Excecution and aftermath

After the date and time of the excution had been set, Tom stayed in jail in Statesville for the next three weeks. The day before the excution Toms sister sent him a note from their mother. John Foster West believed the sister to be the Eliza mentioned during trial, now married to Anderson Dula (Lift up yur head, Tom Dooley, p. 49) and an article in the Wilkes Recorder believes it to be another sister, Anna, married to Micajah Hendrix (article in the Wilkes Recorder,  July 18th, 2001). In the note, Mary asked Tom to confess the truth for her sake, but he did not reply. Tom requested that his sister would be allowed to visit him but it was denied.

On the evening of April 30th, Tom had his dinner and when the jailer was about to leave the cell, he discovered that Tom had managed to loosen his shackels by filing through the chain with a piece of glass he hid in his bed. When discovered Tom claimed that the shackles had been loose for almost a month (maybe implying, that he hadn't done it to attempt to escape). The shackles were fixed though and the jailer left. Sometime in the evening he was visited by defense assistant Richard Allison. He gave Allison a piece of paper in which he claimed to be the only person involved in the murder. Also he handed over a 15 page long statement of his life. Both were written with a pencil in a "crude handwriting", and he made Allison swear that he would keep the confession a secret until Tom was dead. Writing the note, not to mention the 15 pages of statements on his life, even in a crude handwriting, was extremely well done by a man, who was an illiterate, not even beeing able to sign his own name on the affidavit asking for transfer to Iredell, less than 18 months earlier, and Tom being imprisoned for the whole time. Unfortunately none of the documents appears to exist today.

According to the article in New York Herald, Tom seem ed nervous and was paging the floor of his cell during the night "as far as his chain would reach" . He tried to sleep, but he only managed to sleep for about 30 minutes. In the morning he consulted his "spiritual advisor" but even to the priest he denied having anything to do with the murder. In the morning he was baptised by a methodist priest - still according to the New York Herald article.

The field, where Tom  Dooley was executed on the far side of the tracks.

The photo on the left, shows the approximate place of exceution near the Statesville Depot.

At his final appearance before judge Anderson Mitchell on April 13th 1868 in order to set a date of execution after the last unsuccesful appeal, the judge had made the following statement: "[the prisoner were]... to remain [in jail] until Friday, the First of May AD 1868, and on that date he be taken by the Sheriff of said county (Iredell) to the place of public execution of said county between the hours of 12 o'clock and four P.M. and there be hanged by the neck until he be dead." Unfortunately, there was no public place of execution in Statesville, but the sheriff had erected a simple gallows near the raillway depot just south of town, a place commonly known as "the circus lot". This place is across the railway tracks behind the "new" railway depot from 1906, af 111 Depot Place, presently housing Statesvilles Convention and Visitors Bureau. I guess the gallows must have been placed close to present days South Center Street.

From the jail on Broad Street, Tom was to be transported a little over half a mile to the place of execution. Unlike what is claimed in several of the ballads, Tom was not hanged from an old oak tree and definately not in a lonesome valley.

Already around 11 AM the streets of Statesville was crowded with people. Some sources speak of around 3,000 people, but that may be a little exaggerated. An extraordinary number was female, as the New York Herald journalist, apparently somewhat astounded, claims in his article. He adds that most of them were in town to shop, but that a certain class of people came just to watch the execution. As a matter of fact, there was so many people present, that the sheriff had to appoint a guard, just to keep back the crowd and had ordered the local bars to close in order to avoid drunkards to make trouble. At the actual place of execution, people were even climbing the trees to get a better view and there was an equal number of males and females present. Here the New York Herald journalist gets a little carried away once more: "The opinion of all was that he was a terrible, desparate character..." and later "Few there were who pitied him dying, as they believed him guilty, without a confession, and none sympathized with him." (The emphasis is mine.)

At 12.42 PM the guard was formed and Tom Dooley was lead from the prison by Sheriff Wasson and some assistants. Tom climbed the cart, that also carried his coffin and he was accompanied in the cart by his brother in law. He was followed by people on foot, on horseback and in carriages as he rode through town. On the way he spoke with his sister, who must have walked next to the cart, telling her, not to worry as he had made his peace with God.

A drawing found at the Tom Dooley Art Museum in Whippoorwil Academy and Village outside Ferguson depicts Tom's execution. In this drawing Tom stands on a scaffold, complete with trap door and all. At his feet is his fiddle and Tom is standing below the noose, addressing the crowd, and what I guess is supposed to be the executioner (Sheriff Wasson) is wainting patiently with a hood or blindfold. This drawing is definately incorrect. The scaffold is placed outside a brickbuilding, that seems to be the prison and other buildings can be seen in the background, but we already know that Tom's execution took place on an empty field with a few trees. The prison was not a brick building either, like the prison in Wilkesboro, but rather a small, simple log cabin, maybe something like the old prison, that is found at Whippoorwil Academy and Village. Neither was he hung from a scaffold. Sheriff Wasson had erected a simple gallows consisting of to uprights, 10 feet apart with a single cross bar on top, to which the rope could be fastened.

Tom Dooley's execution

The drawing to the left from the Tom Dooley Art Museum at Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson, North Carolina shows Tom's execution as  Edith F. Carter imagines it. The original picture is in  and is reproduced here with permission from the artist.

When the cart arrived at the place of execution at 1.08 PM men on horsebac had to spread the crow in order for the cart to get through. The cart was placed under the gallows, and sheriff Wasson placed the noose around Toms neck. He then told Tom, that he could address the crowd if he wanted to. A lot of people expected to hear him confess and repent, but that was not to be. Tom spoke in a loud voice "that rang back from the woods, as if a demon there was mocking the tone and spirit of a wretch who well knew he was going into eternity with an unconfessed murder upon his mind, and falsehood on his lips." (From the New York Herald article). Tom spoke of his childhood, his parents and his career in the army. He spoke of politics, and claimed that the (recently elected and not yet in office) govenor, William Holden was a secessionist that could not be trusted. He didn't speak of the murder, but for some reason told the crowd about the roads leading to the place of the murder, and swor by God, that some of the witnesses at his trial had sworn falsely against him, especially in the testimonies of his whereabouts Tursday and Friday. One man in particular was mentioned, namely James Isbell, that Tom claimed was prejudiced against him and had perjured during trial (I will get back to that in a later article). He concluded his hour-long speech by declaring that without the lies sworn against him at trial, he would not have been standing there at all. So he maintained his claim of innocense to the last moment.

When he concluded his speech, he said goodbye to his sister and the end of the rope was tied to the cross beam of the gallows. At 2.24 PM the cart was pulled away and Tom fell about two feet. His neck didn't break and he breathed for about five more minutes, hanging from the rope without any struggling. After 10 minutes he his heart stopped beating and at 2.37 the local physician, Dr. Campbell declared him dead. Twenty minutes later his body was taken down, put in the coffin and handed over to his sister and brother in law.

Tom Dooley's body was taken back to Elkville, and burried on land, that once belonged to his grandfather, Bennet Dula close to what is now North Carolina Route 1168, Tom Dula Road about 1,5 miles from the cabin where he lived with his mother and sister. Daniel W. Barefoot in his book "Haints of the Hills" from 2002 tells that when Tom's body was brought back to Elkville, it was placed on his bed in the cabinm where he lived with his mother. (Haints of the Hills, p. 43). This may very well have been true, as a proper grave might not yet have been prepared. Later, Barefoot continues, Tom's wounds began to bleed. This sounds not so likely though, as he had been dead for several hours at the time. The blood on the floor was impossible to remove according to Barefoot, and the cabin was considered haunted until it was torn down many years later. I don't know much about haunting, never come across anything of the kind, but why someone would think the spirit of Tom Dooley should haunt his own house, I don't understand. Nobody there had done him any harm. OK, this was a supernatural digression. Now back to reality.

At the fall term of 1868 Ann Melton was put to trial in Wilkesboro. Why the case was transfered back to Wilkesboro once again is not mentioned anywhere. Anyway, because of Tom's note to Richard Allison, Ann was found not guilty as an accessory to murder.

We do not have much exact knowledge about Ann Melton after the trial. Apparently she returned to James and her daughter. According to the 1870 census, the three of them lived together, and in 1871 she had another daughter, Ida. Ann must have died sometime between 1871 and 1875. In late 1875 or early 1876 James had had a daughter, Margareth, with his new wife, Louisa Gilbert, and we must assume, that they were married some time before the birth. Exactly how Ann died, we do not know with any certainty. The legends may very well be correct, in that she died after an accident with a cart. Some stories even places the accident to present days Gladys Fork Road. John Foster West (Lift Up Your Head Tom Dooley) mentions, that she may have died of third stage syphilis, even if he admits thnat the period from she was infected until she died seem a little to short, but claims that her alledged delusions was coherent with neurosyphilis in the terminal phase of third stage. Ann is burried close to the place, where her mothers cabin used to be.

This completes the story of Tom Dooley as we know it today, but as mentioned in other articles this is not the "whole truth", and definately not "nothing but the truth" about the matter. We still don't know who killed Laura Foster and why. I will look into that in future articles.

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