In today’s edition of Appalachian Moments We explore the most famous love story gone wrong in North Carolina history as we hang our head with old Tom Dooley (Dula).
Dooley was born to a poor Appalachian family in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Wilkes County, NC. Tom was a popular young man and played his fiddle for dances around the county. While he could have had his pick of any of the young ladies in the area, he grew fond of pretty 14-year old neighbor Ann Foster. If there was a real relationship it was on and off again because in 1859 Ann married a much older and more stable man, local farmer James Melton. Just after that Tom went off to fight in the Civil War just three weeks shy of his 18th birthday.
The war ended with Tom as the sole survivor of his two brothers that also enlisted. He returned home from a Federal prison camp in Maryland and it seemed to matter little to this war veteran that his first love, Miss Ann, was married because, by all accounts, he resumed that relationship with her, almost literally under the nose of her husband.
But then the love triangle added another angle. Apparently there was a certain allure to the Foster family for Dooley. While the situation with Ann was dangerous enough, Tom kicked it up notch by having relations with Ann’s cousin Laura Foster.
But something happened. Historians suggest that Laura might have become pregnant and was going to elope with Tom because she quietly left her house on May 25, 1866, on her father’s horse and was never seen alive again. Over a century of romanticism has transformed Laura into an innocent but doomed young maiden, but in reality she seems to have been little loved and scarcely missed. When she first was noticed as gone, her father, in a fit of anger, said that he didn’t care if he ever saw her again, he just wanted his horse back…and back it came, wandering home a few days later with broken reins as if it had broken loose from being tied.
Upon Laura’s disappearance, Tom did not leave the area immediately, but upon hearing that he was a suspect in her disappearance, he ran to Tennessee. Just across the line in Trade, Tennessee, he stopped by the farm of James Grayson. He told Grayson his name was Tom Hall and he just needed enough work to earn a new pair of boots. So, after a week of helping out around the farm those new boots were made for walking.
The Wilkes County posse just missed him by a few hours at Grayson’s farm. Grayson and the posse caught up with Dooley sitting by a creek soaking his feet b/c the new boots had worn blisters! The vigilantes in the posse wanted to hang him from the highest tree right then and there…Grayson insisted he receive a fair trial…so they tied up his hands and tied his feet under the belly of a horse and began the slow painful trek back to Wilkes County…
A few weeks later Laura Foster had been found…her tiny, 5-foot tall 90-pound frame folded into a shallow hole…a single stab wound to the chest as the cause of death. The authorities were led to the spot by none other than Ann. Ann’s cousin testified that Ann had led her to the site of the grave one night to make sure that it was still well hidden.
In our next blog we put Tom Dooley on trial…stay tuned! For the audio version click below and thanks again for all the likes, comments and shares!