Lovewell’s Defeat in the Saco Valley

Our grandfathers have related this old fireside story with much animation and circumstantiality. It has been handed down to us upon the historic page attended with many inconsistent, and some contradictory, statements. We have not found one published account of the march, battle, and retreat that would stand the first shock of intelligent criticism. Successive authors have followed the beaten track; if they discovered inharmonies, and encountered insuperable difficulties, they have been content to repeat the same unreasonable statements formulated by their predecessors without criticism or comment. Some writers have ignored geography; others, the cardinal points.

The tradition about John Chamberlain and Chief Paugus is unfounded and was not invented for half a century after the battle. But it has been repeated in song and story. I have personally examined four long muskets of French make said to have been the identical guns with which Chamberlain bored the native’s head. Each of these guns had a history, and their ownership could be traced to the original Indian-killer. It was Seth Wyman who shot Paugus, and the Chamberlain tradition, formulated when there were no survivors of the battle to contradict it, may as well be exploded. In my treatment of this subject I shall follow the same beaten track of those who have produced the most comprehensive account of the adventure, and present such criticism and comment as may seem pertinent, as I proceed, in footnotes.

The following petition was copied from the original document in the office of the Secretary of State in Boston, and speaks for itself:

“The humble memorial of John Lovewell, Josiah Farwell, and Jonathan Robbins, all of Dunstable, sheweth:

That your petitioners, with near forty or fifty others, are inclined to range and keep out in the woods for several months together, in order to kill and destroy their enemy Indians, provided they can meet incouragement suitable. And your petitioners are Imployed and desired by many others Humbly to propose and submit to your Honors consideration, that if such soldiers may be allowed five shillings per day, in case they kill any enemy Indian, and possess his scalp, they will Imploy themselves in Indian hunting one whole year; and if within that time they do not kill any, they are content to be allowed nothing for their wages, time, and trouble. John Lovewell,

Josiah Farwell, Dunstable, Nov., 1724. Jonathan Robbins.”

This petition was granted, but the compensation was changed to a bounty of one hundred pounds for every Indian scalp. It was a cold-blooded preparation for the commission of wholesale murder, but with such financial inducements held out by the government Lovewell found plenty of volunteers ready to rally about his standard and to embark in the hazardous undertaking. After two successful initiatory experiments at Indian killing, “just to get his hand in,” which were rewarded with eleven hundred pounds for scalps, he and his comrades in arms found the business “paid,” and enlarged the scope of their operations. Having heard that the Sokokis had a settlement at Pequawket, on the upper reaches of the Saco river. Captain Lovewell devised the scheme of an attack upon them in their village. Undoubtedly he underestimated the dangers and hardships of the expedition. It was one hundred and thirty miles to the Pequawket settlement, through a pathless wilderness, in a section of the country with which the party was unfamiliar. 1

On April 16th the company bade farewell to their friends and kindred, left Salmon brook, and took up their line of march for Pequawket. The company, led by Captain Lovewell, consisted of forty-six men. When they had reached Contoocook, William Cummings became disabled from an old wound and was permitted to return, with a kinsman to assist him. They then proceeded to the west shore of Ossipee lake, where Benjamin Kidder fell sick. Here Captain Lovewell called a halt and built a fort 2, having the lakeshore in front to the east and the river on the north side. This was designed for a place of refuge and a base of supplies. Leaving a sick man, the surgeon, and a guard of eight, Lovewell boldly took up his march with the remaining thirty-four from Ossipee lake to Pequawket, a distance of nearly forty miles.

On Tuesday, two days before the battle, the party were suspicious that the enemy had discovered them, and on Friday night the guard heard them creeping through the underbrush about their encampment. At an early hour Saturday morning, the 8th of May, while they were at their devotions, the report of a gun was heard, and soon after an Indian was discovered standing upon a point of land extending into Saco pond. Those acquainted with the stratagems of the savages supposed this lone Indian was a decoy stationed there to draw them into an ambush. This was a mistaken inference and resulted in a terrible fatality to Lovewell’s men. A conference was immediately called to determine what course to pursue. Should they take the risk of an engagement or beat a hasty retreat? The men answered that they had prayed all the way that they might find the enemy and they had rather trust Providence with their lives than return without meeting them and be called cowards for their conduct.

Captain Lovewell seems to have advised to the contrary, but assented to the wishes of his men. Assuming that the foe was still in front, he ordered the men to lay “down their packs that they might advance with greater caution and act with unimpeded readiness. When the party had proceeded slowly for about one mile they discovered an Indian approaching amongst the trees, and as he drew near where they had concealed themselves, several discharged their pieces at him. He returned the fire and seriously wounded Captain Lovewell with a load of buckshot. Ensign Wyman then shot the Indian dead and Chaplain Frye scalped him.

During all this time the crafty Paugus and his eighty braves had been in the rear watching every movement of Lovewell’s men; he had discovered the hidden packs and by counting them learned the whites were outnumbered by his own warriors two to one. When Lovewell’s company returned to secure their provisions and had reached a tract of land covered with pines a little way back from the pond, the Indians rose from their ambush in their front and rear in two parties with guns aimed; the whites also presented their guns and advanced to meet the foe.

Approaching within twenty yards of each other both parties fired. The Indians were badly cut to pieces and took shelter in a clump of low-growing pines where they could scarcely be seen; this was the Indian’s method of warfare and placed the whites at a disadvantage; their shots made terrible havoc among them. Already nine of their number, nearly one-third of their party, had fallen dead, and three were fatally wounded. Numbered among the dead were Captain Lovewell and Ensign Harwood, while Lieutenants Farwell and Robbins were wounded beyond hope of recovery. Ensign Wyman ordered the remaining soldiers to retreat to the pond, where, lying protected in the rear, they were saved from utter annihilation.

Until the going down of the sun the battle went on with desperation. The savages behind trees howled, yelled, and .barked like dogs, while the whites made the woods ring with their lusty huzzahs. Some of the Indians held up ropes and asked Lovewell’s soldiers if they would have quarter, but they bravely replied “only at the muzzle of your guns.”

About the middle of the afternoon Chaplain Frye fell, seriously wounded. He had fought bravely through the hottest of the battle. After falling, he was heard to pray for the preservation of his comrades. For eight hours the fight had continued and at times was vehement. The whites were obliged to adopt the Indian mode of warfare; they kept near together but each selected such a position as would best secure his own safety and admit of reaching any of the enemy who might be exposed within range. There were intervals of a half hour when scarcely a shot was fired; during such lulls in the battle the Indians took advantage of the time to seek for better positions by crawling and skulking about under cover of the thick underbrush. At the same time the soldiers were vigilant to seize upon any chance to ,lend a bullet on its errand of death. While the Natives seemed to be holding a council, Ensign Wyman crept up behind some bushes, and by careful, aim shot their leader. Thus died Paugus without washing his gun by the pond-side.

When darkness fell the Indians withdrew, and, contrary to their custom, left their dead upon the battle ground. According to the census of the Indians taken by Captain Giles, the next year, only twenty-four fighting men were left of the Pequawket tribe after this battle. Some of these survivors carried serious wounds received in the fight. 3

When the moon arose about midnight, the survivors of Lovewell’s party assembled, faint, exhausted, and wounded, and considered their situation. Jacob Farrar was found to be dying; Lieutenants Robbins and Robert Usher unable to rise; four others dangerously wounded; seven seriously wounded, and but nine unhurt. Not knowing the number of the Indians who might come to renew the battle in the morning, the soldiers decided to start for the fort. Being unable to leave the spot where he had fallen, Lieutenant Robbins requested his companions to load his gun, saying “the Indians will come to scalp me in the morning and I will kill one more if I can.” Solomon Keyes could not be found. When he became so weak from three wounds that he could no longer stand, he crawled to Ensign Wyman and said: “I am a dead man, but if possible I will get out of the way so the Indians shall not have my scalp.” Creeping down to the lake shore where grew some rushes, he found a canoe into which he managed to climb, and was wafted by a gentle north wind three miles southward and stranded on the beach nearest the fort. 4

Recovering strength, he worked his way to the fort and joined his companions. The dead were left where they fell and the weary, exhausted, and nearly famished men started on their return to their fort before the dawn of day. In all the annals of war we can scarcely find the record of a transaction attended with such distressing circumstances as we find here. The prospect of the able-bodied survivors was prophetic of danger and terrible suffering from fatigue and hunger, but what can we say of those wounded, bleeding, dying comrades who had fallen in the battle? Weak and faint from fasting and loss of blood, they must be forsaken and left in the midst of the wilderness, exposed to dire vengeance from the Indians or to die alone far from any of their kindred. We can scarcely bring our minds to realize that this is no picture of the imagination, or that such things actually occurred. What must have been their thoughts when facing the grim messenger alone in the solitudes of the deep, dark forest! There was no medicinal cordial for their painful wounds, no soothing draught for their parched lips. With anticipation of the mutilating scalping knife, and feasting wild beasts, they closed their eyes and gave up the ghost.

When the returning survivors had gone something more than a mile, four of the wounded — Lieutenant Farwell, Chaplain Frye, and Privates Jones and Davis — could no longer move forward, and importuned their comrades to push toward their stockade and secure a rescuing party to carry them in. Thus these four were left to their fate, and when the men hastened to the fort, where they had expected to find the eight who had been left as a guard, to their consternation they found the place deserted and nearly all of the provision gone. It was subsequently learned that a cowardly soldier, in the early part of the battle at Pequawket, frightened at the slaughter, had deserted his company and hastened back to the fort, where he gave such a discouraging account of the fight that all joined him in his flight. Here was another trying experience for the nine soldiers. They had left their wounded comrades cheered in their distress by the expectation of succor, and now to abandon them to suspense and starvation was a most cruel and melancholy action. But there was no other alternative. To go back was to meet death without saving their comrades by the sacrifice, and they decided to press forward. Their sufferings from hunger and fatigue were terrible. For four days they did not taste food; after that some partridges and squirrels were brought down and roasted, which greatly sustained them during the remainder of their journey. They succeeded in reaching Dunstable, the major part, on May 13th, the others two days afterwards.

Two of the wounded who had been left near the scene of the battle, Eleazer Davis and Josiah Jones, survived, and by almost superhuman efforts reached Berwick. 5 They reported that after waiting for several days (how did they obtain sustenance?), hoping for relief from the fort at Ossipee, they all proceeded slowly several miles. Then poor Chaplain Frye laid down and probably survived but a few hours. Lieutenant Farwell held out until they had almost reached the fort, but sank down and was not afterwards heard from.

The news of the disastrous termination of this expedition was productive of widespread grief at Dunstable, and other localities from which the volunteers had come to join Lovewell’s company. A party was immediately dispatched to the battle ground and the bodies of the captain and ten of his men were buried at the foot of an ancient pine. A monument has since been erected to mark the spot. The General Court appropriated fifteen hundred pounds to the widows and orphans, and a liberal bounty of lands to the survivors.

This may be properly called “Lovewell’s Defeat.” He and his company had been impelled to their hazardous undertaking by a mercenary, rather than a patriotic, motive. They hated the Indians for their cruelty and yet proposed to practice the same atrocities. Scalps were the prizes sought for, and the religious and prayerful Chaplain Frye vied with his comrades in scalping the first of the Indians who had fallen. They found “Indian hunting” was dangerous business, and also the statement true, that “they who take the sword shall perish by the sword.” Their campaign plan was to surprise Paugus in his village at Pequawket and to butcher defenseless women and children for their scalps. In this they were disappointed. Providence, in whom Lovewell’s brave men trusted, did not protect them in their murderous designs when attempting to dispossess and exterminate those to whom the soil had been given. Paugus is said to have been down the Saco with eighty of his warriors, and when returning by the old Indian trail struck the tracks of the invading party. Hon. John H. Goodale says, in the history of Nashua: “For forty hours they stealthily followed 6 and saw the soldiers dispose of their packs, so that all the provisions and blankets fell into their hands, with the knowledge of their small force.”

Thus ended the Pequawket expedition. It was a source of rejoicing that the courage of the brave Sokokis had been crushed; that their numbers had been so reduced that there would be little trouble in dispossessing the remnant of their lands. The spot where this wilderness battle was fought, one hundred and seventy years ago, has been visited by thousands, and the tragic event has been commemorated in story and song at the firesides of the Saco valley from the mountains to the sea.

In the earth’s verdant bosom, still, crumbling, and cold,
Sleep the soldiers who mingled in battle of old;
They rushed to the slaughter, they struggled and fell.
And the clarion of glory was heard as their knell.

Those brave men have long been unconscious and dead;
The pines murmur sadly above their green bed.
And the owl and the raven chant loudly and drear.
When the moonbeams o’er Lovewell’s pond shine on their bier.

The light of the sun has just sunk in the wave.
Oh! in billows of blood sat the sun of the brave;
The waters complain as they roll o’er the stones,
And the rank grass encircles a few scattered bones.

The eye that was sparkling no longer is bright,
The arm of the mighty, death conquered its might;
The bosoms that once for their country beat high,
To those bosoms the sods of the valley are nigh.

The shout of the hunter is loud on the hills,
And sounds softly echo o’er forest and rill,
But the jangling of arms shall be heard of no more
Where the heroes of Lovewell’s pond slumber in gore.

  1. From Lovewell’s journal we learn that he had made a journey to the Pequawket country the year previous (1724), and going from the easterly part of the White Mountains had encamped upon a branch of the Saco river. On the 18th February he traveled twenty miles and encamped at a great pond upon Saco river. (Walkers pond?) If Lovewell reached Pequawket in the following year (1725), in which the battle occurred, by tliis route on the west side of Winnepiseogee, thence to Ossipee pond, he went by a circuitous course much farther than was necessary. It is only about eighty miles on an air line from Dunstable to Fryeburg on a N. by N. E. course.[]
  2. Did he actually build any fort here? Some time between 1650 and 166O the Sokokis Indians apprehended an invasion by the Mohawks, and employed English workmen to build two extensive stockaded forts, fourteen feet in height. One of these was for the protection of that branch of the tribe settled on Ossipee lake, and the other at the junction of the Great Ossipee river with the Saco, below the present village of Cornish. The first-mentioned was on the south side of Lovewell’s river, near Ossipee lake. It was said to have enclosed nearly an acre of ground. The Indians occupied this structure until hostilities between them and the whites commenced. In 1676 this was demolished by English soldiers under Captain Hawthorn. The site was subsequently occupied by Massachusetts and New Hampshire troops. Tradition makes the fort built by Lovewell’s party, in 1725, stand on the same plot. In an extensive meadow of about two hundred acres may still be seen the remains of a stockade of considerable dimensions. It fronted the lake. The trench in which the stockades were set may still be traced around the whole enclosure. This ruin is situated upon a ridge that extends from Lovewell’s river southerly. At the north and south ends of the fort considerable excavations are visible. They may have been cellars for storing food. That on the north is much the larger and extends nearly to the river, and by it water was probably procured for those within the fort.[]
  3. In Walter Bryant’s journal kept when running the line between Maine and New Hampshire, in 1741, he mentions an old Pequawket Indian, named Sentur, who came to his camp; he had been wounded and lost an eye in the Lovewell fight.[]
  4. After an examination of the maps to find the air-line between Ossipee pond and the spot designated as the Pequawket battle ground, the story of Solomon Keyes appears irreconcilable with statements about the location of the fort. How could Keyes be carried by a northerly wind some miles (Goodale) southward toward a fort at Ossipee pond? Some writers have supposed that Keyes made his way to the Indian fort on the Saco at the mouth of the Great Ossipee.[]
  5. There was a tradition held by the early settlers on the Saco that Lovewell’s party came through Berwick, Sanford, Waterborough, and Hollis to the Killick brook, back of the William West place, where they crossed and encamped by a cool fountain of water, afterwards pointed out by the pioneers and called “Lovewell’s spring.” By this route he would have struck the Saco somewhere about Bonnie Eagle Falls, and Paugus on his return to Pequawket would have found their tracks. I do not think this theory can be correct, as there are official documents that prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Lovewell built a stockade at Ossipee lake, to which a part of the survivors made their way after the battle.[]
  6. How could Paugus and his eighty warriors stealthily follow Lovewell’s party for “forty hours” when returning from a trip down the Saco, unless that party struck the old Indian trail[]


Saco Valley,

Ridlon, G. T., Sr. Saco Yalley Settlements And Families: Historical, Biographical, Genealogical, Traditional, and Legendary. Embracing the most important events on the Saco River, from their plantation to the present, with memorials of the families and individuals instrumental in their settlement, advancement and prosperity. Portland, ME: Published by the author. 1895.

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