sun and mill had drained
A domain wide and rich
And dissipation, not their own
Brought the frogs to a narrow ditch.
Nature a living owed to them
'Twas very plain and yet
They watched in vain for clouds to come,
And liquidate the debt.
They often gasped and prayed for rain,
And she did oft refuse,
And each dark eve conviction brought
That she grudged them their dews.
At length, one night, when human kind
In sleep had settled down,
They had Shetucket rolling on,
Beyond old Windham town.
The murmur of that rushing stream,
Borne on the western wind,
Filled them with frenzy, and they left
Their native pond behind.
They sallied forth, a mighty host,
They swarmed upon the hill
Beneath whose front the village lay,
In slumbers deep and still.
And now Shetucket's gurgling roar
Came freshly from the wood,
And maddened them with strong desire
To leap into the flood.
They piped, and screamed, and bellowed forth,
In accents loud and deep,
Their frantic joy, and like the ghost
Of Banquo, " murdered sleep."
The villagers whose rest was slain
By this advancing crew,
Awaked from horrid dreams, in fear
That they'd be murdered too.
For ne'er did angry foemen raise
So loud and fierce a din
Nor Scotch, nor Dutch, nor mad Malay,
Nor ancient Philistine.
The frightful sounds were now like yells
From painted savage grim,
And now more terrible than that
Like Cromwell's battle hymn.
Then forth the people rushed, to hear
Those noises rend the air ;
And some resolved to meet the foe,
Some, refuge sought in prayer.
Some thought the judgment day at hand ;
But their fears were banished quite,
By a funny black, who 'clared 'twas strange
That that day should come in the night.
And soon were gathered on the green,
Old Windham's valiant sons,
Some armed with pitchforks, rakes, or scythes,
And some with rusty guns.
And there, in hurried council met,
They trembled and stood still,
To listen to the cruel foe
Who thundered from the hill.
The fiendish jargon that so loud
From throats discordant rung,
They doubted not conveyed fierce threats
In French or Indian tongue.
But how their warmest blood was chilled,
To hear -the foe demand
The lives of their best citizens
Much noted in the land.
How quaked their very souls with dread,
As, mid the grievous din,
The foe, remorseless, bellowed forth
The name of " ELDERKIN."
Their very hearts within them died,
When, as the host drew nigher,
They heard resound, in guttural notes,
The name of " COLONEL DYER "
But fiery Mars inspired a few,
Who stalwart were in frame,
To meet the enemy in fight,
His insolence to tame.
They girded on their armor strong,
They charged their guns with lead ;
Their friends gave them the parting word,
And mourned o'er them as dead.
And then this gallant company
Marched boldly up the hill,
Resolved to quell the raging foe
His fevered blood to spill.
They reached the spot from whence was heard
The fearful hue and cry,
And, though no murderous foe was seen,
They let their powder fly.
Ensconced behind a granite wall,
They poured a leaden rain
From blunderbuss and rusty gun,
At random o'er the plain.
But strange to tell, the stupid foe,
Returned no answering fire ;
They only bellowed louder still
The name of Colonel Dyer !
And when another volley spoke,
And cut through thick and thin,
They bawled more loudly than before
The name of Elderkin !
The courage of the Windham men
Now rose exceeding high,
And so they blazed away till dawn
Lit up the eastern sky.
The enemy dared not assail
This valiant band at all,
But screamed and groaned and shouted still,
Behind the granite wall.
"Pe-ung," "pe-ung," "go-row," "go-row,
"Chug," "chug," "peep," "peep," and "tretet"
"Cease firing, boys," the Captain said,
"The dogs desire a treaty."
Our heroes rested on their arms,
Till morning's light revealed,
The bodies of the prostrate frogs
Stretched out upon the field.
But when they saw their waste of shot
And fright had been in vain,
Some made a solemn vow that they
Would ne'er bear arms again.
And they all returned with wiser heads
To the heart of Windham town ;
While the remnant of the
frogs went home,
And soon the rains came down.
And at this day when evening shades
Envelope brakes and bogs,
The tenants of that pond rehearse
The battle of the frogs.
And to this day, each Windhamite
Unto his little son
Relates how on a summer's night,
The BULL-FROG FIGHT was won.
This tale is true, and years far hence
It must be current still,
For bull-frogs two are pictured on
Each current Windham bill.*

*See bills of all denominations on the Windham (Conn.) Bank.


3 comments:

  1. Amid my chuckles, I am amazed at how wonderfully you met this poetry challenge. Spurs us on.

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  2. This was my favorite entry in the Challenge.
    Thanks for sharing it!

    Bill

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