Tom Dooley - An update IV

Did Tom survive the execution?

This question may sound ridiculous, but at least one man claims that it is the truth. On april 24th, 2008 the homepage of Daily Yonder, an internet newspaper based in Knoxville, Tennessee published a version of the story in an article called “Tom Dula: The murder that sold 10,000 guitars”. The story is mostly based on John Foster West’s book The Ballad of Tom Dula, with some additional legendary stuff, and is not very interesting in itself, as it brings no new information to the story.  What is interesting though, is one of the commentaries below the article. This commentary was written under the nickname Marley.

Marley claims to be the grandson of one Laura Francis Colson, born Dula. Marley claims that as a child, his grandmother had sat at Tom Dooley’s feet while he played his fiddle. Laura Dula Colson was born around 1874, six years after Tom’s execution, so if this is right, Tom didn’t die on May 1st, 1868. And this is exactly what Marley claims. Tom should have lived to an old age, and is buried near Wadesboro in the southern part of North Carolina in an unmarked grave! As a child, Marley continues, he played with Toms fiddle, which bore the inscription “TD – LF”. Also his grandmother owned the boots,  that Tom had bought after his short employment with Colonel Grayson in Tennessee.

Then how did Tom Dooley survive his execution? According to Marley he was not executed at all. Ann Melton had persuaded (or blackmailed) the sheriff to let him go free, but threatening him to stop having sex with him, if Tom were hanged. The sheriff went along, and during the night before the hanging, Tom was set free and rode away from Statesville. In his stead the village drunk was arrested, and dressed in Tom’s new boots, stuffed with paper, to make him look taller. A hood was pulled over his head, and he was locked up in the depot building. The next day he was led out, still drunk and still hooded and was executed in Tom’s place.

This story, Marley claims, his grandmother told him, when he was around 5 or 6 years old. The whole story can be read on the Daily Yonder homepage. Can this be true? I don't think so. Too much speak against it. Let me start with the most obvious. The drunk would probably have protested and yelled that it was not him, unless of course that he was not only drunk but also gagged under his hood. The description of the hanging in New York Herald is rather specific but doesn’t mention that Tom was hooded. It also tells that Tom was driven on a cart from the prison, not that he was led out from the station house.

And what about the speech at the gallows? Did the drunk made that speech, or did the newspaper lie about it? Even if the paper was wrong here or omitted some of the information, the fraud would have been discovered when the doctor examined the body to make sure that Tom was dead.  So many people would have to have been involved, that it is certain, that not all of them would have been able to keep their mouths shut for the rest of their lives.

Also if Tom lived in Wadesboro, at least some people there must have known that he was not dead. Even if he lived under a false name, at least Marley’s grandmother knew who he was, and her parents must have known as well. So must Tom’s mother and his sisters Eliza and Anna, and Anna’s husband Micajah Hendrix, who brought the body back to Elkville. Probably other members of the large Dula and Hendrix clans would also have been told. Such a large conspiracy would certainly be revealed sooner or later, and rather sooner.  And no rumors from the time, none of the poems, songs and legends even suggest that it was not Tom, that was hanged.

So yes, it is possible that Tom survived the execution or was not executed at all, but it is it likely? Not at all in my opinion.

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