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SOUTHERN COLLECTING IN THE POST−CIVIL WAR ERA: A CASE STUDY OF BARBARA FRITCHIE’S DESK-AND-BOOKCASE BY TRENT RHODES

On November 21, 1885, Ariana Trail wrote to her son-in-law, Reverend John Harding, with a tone of urgency, imploring him to send his wife, Nan, $18, “so that she can buy Barbara Frietchie’s secretary, a lovely antique genuine, & in perfect order” (figs. 1, 2) . 1 The desk-and-bookcase, dating from around 1780, was “perfectly clean” as “Mr. & Mrs. F were the most orderly couple in the world,” and it had “the most fascinating drawers (secret ones!).” 2 Harding should send the money quickly, Trail pleaded, or risk the rare piece being “grabbed up by the rich Mrs. Buckler of Baltimore in a day or 2.” 3

The perceived importance of the desk-and-bookcase was due to its ownership by Barbara Fritchie (fig. 3) , who died in 1862 at age 96 and was memorialized in 1863 by John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem bearing her name. The verses document how Fritchie purportedly waved an American flag from the window of her home in defiance of Confederate soldiers marching through Frederick, Maryland. In Whittier’s account, Stonewall Jackson, confronted with the flag draping from Fritchie’s window, gave the orders:

“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 old gray head, but spare your country’s flag!,” she said. 4 — 104 —

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