Questions have swirled around the legend of Barbara Fritchie for hundreds of years.

Tammy Thayer wondered why, and dove into the subject in her recently published book, “The Mystery of Barbara Fritchie, a True Patriot.”


The cover of Tammy Thayer's book, "The Mystery of Barbara Fritchie, a True Patriot."

Thayer grew up with the same Fritchie stories as everyone else. Many were passed down by her grandparents in their Faribault, Minnesota home. According to DNA tests, the family has bloodlines to Fritchie through her father, Johann Nikolaus Hauer. Thayer is a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Fritchie, according to the records.

Some details about her life were not as well known outside of the family. For instance, family records show Fritchie had a daughter named Barbara who is not acknowledged in any public historical records for reasons that might never be known.

Naturally, the stories about Fritchie included the famous tale of her defiantly standing up to Stonewall Jackson as he passed through Frederick during the Civil War on Sept. 6, 1862. It was later immortalized in John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem that was published in The Atlantic Monthly in October of 1863.

As legend has it, Fritchie pleaded with the Confederate general to stop tearing down Union flags as she waved one from a second-story window of her West Patrick Street home, even if it came at the cost of her own life. Jackson acknowledged Fritchie’s gesture and ordered his troops to march on, the legend says.

However, with no first-hand accounts, questions arose about the validity of the story.

Was it, in fact, Fritchie that waved the flag? She was 95 years old at the time and reported to be ill. If she did, did she wave it at Jackson? Historical accounts, including one printed on the sign outside the Barbara Fritchie House – now an Airbnb at 154 W. Patrick St. — say that Jackson took a different route through town and he never passed by her West Patrick Street home.

barbara fritchie painting.jpeg

A portrait of Barbara Fritchie on the wall of the old Barbara Fritchie Museum.

And had Whittier, the American Quaker poet, confused Fritchie with another West Patrick Street resident, Mary Quantrell, another Unionist who was said to have waived a flag defiantly at Confederate soldiers around the same time?

“The truth needed to be discovered one way or the other,” Thayer said in a recent phone interview. “That’s what prompted my investigation [to write the book].”

Thayer had no reason to doubt. Stories told by her grandparents were memorable family events, often with 40 or more relatives packed into a room to hear them.

Her grandparents would reach into their expansive hope chest and pull out a photo. Whoever was pictured got their story shared. Thayer listened in wide-eyed wonder as she learned of relatives who sailed on The Mayflower and fought in every major U.S. conflict.

“It made me think these stories need to be preserved,” said Thayer, whose first book was titled “A County Doctor Goes to War” and published in 2013. It describes her grandfather’s life during World War II.

The Fritchie story always carried weight because of its historical significance. Who stands up to a famed general like Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War? An elderly woman from Frederick?

Thayer does not proclaim her book about Fritchie to be a definitive historical account. Rather, it’s a profession of her own beliefs based on her recollections and research.

She made three trips to Frederick from her Minnesota home to engage discussion with local historians and paint as complete and accurate a picture as possible.

sy Barbara Fritchie 1 wJB.JPG

ABOVE: The historic Barbara Fritchie House on West Patrick Street, which is today an Airbnb. BELOW: Courtesy photo of Tammy Thayer.

The book dives into different aspect of Fritchie’s life, such as her friendship with American patriots George Washington and Francis Scott Key.

Thayer explains why there is a record of Fritchie purchasing a slave despite being an avowed abolitionist and addresses whether she had any children.

There are no public records — such as a birth announcement — that show Fritchie had a child. She was an older woman when she married her husband, John, at age 39. So, it was simply assumed by historians that she was too old to have kids and never did.

But Thayer mentioned that many women in the family had children well into their 40’s, beyond the traditional child bearing age.

She also points to a family genealogy record that shows a woman, Mary Colburn, who is listed as the granddaughter of Barbara Fritchie, as well as an obituary published in August of 1932 for William W. Thayer that indicates he is the great-grandson of Fritchie.

That would clearly mean Fritchie had a biological child. Family accounts indicate it was a daughter, also named Barbara. But it’s unclear, even in the family accounts, who the father is.

The daughter could have been John Fritchie’s child. But, more likely, the child was born out of wedlock, meaning there would be no birth certificate or baptismal record in those days, hence creating the historical void.

“Even in my great, great grandmother’s genealogy charts, they list Barbara Hauer and John Casper Fritchie as being married. But they always list the daughter Barbara [Colburn] as the daughter of Barbara [Fritchie]. They never say she is the daughter of Barbara and John,” Thayer said. “So, that’s the puzzle. Why didn’t they? They do that for every other generation, you know.”

sy Barbara Fritchie 7 wJB.JPG

The first floor at the Barbara Fritchie House on West Patrick St. in Frederick in 2007 when it was a museum. Today, the home is an Airbnb.

More than anything, Thayer hopes her book opens people’s minds about Fritchie’s life and her famous flag-waving encounter.

She began researching the project back in 2009 and put the final period on the book in March of this year.

“I felt very strongly this was a story that needed to be told,” she said.

Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter:


Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek

(19) comments


More fodder for thought. This from The Frederick News, September 10, 1886. The article referenced Catherine Hanschew, who was Barbara Frietchie's neice. Barbara was the former Barbara Hauer from Lancaster Pa. born 12/3/1766 and she moved to Frederick in 1791. She married John Frietchie, a glover who died in 1846. According to her neice, the family story is that "Aunt Barbara came across the bridge leaning on her staff, finding her porch full of the grey, dusty soldiery, she playfully shook her cane at them cane at them and said, 'Get out of here you lazy rebels.' "


"There are no public records – such as a birth certificate – that show Fritchie had a child. She was an older woman when she married her husband, John, at age 39. So, it was simply assumed by historians that she was too old to have kids and never did."

There were no birth certificates back then, but churches kept records of baptisms which is the next-best thing, at a minimum recording the child's date of birth and parents. I also wonder if anybody has entertained the possibility that Fritchie may have had an out-of-wedlock child (quite possibly with a different family name). Then, as now, marriage was not exactly a prerequisite to having children.


"The daughter could have been John Fritchie’s child. But, more likely, the child was born out of wedlock, meaning there would be no birth certificate or baptismal record..." I think it's occurred to them.


Thank you. Perhaps I skimmed the article too quickly before having my coffee this morning.


The "legend" of Barbara Fritchie was rooted in the year 1862 with the fictitious flag waving incident. One hundred and fifty eight years does not constitute "hundreds of years." Whittier’s poem was based on what Mary Quantrell did a little farther west on Patrick Street, and the only reason he used Fritchie's name in his poem was because the friend of his who relayed Quantrell's actions to Whittier was also a friend of Fritchies, and he told the poet that she did the flag waving instead of Quantrell. Eyewitness accounts have stated that Jackson never passed Fritchie's house (read the "Memoirs Of Col. John S. Mosby," page 144 in my edition,) and, even if he had passed her house, and the shooting had really taken place, the window Fritchie allegedly waved her flag from is merely feet from where the ends of the gun barrels of Confederate troops would have been when firing, and these were marksmen who rarely missed their targets. Whittier's poem was nothing but Northern propaganda, desperately needed at the time following Lee pushing McClellan back from the gates of Richmond and defeating him in the Seven Days Campaign that spring, followed by his victory with Jackson over John Pope at Cedar Mountain on August 9th, and then his crushing victory over Pope again at Second Manassas on August 29th-30th. As a 66 year old native of Frederick County, I knew these facts at a very early, but I never could figure out why the truth of the whole matter was perpetually disguised as a legend, unless it was just to rake in tourist dollars.


People like legends and tall tales and larger than life hero’s taking on powerful foes. Look at how many people love the tale of Trump “draining the swamp”.

Great summary. Thank you.


Come on, man. Look, here's the deal. Look how many people enjoy the tale of Biden getting arrested on the way to see Mandela. Or how he graduated at the top of his class. Or how he let kids rub the hair on his legs when he was a lifeguard.

Whomever is prez for the next four years is sure to give us some tales. [thumbup][lol][thumbup][lol]



Exactly, bosco. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the people who love the drain the swamp legend are the same folk who enjoy the tales you mentioned. I might even be able to find a snopes link that doesn’t show that.


And sure enough:


Yea, clearly there is some tie in between an article about the Civil War and Trump. Maybe we can stick a fork in all of that and move on.


Agreed Tom, 100%. [thumbup]


I was trying to CD understand the attraction of legends. He did wonder about it.


Agreed. Besides, rhyming Fritchie might have been easier than Quantrell. Forgotten in all of this is the story of Nancy Crouse over in Middletown.

Forgotten Valor of the “Valley Maid”©

150 years ago during the Civil War, a young lass from Middletown took a stand for the flag

by Claude J. Bauer

Now that the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War has arrived, it’s time to recognize the heroine of an incident involving the Stars and Stripes that took place about 8 miles west of Frederick, Md. in the small mountain hamlet of Middletown. It was there that Nannie H. (Nancy) Crouse, a young lass of 17, risked her life in a tense confrontation with Confederate cavalry over her country’s flag. Although she received nowhere near the recognition that was heaped on Barbara Fritchie, Nancy’s brave deeds involving the Stars and Stripes are celebrated in the poem, The Ballad of Nancy Crouse by Thomas Chalmers Harbaugh.


Interestingly, Nancy Crouse moved to Frederick to 24 W South St which we also purchased and turned into an Airbnb as well.


Didn't Mark Twain say "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story"?

I wonder if Mary Quantrell was any relation to William Quantrill and perhaps the spelling was changed?



[thumbup]Yes. Quantrell.


Really? That would be interesting. Got a reference?


Possible... William Quantrill’s father was from Hagerstown, Md.


Interesting, awt, thanks. That may be the link. I grew up in the midwest with tales of Quantrill's Raiders and Jayhawkers. Never thought much about it from a historical standpoint.


Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Already a member?

Login Now
Click Here!

Currently a News-Post subscriber?

Activate your membership at no additional charge.
Click Here!

Need more information?

Learn about the benefits of membership.
Click Here!

Ready to join?

Choose the membership plan that fits your needs.
Click Here!