The story is a cautionary tale concerning a young girl called Charlotte who refused to wrap up warmly to go on a sleigh ride to a New Year's ball. Upon arriving at the ball, her fiancé discovers that she has frozen to death during the journey.
The ballad of Fair Charlotte is based on a poem by Seba Smith that was first published in The Rover, a Maine newspaper, on December 28, 1843 under the title A Corpse Going To A Ball. According to folklorist Phillips Barry, Smith's composition was based on an incident recounted in an 1840 New York Observer article of the same name. A version of Smith's poem was subsequently set to music, leading to the creation of the ballad.
- Springfield Mountain, another cautionary folk ballad situated in New England, about a boy who is bitten by a rattlesnake. The two ballads are often cited together as examples of narrative verse representative of obituary tradition.
- Text of the Seba Smith poem
- One version of the Fair Charlotte ballad
- Another version of Fair Charlotte collected and originally published in 1924.