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Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (3 October 1863)
John G. Whittier, "Barbara Frietchie" National Anti-Slavery Standard (3 October 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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Up from the meadows rich with corn, Clear in the cool September morn,[3]
The clustered spires of Frederick stand Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.
Round about them orchard's sweep, Apple and peach-tree fruited deep,
Fair as a garden of the Lord To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,
On that pleasant morn of the early Fall When Lee marched over the mountain-wall—
Over the mountains winding down, Horse and foot, into Frederick town.
Forty flags with their silver stars, Forty flags with their crimson bars,
Flapped in the morning wind: the sun Of noon looked down, and saw not one.
Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then, Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;
Bravest of all in Frederick town, She took up the flag the men hauled down;
In her attic window the staff she set, To show that one heart was loyal yet.
Up the street came the rebel tread, Stonewall Jackson[4] riding ahead.
Under his slouched hat left and right He glanced: the old flag met his sight.
"Halt!"—the dust-brown ranks stood fast. "Fire!"—out blazed the rifle-blast.
It shivered the window, pane and sash; It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell from the broken staff, Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf;
She leaned far out on the window-sill, And shook it forth with a royal will.
"Shoot, if you must, this gray old head, But spare your country's flag," she said.
A shade of sadness, a blush of shame, Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred To life at that woman's deed and word:
"Who touches a hair of yon gray head Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.
All day long through Frederick street Sounded the tread of marching feet:
All day long that free flag tossed Over the heads of the rebel host.
Ever its torn folds rose and fell On the loyal winds that loved it well;
And through the hill-gaps sunset light Shone over it with a warm good-night.
Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er, And the rebel rides on his raids[5] no more.
Honor to her! and let a tear Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall's bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie's grave Flag of Freedom and Union wave!
Peace and order and beauty draw Round thy symbol of light and law;
And ever the stars above look down On thy stars below at Frederick town!


  1. Barbara Hauer Frietschie (1766–1862), wife of a Frederick, Maryland glovemaker. Novelist E. D. E. N. Southworth sent Whittier the "whole story" of Frietchie's patriotic defiance, given to her by friends "who were in Frederick at the time" (Samuel T. Pickard, Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier [Boston: Houghton, 1894], 2:454). Whittier used the main features of Southworth's narrative in his poem, which Atlantic Monthly publisher-editor James T. Fields eagerly accepted for publication. A controversy soon arose about the veracity of Whittier's version of events (Brayton Harris, Blue and Gray in Black and White: Newspapers in the Civil War [Washington: Brassey's, 1999], 270–73). The poet maintained that he believed the story to be true, yet he also disclaimed any responsibility for particular details: "That there was a Dame Frietchie in Frederick who loved the old flag is not disputed by any one. As for the rest I do not feel responsible. If there was no such occurrence, so much the worse for Frederick City" (457).Go back
  2. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) dedicated himself to abolitionist activities in the early 1830s. He was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society (est. December 1833), and held the editorship of the Pennsylvania Freeman from March 1838 until February 1840. Convinced that the Constitution and the ballot could be used to attack slavery, he supported the Liberty Party and played an active part in its members' campaigns. Antislavery journalism continued to feature largely in his life; for thirteen years, he worked as corresponding editor for the National Era (1847–1860).
    Orthodox Quaker Whittier managed to reconcile his abhorrence of war with his support for conflict that furthered the antislavery cause; during the war he urged members of the Society of Friends to assist the war effort in noncombatant roles, as nurses in hospitals and as teachers among the freedpeople (Samuel T. Pickard, Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier [London: Sampson Low, 1895], 2:440–41; see also "In War-Time"). Poetry had long been integral to his abolitionist mission. His first (unauthorized) collection of poetry, Poems Written during the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States, between 1830 and 1838, was published by antislavery colleagues in 1837 (Randall Cluff, "Whittier, John Greenleaf," in American National Biography Online). He continued to champion abolition in verse throughout the war. His poems often appeared in the Atlantic Monthly (which he supported from its inception) and in the New York Independent, and were widely reprinted in serials with antislavery sympathies.
    "Barbara Frietchie" was first published in the October 1863 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Whittier included it in In War Time and Other Poems (1864).
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  3. Confederate general Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland in early September 1862. He hoped that a successful campaign would convince European governments to recognize the Confederacy's independence and allow him to resupply his ragged army from fresh sources outside Virginia. At the same time, he would deal a severe blow to morale in the Union and encourage Democrat opposition to the war by fighting the Army of the Potomac on Northern soil.
    General "Stonewall" Jackson's division entered Frederick, one of Maryland's largest cities, on the morning of September 6, 1862; by evening, most of the Army of Northern Virginia were camped in the vicinity. Two days later, Lee addressed the "People of Maryland," declaring the Confederacy's intention to "to aid you in throwing off this foreign yoke, to enable you again to enjoy the inalienable rights of freemen" (James M. McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002], 91). The proclamation failed to stir the populace.
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  4. Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson (1824–1863), renowned Confederate general. By the end of 1862, Jackson had already attained mythic status as a result of his deeply religious character and battlefield success. He played a key role in Robert E. Lee's Maryland campaign (September 1862). Later that autumn, Lee reorganized his forces and promoted Jackson to the command of the Second Corps (half of the Army of Northern Virginia). Jackson was accidentally shot by guards as he returned to his lines during the battle of Chancellorsville; he died on May 10, 1863, from complications following the amputation of his arm.Go back
  5. Lee's campaigns in Maryland (September 1862) and Pennsylvania (June–July 1863) or the Confederate cavalry's northern and western raids of 1862–63. General J. E. B. Stuart raided Pennsylvania and Maryland, and General Nathan Bedford Forrest struck in Tennessee. General John Hunt Morgan made incursions into Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Morgan's Ohio Raid (July 2–26, 1863) may be particularly significant in the context of the poem, as correspondence quoted by Samuel T. Pickard suggests that Whittier wrote "Barbara Frietchie" after July 21 and before August 24, 1863 (Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier [London: Sampson Low, 1895], 2:454, 458).Go back