Barbara Fritchie

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Barbara Fritchie in 1862

Barbara Fritchie (née Hauer) (December 3, 1766 – December 18, 1862), also known as Barbara Frietchie, and sometimes spelled Frietschie,[1] was a Unionist during the Civil War. She became part of American folklore in part due to a popular poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.


She was born Barbara Hauer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and married John Casper Fritchie, a glove maker, on May 6, 1806. She became famous as the heroine of the 1863 poem "Barbara Frietchie" by John Greenleaf Whittier, in which she pleads with an occupying Confederate general to "Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country's flag."

Three months after this alleged incident, Frietchie died. She was buried alongside her husband, who had died in 1849, in the German Reformed Cemetery in Frederick.[2] Later, in 1914, her remains were moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery along with a new memorial.[2]

Historicity of poem[edit]

Barbara Fritchie waves the flag in an 1867 engraving

Whittier's poem was published in the October 1863 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.[2] No firsthand account of the actual incident survives, and disputes over the poem's authenticity came up almost immediately after it was published.[3] However, her descendants successfully promoted her reputation, and the city of Frederick, Maryland has used her name and image to attract tourists ever since the early 1900s.[3]

The flag incident as described in the poem likely never occurred at the Barbara Fritchie house, although Barbara Fritchie was a Unionist and did have a Union flag. Friends of Barbara Fritchie stated that she shook a Union flag at and insulted Confederate troops, but other neighbors said Barbara Fritchie, over 90 years old, was ill at the time.[4] In fact she did wave a union flag—but at Ambrose Burnsides Union troops September 12,1862[5]

Another woman who might have inspired the poem was Mary Quantrell who lived on Patrick Street.[6]In addition to confusing Fritchie with Quantrell, the poem was likely embellished by a distant poet working from second- or third-hand accounts of the incident and other flag incidents.[7] The Confederate general in the poem most likely was not Stonewall Jackson.[8], but another Confederate officer (probably A. P. Hill)[3] since none of the men with General Jackson that day remembered the incident-although while passing through Middletown, Maryland two young girls did wave Union flags in the presence of General Jackson who bowed, removed his hat and laughed the incident off.[9]. Gen. Jackson and Barbara Fritchie both died before publication of the poem. Historians and reporters noted other discrepancies between the patriotic poem and witness accounts.[3][10]


Barbara Fritchie House[edit]

Barbara Fritchie House

The Barbara Fritchie House is located at 154 West Patrick Street, Frederick, Maryland.[11] It is a 1927 reconstruction, based on the original house, which was washed away during a storm.[12] The site had since become a shrine to the legend. In 1943, Winston Churchill, who knew the poem from memory, insisted he pass by the house during a trip through Frederick alongside President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[2] When it was open to the public, some volunteers claim that Fritchie still haunts the house and have reported seeing her rocking chair move on its own.[11]

The house began to fall into disrepair and, in 2015, it was purchased by the Ausherman Family Foundation. In January 2018, it was purchased by Bryan and Charlotte Chaney with the intent of repairing the home and reopening it for overnight stays through Airbnb.[13]

Cultural references[edit]

One of the Mid-Atlantic states' top-ten horse races was named in her honor; it is one of only seven Grade I or Grade II races run in the state of Maryland. The Barbara Fritchie Handicap is an American race for thoroughbred horses, run at Laurel Park Racecourse in Laurel, Maryland, each year. A Grade II race, it is open to fillies and mares age three and up running seven furlongs on the dirt. It offers a purse of $300,000 and has been run since 1952.

The Barbara Fritchie Classic motorcycle races run annually on July 4; top riders from all over compete on the dirt oval at the Frederick County Fairgrounds. The race has been running for almost 100 years.

Musician Michael Clem[14] of the Virginian folk group Eddie from Ohio[15] penned the tune "Miss Fritchie" and recorded it on the group's third album, I Rode Fido Home.

Circa 1962, an episode of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" segment "Bullwinkle's Corner" acted out a humorous version of Whittier's poem, starring Bullwinkle J. Moose (Bill Scott) as Fritchie and Boris Badenov (Paul Frees) as Jackson.

James Thurber included this poem with his charming pictures in his Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Quynn, Dorothy Mackay, and William Rogers Quynn: Barbara Frietschie. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1942, 45 pp.
  2. ^ a b c d Quynn, William R. "Frietschie, Barbara Hauer" in Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Edward T. James, editor. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,1971: vol. 1, p. 674. ISBN 0-674-62734-2
  3. ^ a b c d McCartney, Robert (September 15, 2012). "Barbara Fritchie didn't wave that flag". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  4. ^ J. William Jones (1900). "The Barbara Fritchie Myth". Confederate Veteran Magazine. Volume 8, pp. 113–114.
  5. ^ See The Historical Basis of Whittier's "Barbara Frietchie" by George G. Seilheimer Vol 2 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" series pp. 618-619; 622
  6. ^ See The Historical Basis of Whittier's "Barbara Frietchie" by George G. Seilheimer Vol 2 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" series pp.618-619; 622
  7. ^ On June 24, 1863 while passing through Greencastle, Pennsylvania George Edward Pickett wrote in a letter to his wife that a defiant young girl had waved a union flag at his soldiers-see George Edward Pickett "The Heart of a Soldier" pp.82-83
  8. ^ See Vol 2 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War"p. 622
  9. ^ Vol 2 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" series p. 622
  10. ^ Jamie Bussey News-Post Staff (July 1, 2007). "The many stories of Barbara Fritchie". The Frederick News-Post.
  11. ^ a b Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009: 253. ISBN 978-1-57860-351-0
  12. ^ Lavin, Nancy (October 2, 2012). "Barbara Fritchie House slated for sale at public auction". Frederick News-Post. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  13. ^ Panuska, Mallory (January 12, 2018). "New owner buys Barbara Fritchie House to turn it into period-style Airbnb". Frederick News-Post. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  14. ^ Michael Clem
  15. ^ Eddie from Ohio

External links[edit]