In this book, Robert E. Cray revisits the clash known as "Lovewell's Fight" and uses it to illuminate the themes of war, death, and memory in early New England. He shows how a military operation plagued from the outset by poor decision-making, and further marred by less-than-heroic battlefield behavior, came to be remembered as early America's version of the Alamo. The government of Massachusetts bestowed payouts, pensions, and land on survivors and widows of the battle, while early chroniclers drafted a master narrative for later generations to emboss. William Henry Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau kept the story alive for later generations. Although some nineteenth-century New Englanders disapproved of Lovewell's notoriety as a scalp hunter, it did not prevent the dedication of a monument in his honor at the Fryeburg, Maine, battlesite in 1904.
Even as the actual story of "Lovewell's Fight" receded into obscurity—a bloody skirmish in a largely forgotten war—it remained part of New England lore, one of those rare military encounters in which defeat transcends an opponent's victory to assume the mantle of legend.
"Cray not only provides a description of the fight itself, but uses it as a springboard to explore how the story of such incidents was transmitted to the population, how New Englanders viewed death and the disposal of bodies, how the government of Massachusetts cared for the wounded and widows, and how subsequent generations interpreted, or chose to forget, this small engagement so long ago."—Steven C. Eames, author of Rustic Warriors: Warfare and the Provincial Soldier on the New England Frontier, 1689–1748
"Cray offers an insightful model for situating microhistory within major macrohistorical trends and confronting the difficulties of fragmentary or contradictory archival sources. . . . Understanding [the evolution of the memory of Lovewell's Fight] helps to better explain the rare occasions where history honors the losers and recasts bitter defeat as heroic through selective textual construction and representation, and how changing cultural imperatives abandon some things to historical amnesia."—H-Net Reviews
"Cray's work is quite insightful, meticulously researched, and gripping to read, all of which make it a testament to a scholar in his prime."—New England Quarterly
"Cray's approach provides some great insights into the ways settlers organized and understood their lives in America. . . . . The book reveals the wealth of information that military history can provide cultural and social historians."—Journal of Military History
"Lovewell's Fight focuses on the northern interior of early New England, a region that has generated comparatively less scholarship than areas around Boston and further south. Cray aptly stresses that this northern 'borderland' was hardly marginal; it was a formative contact and conflict zone for indigenous residents and Euro-American colonizers."—Historical New Hampshire