Ann Melton

Ann Melton

The painting to the left depicts Ann Melton, as Edith F. Carter imagines her. The original picture is in the Tom Dooley Art Museum at Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson, North Carolina and is reproduced here with permission from the artist.

Ann Melton was "The other woman" as she is called, for instance on a signpost at "The Lump" lookout at milepost 264.4 on Blue Ridge Parkway in Watauga County: "But the song did not reveal the other woman who may have done the deed", as the text on the sign claims. As she was still alive during the trial and afterwards, we know a bit more about her than about Laura, but still there are many unanswered questions about Ann.

Ann Melton, or Foster, was the illegitimate daughter of Carlotta (Lotty) Foster and an unknown father. She was probably born on May 8th 1843 and she had the same age as Laura Foster and was a little older than Tom Dooley. The two of them, Ann and Tom, grew up in Elkville, about half a mile from each other. At the latest when she was 15 or 16, but presumably earlier, she began a sexual relationship with Tom Dooley. In the article about Tom Dooley I have already told the story of her mother finding the two of them in bed together sometime in the autumn of 1859.

Ann was the second of seven, maybe eight siblings. Only her younger brother, Thomas, is mentioned during the trial, and also an unnamed girl, that may have been her younger sister, Martha. According to local rumors, all the children had different fathers, but all we do know today, is that the father of all the children were unknown.

The first mystery about Ann Melton, is what her name actually was. At the time of the trial, she was married to James Melton, and she was known as Ann Melton. In the 1870 census she is recorded as Ann P. Melton. I will get back to the 'P' a little later on. In the 1850 census Ann was living at home with her mother and her siblings. At this time, the family is called Triplett. In 1859 when she married James Melton, she called herself Ann Foster, while her mother and siblings were still called Triplett in the 1860 census. In 1861 her older brother Pinkney joined the confederate army under the name Pinkney Foster. In the 1870 census her mother and the children still living at home, were recorded as Fosters too, but in the 1880 census the last name of the mother and family were once again Triplett. A rumor tells that Ann's mother married a Foster and later murdered him, but there is nothing to support this in any official records. Another explanation could be that the father of Pinkney and Ann was a Foster, and that they used his name, and maybe later he married their mother and she took her own name back when he died. All kinds of explanations are possible, but the fact is, that Ann started out as a Triplett, became a Foster and ended her life as a Melton. As for her first name, she wasn't christened Ann. She is referred to as Ann, Anne and Anny in different sources. In some of the census records she is named Angeline so I guess that that was what she was actually christened. In the arrest warrant issued after Laura's disappearance, she is called Ann Pauline Melton, so I have to believe, that her middle name was Pauline, hence the initial "P" in the census records.

As Ann was married to James Melton in June 1859 almost three years before Tom Dooley joined the Army, the marriage couldn't have come as a big a surprise to him when he returned from the war. According to Ann's mother's testimony Ann was already married to James when Lotty caught her in bed with Tom. According to legends, James Melton was a wealthy older man, and as it is true that he was older than both Tom and Ann, he can hardly be called "an older man". James was born in 1838, so he was only about five years older than Ann, and was only 20 or 21 when they got married, and he was hardly wealthy. He had no draft animals, but had to use his milk cows for plowing.

On February 19th 1861 Ann gave birth to a daughter, Martha Jane (some sources have Jane or Jean Martha and even the census records don't agree). This daughter was not mentioned even once during the trial, and even Pauline Foster, who explained who slept in which bed in the Melton home, doesn't mention her, so it's possible that she - at least for a time - lived with her grandmother or other relatives, instead of staying with her parents. It is possible that she had to "move out" to make room for Pauline when she moved in as a servant of the family, but there may also be other reasons. According to the census records of the area during this period, it was if not common then at least regularly occurring that small children lived with relatives other than their parents, perhaps because their parents could not support them in the hard times after the Civil War.

Today 15 may seem a young age to get married and 17 a young age to have children, but it was quite normal at the time. Martha Jane herself had her first child, when she was 17. The census records tells of many women who had children even yonger than 17. In 1871 Ann had her second known child, Ida V. She may have had more children between 1861 and 1871, but if so, they are not registered. One of the more malicious versions of the legend tells that Ann had several white and mulatto children, but that she got rid of them by throwing the newborns into the pigsty. Even if the purpose of this story is to incriminate Ann, it can be true.

You can read more about Ann's daughters in the James Melton article.

Contemporary sources describe Ann Melton as "a girl who got around." During the civil war, one witness explained, she sold herself to teamsters who made camp near her home in exchange for tobacco, liquor, clothing and other items. When the civil war ended she soon resumed her relationship with Tom Dooley. During the trial, another witness testified "that everybody in the community knew that she had affairs with other men besides Tom". A local rumor tells us that after Tom's execution, she had several children, some of them with "black men" like it was told about Pauline Foster and Laura. Apparently these rumors that were told about all the "leading" females of the case including Pauline Foster, can have been made up to show just how low they had sunk, but it is of course possible, that some reality was behind them.

At the time of the murder Ann lived in a small one-room cabin with her husband James and Pauline Foster. The cabin had only three beds which may explain why the 5-year-old daughter did not stay at home. Ann, Pauline and James each had one bed, but Pauline explained that it often happened that Tom Dooley and Ann Melton shared a bed while she and James each slept in one of the other two. In fact, some said, that Ann was more married to Tom than to James Melton. Later a very persistent rumor was told, that Tom, not James Melton was the father of her oldest daughter *. In the spring of 1866 she went to see Dr. Carter and was diagnosed with syphilis. She thought that she had been infected by Tom Dooley, who in turn, had been infected by Laura Foster. Pauline Foster told at one point during the proceedings that Ann and James did not sleep with each other, but it may not be entirely correct, because when Ann was diagnosed with syphilis, she told Pauline that she would fool James to believe that she had got the disease from him, so some sexual relations between the spouses must have taken place. If not, such a plan would have been somewhat unrealistic and naive.

* This is a part of the plot in Karen Wheeling Reynolds novel, "Tom Dooley, The Story Behind the Ballad".

Ann MeltonT
he photograph to the left shows Ann Melton around the time of the trial. The original photo is in the Tom Dooley Art Museum at Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson, North Carolina and is reproduced here with permission from owner of the museum, Mrs. Edith F. Carter.

When Ann was arrested after the discovery of Lauras's body, she was imprisoned in the Wilkes County Jail, in a cell next to Tom Dooley's. Here she sat about a month before they were both transferred to the Iredell County Jail in Statesville. Unlike Tom, who never returned to Wilkes County, Ann was only in prison in Statesville until April 25, 1868, after which she was taken back to Wilkesboro where she was waiting for her own case to go to trial in October 1868. Why she was taken back to the Wilkesboro when the date of Tom Dooley's execution was determined, we do not know today, bit it was probably to save some money for the county.  The Statesville jailor were paid by Wilkes County to keep Ann in jail and an extra fee a so-called kedy-fee) whenever she was taken from her cell to the courthouse and back again. Such fees did not apply if she was in the county's own jail, as the county had to pay the jailor anyhow.

Ann died in 1873 (perhaps as late as 1874, according to her newly raised tombstone). Exactly when and how is not known. Legend has it that she died after an accident with an ox cart that rolled over her, and there are some who even today, will show you the exact spot on Gladys Fork Road where the accident happened. John Foster West and others points out, however, the possibility that she died of neurosyphilis in the terminal stage, as the symptoms mentioned in connection with her death, are  consistent with such an explanation. We may unfortunately never know for sure.

Ann is the only individual described in contemporary sources, apart from a brief description of Tom in a newspaper article. At the last trial in early 1868 a journalist described Ann in his an article:
She is apparently about twenty-five years of age, is the illegitimate daughter of one Carlotta Foster, and is a most beautiful woman. She is entirely uneducated, and though living to the midst of depravity and ignorance has the manners and bearing of an accomplished lady, and all the natural powers that should grace a high born beauty." Another source said: "She had jet black hair, dark eyes and red lips. No man could look at her and remain unaffected", so maybe this is what happened to the journalist! A later but early source describes her character: "She was temperamental, demanding and aggressive. She was also lazy and showed no interest in house work." Among the neighbors she was found to be uppity, and she "would always dress in finer clothing than everybody else". Pauline Foster explained at the trial, that even if she was only hired to help James in the field, Ann also demanded that she took care of the house work, so that she (Ann) could stay in bed all day. Several other witnesses testified, that when they visited the Meltons, they often found Ann in bed.

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