When I first began to think about writing a book on the experiences of Isaac Frye and his family during the American Revolution, I felt naked in spite of wearing my twenty-first century clothes. A great deal about life in the eighteenth century was different. Since then I’ve sent quite a few days in these clothes, thinking about what it meant to have lived during the American Revolution.

It was a hard life, and war made it much more difficult. I have no delusions of time travel, and am thankful for all the surviving records I’ve had access to while piecing together Isaac and Elizabeth’s Frye’s story during these times.

 

-CEF

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Charlestown Ablaze

Charlestown In Flames
Robson Map: Depicts the Battle of Breeds Hill, where Charlestown was burned by the British.

242 years ago on June 17, 1775, Charlestown was set ablaze to drive out three companies of American militia. At the outset of the Battle of Breeds Hill, these militiamen had taken positions on the north side the town. As the ranks of redcoats marched up the slope of Breeds Hill to Warren’s Redoubt the militiamen and fired into their ranks, likely taking a hundred or more out of the battle before the main action got started.

Imagine you are in the militia with these men. It is a sweltering afternoon with the sun high overhead. The British gunships on the other side of town in the Charles River and the battery at Copps Hill in Boston blast a screaming leaden hail of fiery-hot grapeshot at the mostly wooden buildings you have been using for cover and concealment. The gun-smoke blowing on the wind is, by degrees, pushed out by wood-smoke as the temperature in Charlestown rises.

My ancestor, Isaac Frye, was one of these militiamen, serving as a 2nd lieutenant and quartermaster for Colonel James Reed’s 3rd New Hampshire Regiment. During the battle Isaac Frye was assigned to Captain Josiah Crosby’s company along with a number of the men from his hometown of Wilton, New Hampshire.

In The War has Begun, Chapter 5 describes what I imagined it would have been like to be there, marching into Charlestown, taking up positions, and firing on redcoats who were marching by–easy targets, far too easy. It must have weighed on those men’s souls to shoot an enemy who was not facing them. The inferno driving them from Charlestown, to some, must have seemed as if gates of hell had been thrown open.

Burning of Charlestown
Alexander Hogg: View of the Attack on Bunker Hill with the Burning of Charlestown, June 17, 1775

If the illustrations and engravings depicting Charlestown’s fate are true, the flames from the resulting conflagration towered a hundred feet, and the smoke could be seen for dozens of miles.

It took three years to definitively locate Isaac Frye during the battle. The idea was that I could help my oldest son with his 5th grade history project. We decided to figure out where Isaac Frye was during the Battle of Breeds Hill. In the two weeks he had to finish his project, we learned Isaac Frye was in Reed’s regiment, and therefore he was either at the rail fence or there was a chance of him being with Crosby’s company in Charlestown.

About two years later I discovered New Hampshire’s Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, where I learned the composition of Crosby’s company, which included men from Wilton.  The final proof came a year later when I learned there were additional volumes in New Hampshire’s state papers pertaining to the Revolutionary War.  There, I found a record for the men of Crosby’s company who had lost clothing and other articles in Charlestown, and the list included Isaac Frye, who lost a coat and hat.

-CEF

Sources:

Bouton, Nathaniel D.D. 1878. “Provincial Papers. Documents and Records Relating to the Province of New-Hampshire, From 1764 to 1776; Including the whole Administration of Gov. John Wentworth; the Events immediately preceding the Revolutionary War; the Losses at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Record of all Proceedings till the end of our Provincial History.” Volume VII. Orren C. Moore, State Printer. Nashua, NH. p 596.

Frothingham, Richard, 1873, “History of the Siege of Boston, and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Also, an Account of the Bunker Hill Monument. With Illustrative Documents.” Fourth Edition, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, MA. p136: Lists Crosby’s company as being in Charlestown.

Hammond, Isaac, W. 1885. “Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War 1775, to May, 1777 with an appendix, embracing diaries of Lieut. Jonathan Burton ” Volume I of War Rolls. Volume XIV of the Series. Parsons B. Cogswell, State Printer, Concord, NH

Hogg, Alexander 1783 “View of the Attack on Bunker’s Hill with the Burning of Charlestown.” Engraving after Millar. In Edward Bernard, The New, Comprehensive and Complete History of England. London

Page, Thomas Hyde 1775 “A plan of the action at Bunkers-Hill, on the 17th. of June, 1775, between His Majesty’s troops under the command of Major General Howe, and the rebel forces,”

Robson, T. 1778 “Plan of the town with the attack on Bunkers-Hill in the peninsula of Charlestown, the 17th. of June 1775. Newcastle upon Tyne [Eng.].

Patriots in The War has Begun

Though The War has Begun is a work of fiction, the people and events were real. Part of my work for the book included genealogical research to learn the age and sufficient history of each person. For members of SAR and DAR, I thought a list of patriot ancestors who appear in the book would be of interest.

Main Characters:
Isaac Frye (b. Feb 6, 1748, Andover, MA)
Elizabeth (Holt) Frye (b. Nov 25, 1749, Andover, MA)
Lieutenant Stephen Peabody (b. Sep 3, 1742, Hampton, NH)
Colonel James Reed (b. Jan 8, 1722, Woburn, MA)
Lieutenant Colonel Israel Gilman (b 1729, Exeter, NH)
Lieutenant James Otis (b 1751, Montville, Connecticut)

Minor Characters:
Nahum Baldwin (b. 3 May 1734, Sudbury, MA)
James Blanchard (b. Sep 20, 1742, Dunstable NH)
James Brown (b. 28 Oct 1723, Boston, MA)
Will Burton (b. 1764, Wilton, NH)
Lieutenant Butterfield (???)
Josiah Crosby (b. Nov 24, 1730, Billerica, MA)
James Frye (b. 1709, Andover, MA)
William Goforth (b. Apr 1, 1731, Philadelphia, PA)
James Gray (b. Oct 8, 1749, Newburyport, MA)
John Greele (b. Apr 26, 1759, ?)
Jonathan Greele (b. Apr 24, 1756, ?)
Nathaniel Greele (b. Oct 28, 1744, Hudson, NH)
Thomas Grover (b. Mar 19, 1738, Grafton, MA )
Nathan Hale (b. Sep 23,1743, Hampstead, NH)
Thomas Hartley (Sep 7, 1748, Colebrookdale, PA)
William Adrian Hawkins (b Jan 18, 1742, Bordeaux, France)
Jacob Hind (b. Jan 22, 1730, Shrewsbury, MA)
Elizabeth (Holt) Holt ( b.Jun 1718, Andover, MA)
Hannah (Holt) Whitney (b. Jan 18, 1754, Andover, MA)
Sarah (Holt) Pierce (b. May 31, 1757, Andover, MA)
Timothy Holt Sr ( b.Jan 17, 1721, Andover, MA)
Timothy Holt Jr. (b. May 19, 1746, Andover, MA)
Archelaus Kenney (b. 14 Mar, 1758, Middleton, MA)
David Kenney (b. 18 Sep 1760, Middleton, MA)
Ebenezer Kingsbury (?)
Rev. Jonathan Livermore (b. Dec 7, 1729 Westborough, MA)
Samuel Osgood (b. Feb 3, 1747, North Andover, MA 1st Postmaster General of U.S)
Phebe (Greeley?) Parker (b. 1743, ?)
Henry Parker (b. 1705, Dunstable, MA)
Sarah (Farwell) Parker (b. Dec 4, 1706, Dunstable, MA)
Jonas Perry (b. 1747, Lexington, MA)
Samuel Pettingill (b. Mar 16, 1731, Andover, MA)
Sarah (Taylor) Rideout (b. 20 Nov, 1748, Wilton?)
Paul Dudley Sargent (b. 1745, Salem, MA)
Nathaniel Sawyer (b. 10 Jul, 1750, Dracut, MA)
James Sawyer (b. 1745, Woburn, MA)
Alexander Scammell (b. May 16, 1742, Milford, MA)
Phillip Schuyler (b. Nov 20, 1733, Albany NY)
Levi Spaulding (b. Oct 23, 1737, Hudson, NH)
John Stark (b 28 Aug, 1728, Londonderry, NH)
John Stephens (b 1731, ?)
Ephraim Stone (b. Jan 22, 1745, Harvard, MA)
Ezra Towne (b. Apr 30, 1736, Topsfield, MA)
John Trumbull (b. Jun 6, 1756, Lebanon, CT Artist, who painted “The Declaration of Independence” and other famous paintings of the American Revolution)
Nathan Whiting (b. Apr 6, 1750, Pelham, NH)
Richard Whitney (b. Apr 22, 1743, Oxford, MA)
Isaac Wyman (b. Jan 18, 1724, Woburn, MA)

-CEF

New Letters Uncovered

In The War has Begun, I include transcripts from the two letters my family has preserved. One is from Isaac to his wife, Elizabeth, in 1775, and the other from Elizabeth late in 1776. I spent hours thinking about the story between the lines of these letters, and am grateful my cousin found these in the attic of Isaac’s house in the 1990s.

Fast forward to this past Monday evening. I was having dinner in North Hampton with my uncle and cousin, celebrating getting the book published. My uncle asked to get scans of the two letters so he could share with others in the family. Last night we learned the steamer trunk where our two letters were found also contained five more documents wrapped within non-descript paper!

May 3 1775 letter from Elizabeth Frye to Isaac Frye
Elizabeth Frye writes to her husband, Isaac Frye is quartermaster of one of the New Hampshire militia regiments of minutemen who responded to the alarm raised on April 19, 1775.

The above letter is one of the five documents. How cool is that? This letter was written two weeks after the alarm, and confirms the militia were being supplied by their families and towns during the early days of the Siege of Boston. The part about whether Isaac owed money to Jeremiah Abbot illustrates the difficulty the wives, who were forced into the role of agent for their husbands. Note: there were no banks in these days–IOUs served as contracts between neighbors. 

Enjoy

-CEF

Now Available: The War has Begun

The War has Begun is the first of four books I am writing about Major Isaac Frye in the Duty in the Cause of Liberty series. These books are the product of fourteen years of research about a my ancestor, who served longer than any other as an officer in the Continental Army. A few people in or near Wilton, New Hampshire may have heard of Isaac Frye, for living near or driving on Major Isaac Frye Highway. Wilton named the road in the 1920s among several others to honor the town’s preeminent war veterans. Read more