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  • by Karen Cummings

The Pequawkets' Last Stand

"As this war has long borne the name of Lovewell, and as the largest tribe in Maine -- the Penobscots -- soon after the battle, asked for, and, with the others, obtained, peace, while the fact that the Pequaukets [sic] always afterwards remained neutral, we must rank the fight of Pequauket as a decisive victory, and Captain Lovewell as a hero, and benefactor to his country."

--Frederick Kidder, 1865

School children throughout the United States learn of the Battle of Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Custer's Last Stand, but how many are familiar with the Battle of Lovewell's Pond? The majority of Fryeburg residents and Mt. Washington Valley may be only vaguely aware that a major Indian [Native American] battle was fought in the region, and few of those know the site or the long range significance of the bloody fracas.

May 6, 1984, marked the 159th anniversary of the Battle of Lovewell's Pond fought between a small but brave contingent of Indian fighters from the settlements in northern Massachusetts and members of the Pequawket Indian tribe who made their home on the banks of the Saco River at the present site of Fryeburg Village. Though the ultimate victory was won by the white man, the death toll was heavy for both sides. The battle was the culmination of hostilities between the English and the Indians that spread over a three-year period and were known under the general name of Lovewell's War.

Though it is hard to imagine towns such as Nashua, Dunstable, Billerica, or Haverhill as being frontier towns lying on the edge of civilization as the white man knew it, that was their situation in the early part of the 18th century. The settlers who inhabited these "frontier towns" were constantly in fear of attacks or raids by marauding Indians. According to historian Frederic Kidder in his book Captain John Lovewell And His Encounter With the Indians published in 1865, the English felt they had paid for most of the land they occupied, but the Indians refused to acknowledge this. Between 1675 and 1710, Indians repeatedly attacked communities in territories which now comprise parts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

The Abenakis, of which the Pequawkets were a tribe, and the English signed the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, which brought about a brief hiatus in the hostilities. Inevitably, though, encroachment of Indian lands increased with the growth of the English settlements. Taking advantage of the volatile situation, the French in northern Maine and Canada used this to instigate the Indians to attack the outlying English towns. As in 20th century warfare where the armies of smaller nations are used as pawns by the super powers, so were the Indians used by the French to inflict damage on the English.

Anxious to increase their enemy's difficulties in the New World, the French gave the Pequawket Indians extra provisions, new shotguns, blankets, and even new moccasins to make them better equipped to fight this "enemy." (The English were not above this tactic either, as they attempted to enlist the help of the fierce Mohawk tribe to battle the French and the Pequawkets but only a few responded despite financial enticement.)

The renewed conflict with the Indians caused the governor of Massachusetts, whose authority reached north into the wilderness, to place a bounty of 100 pounds on any Indian scalp. Calculated by Kidder to be approximately $136 in the monetary scale of the Civil War days, it was easy to see how Indian hunting could prove a lucrative business, superseding even the benefit to the community.

Depending on the sentiments of the historian, the interpretation of Captain John Lovewell's motive varies. Was he a true hero or was he a mercenary? There was no question that Lovewell's talents lay mostly in the field of Indian tracking. Known as a successful hunter, Lovewell was often hired during wartime to find the "lurking places of Indians," according to Kidder. With a growing family to support, it is understandable that, in spite of the dangers involved, Lovewell was lured back into service for his country by the prospect of making a sizable fortune. Indians had made several raids on Dunstable, his hometown, giving him just cause to leave his wife and two children in pursuit of the "savages."

Early in 1725, Lovewell raised a company of men and set out to kill some Indians. Having the good chance of passing the tracks of a hunting party early in the campaign, Lovewell waited until nightfall and attacked the unsuspecting Indians. Killing and scalping all 10 in the party, Lovewell and his men marched triumphantly into Boston where, besides receiving untold notoriety for their exploits, these farmers turned soldiers were given the sum of 1000 pounds.

After this success, Lovewell immediately set about raising another contingent of men to once again venture into Indian country. This time his plans were to stalk the Indian all the way to his villages, pursuing specific chiefs and tribes who were known to have made raids on the frontier towns.

At this time, what is now Fryeburg was the site of a very successful Pequawket village. Thought to be cultivators of corn on the fields next to the river, the Pequawkets also chose the site for their village because of the unique geography of the river. In his book, Fryeburg, An Historical Sketch published in 1938, John Stuart Barrows described the site: "The great bend of the Saco was good reason for the Pequawkets to select this as their home for it was possible after following the 32 miles of winding river, hunting and fishing, to turn their canoes into the pond, early known as 'Baco Pond,' and after passing over two-and-a-half miles of sparkling water, to draw their canoes on the beach about two miles from their starting point at their village, a distance over which it was easily possible to carry their light craft."

Though there is little record of the numbers of these Indians before the battle, the Pequawkets were not a large nation, and it is estimated that the adult male population of the village was well below 100.

On the 16th of April 1725, Lovewell set out from Dunstable, Massachusetts, with 46 men under his command. Misfortune almost immediately befell the group. Two of the men most knowledgeable in the wiles and ways of the Indians had to return to the settlements due to injuries. A third man accompanied them. At Ossipee, 10 additional men were garrisoned to stay with a man who had fallen ill including the doctor, a sergeant, and seven others to serve as guards. In order to lighten the load, a sizeable amount of the small army's supplies were also left at this hastily built fortification.

With his company now reduced to 34 men, Lovewell proceeded to his destination at Pequawket, now Fryeburg, a distance of about 40 miles from the stockade. On the night before the battle, sleep was almost impossible due to persistent noises that they men perceived to be Indians lurking out in the darkness. At dawn, the men, primed to meet the enemy, were immediately alerted by the sound of a gunshot. Moving in the direction of the noise, they spied a solitary Indian.

Despite a consensus that this lone Indian might be a decoy to lure them into a trap, the men, too excited by the prospect of a kill, dropped their packs and tracked the Indian for almost two miles before the opportunity arose to fire upon him. Before dying of his wounds, the Indian was able to fire several rounds of beaver-shot, wounding Lovewell and another of the soldiers.

Momentarily satisfied with their kill and the scalp, the party was unaware that they were heading into an ambush as they retraced their steps in order to recover their packs. The slain Indian had not been a decoy, but the English had inadvertently announced their numbers to the Indians, who were on a hunting trip and happened upon the white men's packs. Paugus and Powaw, two of the Indian leaders who had been active in the raids on the settlements, were leading the hunting party that day and seized the opportunity to attack the greatly outnumbered English force.

Leaping and yelping in a terrifying attack on the small army, the Indians killed nine men including Captain Lovewell and wounded three more before the English force could react and regroup. Retreating with much difficulty until they were pinned with their backs to the pond, the small group of fighters were able to hold off the Indian attack despite having no form of sustenance for the entire day. "The red men ... possessed the greater resourcefulness in concealment; while the woodsmen ... excelled in deadliness of aim," wrote Charles Beals, Jr., in describing the battle in Passaconaway in the White Mountains.

Many of the contestants in this battle were known to one another, and similar to a modern sporting event, cat-calls and taunts were tossed back and forth above the terrible fighting. Though their numbers were dwindling, the settlers gained the advantage by killing the two Indian leaders and demoralizing their followers.

Powaw was felled by an English marksman who crept up on the chieftain as he consulted with his fellow Indians during a temporary lull in the fighting. Folklore has enhanced the story of Paugus' death with a breathtaking account of Paugus and an English settler agreeing to a brief cease-fire. The two enemies went to the pond to clean their weapons, which had simultaneously fouled after being fired all day. During the proceedings, both boasted they could kill the other but it was the settler who was able to fire the first shot and Paugus fell dead as his bullet whistled past the skull of the settler, leaving him unharmed.

The Indians withdrew after the death of Paugus, but the English remained in hiding, fearing their return. After determining it was safe, the English tallied their losses. Ten men had died, three were seriously wounded and unable to move (one of these requested that his gun be left with him so he could kill one more Indian before they scalped him), 11 were wounded but able to march, and nine were unhurt. On the march back to the fort where they expected to find their provisions, two more of the men died of their wounds.

Upon reaching the fort, the decimated army found, to their dismay, that their comrades had fled and left no supplies. It was later learned that during the early frenzy of the first Indian attack, one of their group retreated in fear for his life and reported to those at the fort that all had been lost.

Splitting into three groups to make it harder for the Indians to follow them, 17 survivors eventually found their way back to civilization. These men were considered heroes and together with the surviving families of those who sacrificed their lives, were rewarded with pensions, settlements, and lasting honor and notoriety.

As for the Indians, though it is estimated that only 20 to a maximum of 40 Indians lost their lives in this historic engagement, it was enough to cut the adult male population of the Pequawket tribe almost in half. They fled the fertile region, leaving it open to occupation by the English. Though they did eventually return to their homeland, it was only after more than 40 years and to a land dominated by the whites.

Despite provocation during the subsequent French and Indian War, the remaining Pequawket tribe never again raised arms in battle and remained neutral in all their dealings. In terms of lives lost, no one won the Battle of Lovewell's Pond, but it forever quieted the resistance of the Indians in northern New England, and opened the White Mountains to subsequent peaceful settlement.

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