The colorful life of John “Bull” Frizzell (1817-1879), the “Georgetown Hercules”, left a long trail of entertaining––if not always reliable––newspaper articles and reminiscences.
The Abner Cloud House, built between 1798 and 1801, is now part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, and has been maintained by the Colonial Dames of America since 1970.
“The stone house and mill… was the residence of the late John W. Frizzel, more familiarly known among his acquaintances by the nickname of ‘Bull’.”
(Hugh T. Taggart, “Old Georgetown”, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 11, 1908.)
Born near Fairfax Court House …he spent his early years working on farms, and came to Georgetown in 1838, where he followed the canal for a time and bought the Old Stone House, then about half a century old, together with a farm of five acres.
(Washington Post, June 27, 1897, p.10)
In the early days of the Civil War, Frizzell’s provocative behavior gained him the attention of the District of Columbia and Michigan volunteers stationed upriver from Georgetown.
Arrest of the Notorious “Bull Frizzle,” Otherwise John Frizzell.––This well-known character was arrested yesterday evening under the following circumstances: It seems that from threats of poisoning troops, &c, he was an object of suspicion to the soldiers who have been quartered in the vicinity of the Chain Bridge, near which he resides. Our District volunteers, we hear, would not have hesitated to have handled him very roughly if he had given cause of offense. The Second Michigan Regiment encamped on the hill above his house yesterday afternoon, and having been informed that Frizzell said he “could manage half a regiment,” they determined to watch his movements. He soon offered a soldier drink from a spring near which he had been loitering, which was refused, and he was told to drink from it himself, or he would be shot. He threw the tin cup on the ground, and was immediately arrested. He is now in the camp of the regiment.
(Star, June 12, 1861)
Michigan volunteers encamped at Camp Winfield Scott, overlooking Chain Bridge.
Arrest of Secessionists.––On Tuesday afternoon, the notorious John Frizzell, alias “Bull Frizzell,” was arrested near his house above Georgetown, by some of the second Michigan regiment. For some time past he had been regarded as a suspicious person, on account of threats to poison the troops, &c.: but our District soldiers did not take him, on account of not having the proof against him. The Michigan regiment, which encamped near his house, yesterday afternoon were informed that he had said he could manage half a regiment, and kept a good eye on him. They observed him offer a soldier a drink of water from a cup at a spring near by, and they, not thinking that all was right, requested him to drink first or they would shoot him. He refused to do so, and dashed the cup and contents to the ground. He was thereupon arrested and placed under guard in the camp of the regiment. It will be remembered, when Tom Ryan was arrested some weeks since by some of the sixty-ninth regiment, he called loudly on those in Frizzell’s house to rescue him.
(National Republican, June 13, 1861, p.3)
Bull Frizzle and the Stars and Stripes.––A gentleman who came down the road from the Chain Bridge Thursday afternoon informs us that he saw the Stars and Stripes floating from a staff on the premises of Mr. John Frizzle, and the proprietor seemed on excellent terms with four or five of his late captors––the Michiganders––but whether these last were guards or guests our informant did not know, and whether “Bull” is yet in durance vile, or by allegiance sworn to Uncle Samuel has cleared his skirts of all attainder, is not known.
(Star, June 15, 1861)
Criminal Court.––James Ranking, one of the second Michigan regiment, was tried and found guilty of robbing the house of John Frizzle of about one hundred and thirty dollars. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in the penitentiary. (It will be recollected that a squad of men of this regiment were detailed to search Frizzle’s house, which is near their camp, for weapons, and on this occasion the crime was committed.)
(National Republican, July 16, 1861, p.3)
Decades later, Frizzell was remembered by the Michigan veterans.
The soldiers of the 2nd regiment were greatly interested in a resident near the camp known as Bull Frizzel. He kept himself saturated with a country liquor called peach brandy, which rendered him very inflammable and caused him to give utterance to a good deal of “secesh” sentiment, and kept him in the guard house most of the time. As he was the only rebel in sight it was frequently proposed that we begin our work by shooting him, but calmer counsels prevailed, and we left him to the slower, but not less sure course, marked out by himself, and the worm of the still.
(War Papers Read before the Michigan Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1893, Vol.1, pp.4-4)
Four decades after the events in question, Frizzell was expected to be of interest to Union veterans visiting Washington for the encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Fisherman Bull Frizzell.––A Georgetown Hercules Whom Many Veterans Will Remember.––Many of the veterans visiting Washington during the encampment will remember a famous character that at one time lived in Georgetown of the name of “Bull Frizzell.” He was a man of herculean stature. It is said that at one time a section of the Chain Bridge fell upon him, pinning him down under the water. The workmen managed to get the weight off him. And he was removed from the water unconscious, but soon recovered. Such an accident would have killed an ordinary man.
He was a fisherman and an all-around trusty citizen. When the war broke out he became a Southern sympathizer and busied himself, it was claimed, poisoning wells on the opposite side of the Potomac where the soldiers were camped just after the battle of Bull Run. He was arrested time and time again, but no proof could be obtained of his guilt and he always managed to get free. Past Department Commander A.F. Dinsmore, who was then an officer in the Third Michigan Infantry, arrested him just after the return from Bull Run on the charge of poisoning wells and held him for several days, but, failing to secure proof of his guilt, was obliged to release him. He died during the latter part of the war.
(Washington Post, October 7, 1902, p.G11)
While Frizzell was locked up in the Old Capitol Prison he met Thomas N. Conrad, another Southern sympathizer.
“Born at Fairfax Court House in Virginia, Conrad attended Dickinson College in Pennsylvania where he studied for the ministry. Following graduation he moved to Georgetown in the District of Columbia where he taught at the Georgetown Institute until his arrest in June of 1861 as a Southern sympathizer. At graduation ceremonies that year, Conrad had purposefully insulted the Unionists in the audience by instructing the music director to play “Dixie” at the close of festivities. Conrad was immediately arrested and imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. While a prisoner he made several important connections with other Confederate prisoners, including a man by the name of “Bull” Frizzell.”
(Edward Steers, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, 2001, p.55)
The (ghostwritten) memoirs of Thomas N. Conrad contain a colorful recollection of his fellow inmate.
A few miles above Washington and just at the Maryland entrance of the Chain Bridge, there was an old stone house and this was the home of the famous desperado of the day, “Bull” Frizzell. He had been in jail a dozen times before the war on various charges and was the terror of the country-side. No man was too large for this giant to tackle in a rough and tumble fight and in more than one instance a half-dozen broken heads were the outcome of contact with his fists and bootheels. Living on the border between loyal soil and “Mosby’s Confederacy,” Frizzell was more than suspected of having intercourse as a straight citizen on both sides, although his sympathy for the Confederate cause was never called in question by “rebs.” He never seemed to care a straw for anybody and occasionally received beatings from Yankee soldiers severe enough to kill an ordinary man, but “Bull” went on his way serene. One of these scrapes, though, resulted in the fracture of his skull and the desperado was finally brought to the “Old Capitol” with a silver plate fitted to the spot, where a fierce blow had cracked his cranium. He was assigned to our room and gave the guards more trouble than any prisoner in quarters. Ugly as he was in nature, Frizzell was no coward and the green soldiers, who watched over us could not bulldoze him, even by threatening him with the rifle. There wasn’t the slightest doubt that he had committed murder more than once and it was his favorite occupation to descant to us on how to conceal evidences of crime. With evident satisfaction he swore that he could hide a corpse in the river, without ever allowing it to rise to the surface and tell circumstantial tales. The removed entrails would have that effect he declared and we could not help a feeling of utter horror at the brutal, coldblooded, individual, our companion by force of circumstances.
Men in the position we were can bring themselves to tolerate anything and one of the things we were compelled to do was pacify “Bull” Frizzell. The easiest way to do it was to show sympathy for everything he did or said, and catching him in a good humor, put him on trial for chasing Yankees. The judge declared the prisoner guilty and then pronounced a sentence, which was the subject of laughter among us for days. Frizzell was to be treated to thirty-nine applications similar to what a fractious five-year-old youth generally receives at the hands of his paternal or maternal ancestor in every well-regulated household. Although the mock court never attempted to have its sentences carried out, the ludicrous combination of a shingling and the six-foot giant was more than our visibilities could stand. It created so much uproar that our guard fired his musket to give an alarm, fearing an outbreak of prisoners, and for more than an hour we were the object of the closest surveillance.
(Thomas N. Conrad, A Confederate Spy, 1892, pp.92-3)
Conrad and Frizzell were released. In the summer of 1864 Conrad laid plans to kidnap Abraham Lincoln on the road to Soldiers’ Home; one of the three men for whom Conrad envisioned a role in the plot was John Frizzell, the brawler he had befriended in prison. The timely reinforcement of Lincoln’s security detail caused Conrad’s plan to be aborted. (Edward Steers, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, p.57)
Conrad was re-arrested after Lincoln’s assassination (with which he was not connected); in the Old Capitol Prison he was re-united with John Frizzel, who had also been re-arrested. A colorful account of how Frizzell came to be there was preserved––or invented––by his relatives and neighbors.
When President Lincoln’s death was announced by the soldiers to the country folk, Bull Frizzel shouted exultantly: “Christ died fer sinners, an’ Abe Lincoln died fer niggers, an it served him right.” For this he was placed under arrest, and at sunrise the next morning was taken out to be shot. “I’m not afeared of ye,” he cried to the soldiers, bearing his brown breast to their guns, “shoot away, if ye dare.” They did not shoot, but took him to the Capitol prison, where he lay for three months.
(“Bull Frizzel’s Pluck”, Washington Post, June 27, 1897, p.10)
Frizzell… came near losing his life during the excitement attending Mr. Lincoln’s death, for he had been returned to the “Old Capitol” again, when I was placed in confinement there for the second time. Orders were given that none of the prisoners should approach the windows on pain of being shot at by the guards and on the day of the dead president’s funeral Frizzell continually peered through the bars. His actions finally brought a musket ball crashing in the window at his side, barely missing another prisoner as it buried itself deep in the opposite wall. “Bull’s” only move was to shout with an oath to the guards to shoot all they pleased; “it wasn’t any of his funeral.” He was finally released after the war, as no evidence of any of his crimes could be produced.
(Thomas N. Conrad, A Confederate Spy, 1892, pp.92-3)
A key event in the legend of John Frizzell––and a plausible explanation of his irascible temper––is the accident at Chain Bridge in 1852. While the story Georgetown children preferred had the mighty Frizzell saving another man’s life, his brother-in-law Charlie Barnes recounted that it was Frizzell who was rescued in that accident. That head trauma was involved is confirmed by two accounts of a silver plate in Frizzell’s skull. (Thomas N. Conrad, who shared a prison cell with Frizzell, remembered the silver plate, but knew nothing of its origin, and assumed the injury to have been inflicted by a Union soldier.)
“On the canal bank opposite the mill lived a man, who on account of his great strength was known as “Bull” Frizzle. On him the boys always turned admiring looks, as in their estimation he was a hero, having on the occasion of an accident at the Little Falls bridge crawled under a huge beam, and unassisted prized it up by the strength of his broad back, thereby saving the life of the man pinned beneath it.”
(William A. Gordon, “Recollections of a Boyhood in Georgetown”, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol.20, 1917, pp.132-3)
Chain Bridge Fell on Him.––That story is one of the most frequently narrated about him as final proof that he was “the toughest old coon alive.” The first iron bridge over the Potomac had been completed except the support under the stringers, and Bull Frizzel was one of the men helping to jack them, when, without warning, the whole thing gave way and the two spans crashed down in the river, carrying Bull Frizzel with them; the other men escaped. His shaggy head, crushed and bleeding, rose to the surface, and the men, with much danger and difficulty, succeeded in rescuing him. Charlie Barnes was one who helped carry him to the old Stone House “to die.” His ribs were broken, his arms crushed, his skull beaten in––there was no hope. Three doctors from Georgetown came, laid him on the floor of the old Stone House, took ten pieces of bone from his skull and as many more from his body, then inserted a silver plate in the great hole in his temple.
(“Bull Frizzel’s Pluck”, Washington Post, June 27, 1897, p.10)
It is said that at one time a section of the Chain Bridge fell upon him, pinning him down under the water. The workmen managed to get the weight off him. And he was removed from the water unconscious, but soon recovered. Such an accident would have killed an ordinary man.
(Washington Post, October 7, 1902, p.G11)
He never seemed to care a straw for anybody and occasionally received beatings from Yankee soldiers severe enough to kill an ordinary man, but “Bull” went on his way serene. One of these scrapes, though, resulted in the fracture of his skull and the desperado was finally brought to the “Old Capitol” with a silver plate fitted to the spot, where a fierce blow had cracked his cranium.
(Thomas N. Conrad, A Confederate Spy, 1892, pp.92-3)
John Frizzell survived the accident at Chain Bridge, and lived on for a quarter of a century.
He died an old man, nearly eighteen years ago, but his unique personality and his great feats of strength remain as vividly in the minds of his associates as they did during his lifetime, when every action on his part was heralded broadcast throughout upper Maryland and Virginia, and terror and awe became mingled in the bare utterance of his name.”
(“Bull Frizzel’s Pluck”, Washington Post, June 27, 1897, p.10)
Georgetown Gossip.––Mr. John Frizzle, better known as “Bull” Frizzle, was buried yesterday afternoon at the Tennallytown grave-yard, Rev. R. Norris officiating.
(Washington Post, January 28, 1879, p.4)
City News in Brief.––Mr. Henson Brown died at his residence in East Washington yesterday, in the seventy-third year of his age. He was a man of great strength and endurance, and gained quite a reputation in his younger days for having thrashed a notorious fighter of Georgetown named “Bull” Frizzle. Mr. Brown was a member of the Fire and Police departments.
(Washington Post, February 9, 1884, p.4)
“Tennallytown grave-yard” is now known as Eldbrooke Methodist Cemetery. (Judith Beck Helm, Tenleytown, D.C., 1981, p.309; Eric Charles May, “A Slice of Family History”, Washington Post, August 23, 1990, p.J8)
“Bull Frizzel’s Pluck”
The censuses of 1860 and 1870 listed John Frizzell as a fisherman and as a farmer, and there was a quarry on his property (Georgetown Courier, June 26, 1875). Supplemental sources of income––bounty hunting, slave catching, and livestock theft––were mentioned in the course of an 1897 Sunday feature about the memorable figure of local legend in the Washington Post.
Bull Frizzel’s Pluck.––Sandow of the District a Generation Ago.––Chain Bridge Couldn’t Kill Him.––According to Legends Which Still Cling Around the Old Stone House on the Canal Road, He Was the Toughest Old Coon in the Country ’Round––Captured Desperadoes and Runaway Slaves, and Waged a Lifelong Feud with the Woodys.––Among all the strange, interesting characters abounding in the history of the District of Columbia, that of “Bull Frizzel” stands foremost; of all the odd anecdotes that are now related about Beau Hickman, Thomas Low, Lorenzo Dow, Francis Dunlop, “the old goat-woman,” and other eccentric individuals, the oddest and the funniest are those told about Bull Frizzel, “the Samson of the District” whose home, “The Old Stone House,” is yet standing on the Canal road, not far from the Chain Bridge.
He died an old man, nearly eighteen years ago, but his unique personality and his great feats of strength remain as vividly in the minds of his associates as they did during his lifetime, when every action on his part was heralded broadcast throughout upper Maryland and Virginia, and terror and awe became mingled in the bare utterance of his name. Born near Fairfax Court House about 1810, he spent his early years working on farms, and came to Georgetown in 1838, where he followed the canal for a time and bought the Old Stone House, then about half a century old, together with a farm of five acres.
“He wasn’t much of a water man,” said old Charlie Barnes, his brother-in-law, “never went fishin’ an couldn’ swim no mo’n a stone. He picked up a livin’ farmin’ an around, looked sharp fer runaway niggers an’ lost stock, bought an’ traded horses a good bit, an bet on the race track.” That he was “light-handed in his younger days” is the common verdict, but brave?––“thar was none braver” and “fer fun the world couldn’t beat him.”
On one occasion, which gives the earliest record of his great strength, he was boating on the canal and the ferry boat which ran by cable across the Potomac after the bridges had been washed away broke loose, with two men and a number of cattle aboard and was swept at a fearful rate down stream. The water was high, the cattle jumped off in all directions, and the danger to the men was imminent. All at once the boat struck a rock and lodged there with the men clinging for dear life. Bull Frizzel put off from shore, and with powerful strokes crossed the rushing waters and rescued the men. The ferry boat remained on the rock many days after the river subsided and all efforts to get it off were fruitless. “Give me forty dollars and I’ll do it,” Bull Frizzel finally offered, and his services were gladly accepted: people had an unfaltering trust in his power. “In half an hour that ferry was set free,” said Solomon Davis, one of the eyewitnesses, “what a dozen men couldn’t do in five days, he did in half an hour.”
Captured a Desperado.––By far the greatest exploit Bull Frizzel ever boasted of was the capture of Marshall Offut, a desperado, who defied the Maryland authorities and who had built a stronghold in the woods of Montgomery County, where he lived after the fashion of Robin Hood without the merry men. The Governor offered $500 for his capture, and many had tried and been shot down. Bull Frizzel disguised himself as a decrepit old man, and taking a good strong rope, went hobbling about “Offut’s Woods,” pretending to be looking for a stray horse. He called to Offut to come and help him, and strangely enough the murderer assented. After talking a short while Bull Frizzel got him off his guard, jumped at him, throwing the rope around his waist, and cried, “Now I’ve got you.” “You better hold me tight,” Offut sneeringly replied, making one gigantic effort to break away. For a moment it was almost a life-and-death struggle, then Offut was conquered. To the admiration of the whole countryside Frizzel carried him into Rockville and got the $500. The story flew like the wildfire, and has never been forgotten to this day.
“It was his strength an’ his nat’ral ways that made him differ from other people,” said Charlie Barnes. “Most people, mebbe, as you hev found out, copy what others do, but John B. Frizzel never did. If you wanted to keep in with him you’d hev to decide his way, though.”
“He would take hold of things other people would never think of,” said Solomon Davis. “Once up by the bridge part of a quarry fell in and buried a man twenty feet. He was unearthed except one leg, which was crushed down by a huge bowlder, which nobody could move, so they cut the body away and took it home. But the family wanted the rest of him. Next day was Fourth of July, and Bull took his holiday and went up to the quarry, which was dangerous for any man to do, and he worked all day till he got the rock off, then he wrapped the crushed leg in a sack and took it to the old Stone House and put it in the kitchen where his wife was cooking dinner. It stayed there all that night, and the next day he took it to the family and sold it to them for $10. Sometimes he did these human things and sometimes he was an animal.”
Was a Veritable Bull.––Bull Frizzel was “tolerable” in height, with “a large frame, an’ right stout.” He had “an old rough look,” his black hair was bushy, his face red, though he did not drink, and from underneath his heavy brows “he looked savage at ye.” His neck was short and thick like a bull’s, and his skin tough as hide, hence his nickname. His descendants are for the most part dark browed, aggressive-looking men and women, and the children––“well.” As a boy who goes swimming in the canal says, “drowning nor nothin’ could ever kill them.” Bull Frizzel never wore hat, shoes, or stockings in his life. Once in the depth of winter he went about for several days with a ten-penny nail (so the story goes) “stuck clean through his foot,” and he did not know it. He had no education, and added and subtracted by grains of corn and little sticks.
“His good wits didn’t make him notable; it was his foolishness. He would bet on anything and everything, right or wrong,” said Charlie Barnes. “If a hen would cackle, he’d bet big money it was a rooster, and back his bet up, too.” He was a great braggart, and liked nothing better than to tell to admiring circles his wild adventures, the tricks he played on his friends, his fights with runaway slaves, and the hair-breadth escapes of his life. “He could bluff people into believing he could do most anything.” A gigantic log floating by the Chain Bridge became wedged in between the rocks. “We might have known no mortal on this earth could have lifted it,” Solomon Davis said, “but when Bull Frizzel bet $5 he could shoulder that log and bring it ashore, not a man of us would take it up; we kinder feared he could do it.”
In spite of his propensity to fun, however, men were all afraid of him; children were quieted into frightened sleep upon being threatened with Bull Frizzel. “There was a time when even Charlie Barnes was afraid to go in the old stone house,” said his sister, Mrs. Solomon [Davis]. “Somehow, when a dog gets a bad name everybody’s kickin’ at him, and that was the way with John Frizzel; it got so that he was arrested every time anybody else did wrong. He was a feeling man, too, if anybody was to suffer, and was generous to you.”
Feud with the Woodys.––Bull Frizzel’s next door neighbors have a very different opinion of him. They say that he had a dungeon underneath the old Stone House, where he used to hide the slaves he caught; that he would offer negroes a small sum of money to run away from their masters, then lay a trap for them and catch them; that he stole hundreds of cows and horses, and hid them in the lowlands––above all that he was “a bully,” as Mrs. Woody said, “always findin’ somethin’ to fight about with my law-in-people.” Old man Woody, one of her “law-in-people,” was a character in himself, and it is his name that is invariably coupled with Bull Frizzel’s, for a feud more deadly than the feuds of the Hatfields and McCoys was sworn out by one against the other, and their Sundays were spent in firing at one another from their attic windows.
Mrs. Davis relates one incident which has gone the rounds of every country table within sixty miles around. One spring when there was high water on the river and logs were drifting down, Bull Frizzel got in his boat and rowed out over the lowlands back of Woody’s to gather up driftwood. “You get off there,” yelled Woody, as soon as he saw him. “Get off, or I’ll shoot.” “Shoot then, you –– –– ––,” replied Frizzel, who never opened his mouth without an oath. True to his word, Woody got down his gun, and “for two mortal hours” shot Bull through and through his bare legs. With blood fairly pouring into the boat, Bull Frizzel worked on until he got all the wood he wanted, then quietly going home picked the shot from his legs, got on his fastest horse and went galloping into Georgetown after a warrant. “Seemed like nothing could kill him,” said Mrs. Davis. “Even when the Chain Bridge fell on him he got over it.”
Chain Bridge Fell on Him.––That story is one of the most frequently narrated about him as final proof that he was “the toughest old coon alive.” The first iron bridge over the Potomac had been completed except the support under the stringers, and Bull Frizzel was one of the men helping to jack them, when, without warning, the whole thing gave way and the two spans crashed down in the river, carrying Bull Frizzel with them; the other men escaped. His shaggy head, crushed and bleeding, rose to the surface, and the men, with much danger and difficulty, succeeded in rescuing him. Charlie Barnes was one who helped carry him to the old Stone House “to die.” His ribs were broken, his arms crushed, his skull beaten in––there was no hope. Three doctors from Georgetown came, laid him on the floor of the old Stone House, took ten pieces of bone from his skull and as many more from his body, then inserted a silver plate in the great hole in his temple. In four days “Bull was up an’ aroun’ again,” and the silver plate became ever afterward a mark for Woody’s gun, as it was considered the only tender and vulnerable spot about him.
During the war the incidents and anecdotes crowd thick and fast about this remarkable character. In the words of Charlie Barnes, he was “teeth and toe-nails for the South. A rank rebel, I can tell you; an’ no go-back, neither. He hung the secesh flag right out’n his windows when the soldiers was passin’. He spoke his opinions so loud that the ‘thorities was afeared of him. He named his fo’ children, borned durin’ the war, Ellen Beauregard, Anne Buchanan, Laura Virginia, and Richmond. He showed his colors, I can tell you.” When President Lincoln’s death was announced by the soldiers to the country folk, Bull Frizzel shouted exultantly: “Christ died fer sinners, an’ Abe Lincoln died fer niggers, an it served him right.” For this he was placed under arrest, and at sunrise the next morning was taken out to be shot. “I’m not afeared of ye,” he cried to the soldiers, bearing his brown breast to their guns, “shoot away, if ye dare.” They did not shoot, but took him to the Capitol prison, where he lay for three months.
Died in Bed at Last.–– Yet the time came. “Like other men he had to die,” said Mrs. Davis. “And it’s strange he didn’t die fightin’ nor of any big thing, but jest a cold. He wouldn’t go to bed at first, an’ sat aroun’ in the kitchen. Two days before he died he said to his wife, ‘Mary, stop washin’, fer I won’t hev long to stay with ye.’ Then he went to bed with pneumonia, an’ it seemed kind o’ like he’d stayed there. One of his daughters got a priest an’ one got a preacher––seemed to me it would have done mo’ good if they’d got ‘em before. He wouldn’t say nothin’ to neither on ‘em, but sent fer Woody so as to fergive him. Ole man Woody sent back word that he’d meet Bull Frizzel in hell, an’ they could hev it out then. John he looked aroun’ fer Richmond, his most favored son. ‘Where’s Rich?’ he cried. ‘Oh, Lord, hev mercy on me!’ an he fell back dead.” And this was the end.
The old Stone House stands with broken chimney and dilapidated front; a tall pussy-willow at the sunken-in door; honeysuckle near the bright green blinds, while the yellow, slimy canal creeps along at the back. It has the silent, deserted air which is about all old houses, whether inhabited or not.
Old Charlie Barnes’ last words about his dead friend came to me as I stood looking there: Bull never had a fear of nothin’––he was indeed an able-bodied man.“
(“Bull Frizzel’s Pluck”, Washington Post, June 27, 1897, p.10)
The author of “Bull Frizzel’s Pluck” was Ethel Marie Armes, a young writer whose theme was “Early Stories of Washington.” (“The Post’s Amateur Writers”, Washington Post, March 18, 1894, p.22).
The “desperado” Thomas Marshall Offutt ran a store at Offutt’s Crossroads (Potomac, Maryland) and was convicted in 1855 of shooting, with intent to kill, at Oratio Claggett, a rival shop owner. Offutt escaped from prison and was at large for two years, with a $300 reward. He was arrested in Potomac by a bounty hunter two years later. He was written out of the family will and died in jail. (Montgomery County Sentinel, October 2, 1857; Meghan Tierney, “Haunted Histories of Montgomery County Cemeteries”, Gazette.Net, Maryland Community Newspapers Online, Oct. 27, 2010)
Edward Woody, with whom John Frizzell exchanged gunfire, was a butcher born in Wiltshire, England; his wife Ann was born in Derbyshire. They died in 1881 and 1889, and are buried in Holy Rood Cemetery (1880 census; Holy Rood tombstone transcriptions). “Jno. Frizell” and E.T. Woody can be seen on the north side of the C&O Canal, south of Canal Road, to the east and west of Maddox Branch, in Hopkins Map of Part of the Second District, District of Columbia, 1878. In an 1868 report of the feud, the names of Frizzell’s adversaries are given as Moody and Shearer, i.e. Woody and Sherier.
“Bull” Frizzle Assaulted.––John W. Frizzle, alias “Bull,” residing on the canal, near Little falls, sued out warrants yesterday against Edward Moody and Jas. Shearer, living in the same locality, charged with assaulting Frizzle, with intent to kill, on Sunday morning last. As a counter charge, Edward and William Moody swore out warrants against “Bull,” for assaulting them, and Edward had a separate charge against John Frizzle, jr., for assaulting him. The warrants were served on the parties by County Officer Harry, and a hearing before Justice Buckey was set for 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. From information gleaned by us, it appears that a feud exists between the parties, and every occasion is taken advantage of to renew the quarrel. In the present instance stones, clubs, &c., were freely used on both sides, and the fight assumed the appearance of a regular battle, “Bull” Frizzle apparently getting the worst of it.
(National Republican, April 22, 1868, p.3)
The Libel Suit
After the appearance of “Bull Frizzel’s Pluck”, in language indicative of legal instruction, the reporter’s sources recanted. “Every statement contained in said article alleging uncivilized and questionable acts on the part of the late Frizzell is untrue.”
The Late John B. Frizzell.––Editor Post: Will you do us the kindness to permit a correction of an article which appeared in The Post last Sunday, June 27, 1897, headed “Bull Frizzell’s Pluck?” We admit that we had been interviewed by the writer, a young woman unknown to us, who introduced herself, stating that she desired to write a history of John B. Frizzell, widely known as a man of powerful strength and good-heartedness. Having known the deceased from childhood, we were glad to add anything of truth, which might the more make known his exceptional qualities and good character. Having read the article we must deny the statements alleged to have been made by us tending to reflect upon the memory of the dead. Every statement contained in said article alleging uncivilized and questionable acts on the part of the late Frizzell is untrue. We remember him as a good citizen and neighbor, honest, industrious, virtuous, successful in his business, however uneducated; a good father, a faithful and loving husband. We repudiate as untrue and unkind the relation as therein described as existing between the deceased and the Woodys. While they were not at all times friendly, they were far from comparison with the notorious Hatfields and McCoys, and we are greatly grieved that our names are associated with an article reflecting upon the dead, for whom we had, and still have, the highest esteem and friendly feeling.
Solomon Davis, Eliza A. Davis, Charles Barnes.
(Washington Post, July 4, 1897, p.4)
A short time later, the children of John Frizzell brought a suit for libel against the Washington Post.
Libel Suit Against The Post.––John B. Frizzell’s Children Seeking to Vindicate Their Father’s Name.––The Washington Post is the defendant in a suit at law for libel, entered this morning by the children and heirs of the late John B. Frizzell. The suit is for $50,000 damages, and is on account of an article printed in the post on June 27, entitled “Bull Frizzell’s Pluck.” The plaintiffs in the suit are Louise M. Moore, George W. Moore, her husband; Ellen B. Hillary, John Hillary, her husband; Laura V. Deck, William Deck, her husband, and Richmond Frizzel. The three ladies and Mr. Richmond Frizzell are the children of the late John B. Frizzell.
The declaration states that the plaintiffs were at the time the article was printed persons of good name and reputation in the community, and that each of them enjoyed the esteem and respect of right-minded people. They assert that the Post published the article falsely and maliciously, intending to blacken the memory of John B. Frizzell and intending to injure their good name and bring them into public scandal, ridicule and disrepute by reason of imputing and charging criminal and dishonest motives and acts and discrediting him in many ways.
The plaintiffs further urge that they have been and are greatly hurt and injured by the article; that they have lost their employment and business relations with their neighbors, who have also shunned and ridiculed them, “which has caused great mental suffering, so that they could not sleep nights nor continue their daily work, and each of them have otherwise been greatly injured to the damage of said plaintiffs in the sum of $50,000.”
Mr. Clayton E. Emig is the attorney for the plaintiffs.
(Evening Times, July 24, 1897, p.5)
The case does not appear to have gone to trial.
John “Bull” Frizzell’s father was John Catlett Frizzell, who married his cousin Matilda Follin (1789-1855) in 1809, and who appears in the 1820 census of Truro Parish, Fairfax County, 1820 census, as “John Frizzle”.
Their son, John Frizzell, born November 27, 1817, married Mary Etta Barnes, whose children were:
Louise M. (1845)
Mary Alice (1849)
Ella B. (1863)
Laura V. (1865)
(Gabriel Edmonston, A Genealogical History of the Follin Family in America, 1911, p.35-36)
Around 1852 John Frizzell purchased the “Stone House Tract”, paid off in five years: Deed to Jno. Frizzell: John Baker, Henry Weaver, Francis Baker, Samuel Chew et al sell to John Frizzell, lot 2 in Whitehaven, which lies near Canal road and Ridge road. (DC Libers JAS37 f.273, JAS143 (1857) f.477/411)
1860 census, Tenellytown PO, DC
John Frizzle, 42, Fisherman
1870 census, west part of Washington County, DC
John Frizzell 53, Farmer
Real estate worth $2000
1880 census, 1st District, DC
Marietta Frizzell, 56
Bull Frizzell’s grandson Rich atttended the Conduit Road School; the fact that one of his schoolmates spelled Rich’s surname “Frazzle” and “Frizzle” may be taken as an indication that it was accented on the first syllable. (“Charles Weaver of White Haven”, 1937, ms., Historical Society of Washington, p.12)
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