Lotty Foster

In The Supporting Cast article, I previously included Lotty Foster, the mother of Ann  Melton, accused of being Tom Dooley's partner in the murder, and I mentioned that she was a person of whom we know very little. I'm still not sure, how much we know, but at least I know more, than I did, when I first wrote the article back in 2011. So much indeed, that I have now decided to remove her from the general article and write her one of her own. The same goes for some of the other members of the supporting cast, and in the future I will write individual articles about them as well.

Already, in the article about Ann Melton, I mentioned her change of name from Triplett to Foster, without being able to explain why, but I think I've found one - at least possible – explanation. This article is based on the census records, as well as information I have received from other researchers of the Dooley-case.

In the census records from 1850, I learned that Lotty, using the last name Triplett, lived with a Brown family. With her at that time were three children, Pinkney, Angeline (Ann) and Thomas, who were 8 years, 7 years and 7 months old, respectively. The children was also called Triplett. LottyT herself was reported to be 30 years old, indicating that she was born around 1820. In the handwritten records, her name can be read as Letty not Lotty, but there is no doubt that it is the same person. Names were written (spelled) as the recorder heard them and thought they should be spelled, and there are many examples of different spellings of the same names in the various public records from the time. Most people were illiterate, and were unable to correct such spelling errors. Lotty herself is listed in all censuses as being illiterate.

James and Nancy Brown were relatively wealthy and owned a reasonably sized tract of land the fertile Yadkin River Valley. They had a daughter, Nancey, who in 1820 got married to a Martin Triplett. The younger Nancey died already in early 1822, after giving birth to two children. In the census records of that time period, the names of children were not recorded, only their gender and age, but I'm sure the oldest child - and maybe the reason they got married - was Lotty, who probably was named Carlotta or Charlotte. During the trial against Tom Dooley she is referred to as Carlotta, but it can again be a typing or reading error, as also these records are handwritten. Maybe Nancey died in childbirth with child number two, it is not clear from any sources. The same year that Nancey died, Martin Triplett got married again, this time to Mary Winifred Hall, daughter of Judith Dula Hall and Thomas Hall. Judith Dula was a sister of Tom Dooley's grandfather, Bennett Dula. And I admit that this is guesswork, but hopefully a qualified guess. After Martin Triplett re-married and had children with Mary Hall, Lotty and maybe her brother or sister moved in with her maternal grandmother and grandfather. Possibly, there has simply been no room in the Triplett home for more children, but of course, there may also be other reasons. Whether Lotty lived with her grandparents all the time until 1850, or if she moved away and them moved back again, it is impossible to say today, but she is not recorded with an independent household in any census before 1860.

Dr. John E.  Fletcher has another story in his book The True Story of Tom Dooley. Dr. Fletcher believes that Nancey and Martin Triplett were Lotty's parents-in-law and that she was married to the couples son, Francis Triplett. This is of course possible, but I cannot find any documentation for such a marriage in official sources, and Dr. Fletcher does not document it either. According to Dr. Fletcher, Francis left her after they had at least five children together. When he left, she moved in with her now disappeared husband's grandparents. In my opinion this seems strange; not least because Dr. Fletcher claims that the husband didn't disappear until around 1858, ie at least eight years after Lotty and her three children moved in with the Browns, and in 1850 no Francis Triplett was registered in the area. Dr. Fletcher is the descendent of Ann Melton and thus of Lotty Foster, and perhaps he is interested in showing that Lotty's children were legitimate as she was married when she got them,desptite many contemporary rumors claiming that they were born out of wedlock. He also states that Lotty was the daughter of a Tomas Foster, and in 1858, after being left, she began using her her maiden name again. However, this does not match the fact that in the census of 1860 she was still registered as Triplett, which her children also were.

As Ann Melton and the victim, Laura Foster, are referred to as cousins ​​in certain legends, Dr. Fletcher explainsin his book, that Anne's father, Wilson Foster, was the brother of Lotty Foster, but that is not the case. Wilson Foster actually had many siblings, but none of them was named Lotty, Carlotta or Charlotte or anything like that. Neither his uncles or aunts, of which there were  many, had children by that name. In fact, the name does not appear at all in this part of the very large Foster family. It confirms my suspicion that Lotty was not born a Foster, but was married to one; probably a cousin or second cousin of Wilson Foster. This would also explain why a contemporary newspaper article describes Ann and Laura as "distant relatives", not as "cousins". When this marriage took place and what happened to the husband is difficult to say. In the 1860 census, Lotty Foster is recorded as Triplett, but during the trials in 1866 and 1868 she is consistently referred to as Foster, and she had the same last name in the 1870 census. In this census those of her children still living at home are also called Foster. In 1880 she was called Triplett again, if it is the same person the census records mention, because she is called Caroline, which may be due to another error from the census taker. She lived with her son, Marshall. I will get back to Lotty's children below.

If Lotty was actually married to a Foster, he (or any other husband) had disappeared from sight before Tom's trial, because no husband is mentioned anywhere in the records. So the marriage may have been quite shortlived and the husband may be dead or disappeared. When Ann got married to James Melton in 1858, she already called herself Foster and so did her brother, Pinkney, when he volunteered for the Confederate army in 1861. In 1860 census he was still called Triplett though. I have an idea that Lotty have moved in with the father* of her children in the late 1850s, and that Ann therefore used his last name at her marriage. Lotty and the unknown Foster may have been married immediately after the census in 1860 and the husband may have died during the Civil War, either as a soldier or by one of the many diseases that ravaged the country at that time.

* Most rumors from the time of the trial and the years after claimed that all of Lotty's children were "illegitimate", thus born out of wedlock, and the worst of these rumors claim that all her children had different fathers. None of this can be either proven or disproven today, but it is likely that Lotty had at least the first children with her later Foster husband, probably all of them, and that the two of them married at a later date. There are many examples of this in the area; For example, the ancestor of the wealthy part of the Dula clan, Captain William Dula, had four children with Theodocia McMullan before the two got married and his sister, Judith, also had at least three children with Thomas Hall before getting married.

At the time of  the 1860 census, then 16 or 17-year-old Ann had been married and had left her mothers home. Lotty now lived alone with five children, Pinkney (18), Thomas (11), Martha (6), Lina (3) and an unnamed boy, 1 year old. All the children were called Triplett like their mother. In 1870, Pinkney and Thomas had left home, and Lotty lived (still alone) with three children, Martha, Linny and Marshall. Lina and Linny are one and the same person whose name is spelled differently in the two census records, while Marshall, recorded as being 7 years, is either the boy who was not named 10 years earlier or was born between the two censuses. The reason for me to believe, that the one year old boy from 1860 can be the same as the seven year old Marshall of the 1870 census, is that the census in 1870 is notoriously unreliable when it comes to the age of the recorded. Nobody knows today what went wrong with the census taking, but something did, which is also shown in the records of many other families. Lotty herself, who was recorded as 41 in 1860, was apparently only 49 ten years later. In 1880, Lotty, now again called Triplett, lived with her son Marshall. There is some confusion about the family in this census, but I will not go further into that. Lotty is not mentioned in later censuses, so she probably died sometime between 1880 and 1900. Only a very small part of the North Carolina census records from 1890 is preserved as most were lost in a fire in the archives, so she may have been alive then, but in 1900 she is no longer recorded.

What did Lotty Foster do for a living? In the two censuses where she was recorded as living alone with her children, she is just said to be "Head of Household" and no occupation is specified. At the time of Tom's trial, she ran a small farm like most of her neighbors, including Ann and James Melton, The Scotts and Tom Dooley's mother, but as it was in the hills where the land was not particularly good for cultivation, it is doubtful whether she could have bread fed herself and her family from farming, even though she had the help of the children, as she herself mentioned in her testimony that she had. We also know that she had at least one cow as she told in her testimony that Tom Dooley had gotten some milk from her, but there was no indication that she had enough cows to live from the sale of milk. Later rumors claim that she was living from prostitution and that was the reason for her many children, as contraception was not easily available, and not working too well at the time, if you even had access to it. These rumors find confirmation in a statement from Thomas Foster during the trial, where he testified that one evening he got on a horse and rode up to James and Ann Melton's place". Lotty did probably not own horses at all, as no census records mention her owning any kind of property including horses. "A horse" also sounds indefinite because if Lotty or Thomas actually owned a horse, he would have probably have said "I got on the horse" or "my horse" or something like that. So the mongers of the prostitution theory believe that he took "a horse" that one of his mother's clients had left outside while entertaining Lotty inside. However, there is nothing in any official sources, nor in the documents from the trial to substantiate such rumors, although they can of course be true anyway. The same rumors also claims that she was an alcoholic and used to drink so much that she often dropped to the floor of her cabin. Nor can these rumors be confirmed. It is also possible that, like many other of the poor farmers in the mountains, she supplemented her income from the small farm by performing different work for the wealthier plantation owners in the valley. If it were just different tasks, such as helping with farm work, doing laundry, cooking at parties, sewing clothes etc., it would not be registered as an occupation which it would have if she lived from one single thing like being a farm laborer.

So much about Lotty Foster for the time being. She may have played a significantly larger part in Laura's death or at least she may have known more about the murder than was revealed at the trial. I will return to this in connection with an future update to the article What really happened IV: Who killed Laura Foster?

- Return to Tom Dooley page -
- Return to English Pages -