My own theory of the case: Tom and the women

There is no doubt that Tom was a womans man, roday you might call him a womanizer. He liked women, and they also seemed to have liked him as well. We don't know much with certainty about Tom's affairs, but we do know a little. We know for instance that he had his sexual debut quite early, even after the standard of the period. When he was 13- or 14-years old he had a sexual relationship with Ann (Foster) Melton, but we do not now how long it had lasted, or whether it was his first relationship. He may have had others even before that and the relationship with Ann could also have commenced earlier. He may also have had other relationships simultaneously with the one with Ann - at least when he got older he did have relationships with more women at a time.

When Tom joined the army and thus left Elkville, his relationships with Ann and maybe other women from his old neighborhood were put on hold, but that doesn't mean, that he stopped seeing women. According to a newspaper article from the time of his execution, Tom's army comrades told the journalist, that he had had a relationship with a married woman in the city of Wilmington in North Carolina, while his regiment was stationed near this city. According to the story the relationship came to an end, when Tom killed the woman's husband. Neither relationship or the murder has ever been confirmed, though*. However, there is no reason to reject the story of the relationship, whether Tom killed the husband or not. The 42nd Regiment was stationed in Wlimington in the beginning of 1865, and I don't think, that Tom hadn't had any female relationships from March 1862 until January 1865.  Like many other soldiers he probably had several in, maybe with prostitues, but as he had his way with women, he may not have had to settle for that. It is hard to believe that he shouldn't have had any sexual relationships in the almost three years that passed from he left Elkville and until he came to Wilmington and later was taken prisoner at Wyse's Fork.

* No sources that I have been able to find are mentioning a murder in Wilmington late 1864 or early 1865, when Martin's Brigade and the rest of Hoke's Division, to which the 42nd North Carolina Infantry Regiment belonged, was in town, but it was wartime, so it is not certain that a death, although it was violent, was recorded as a homicide.

The picture on the left shows a lock of Laura Foster's hair, given to the Witherspoon family in stead of a photograph as was customary in the 1860's. The actual lock of hair is in the Tom Dooley Art Museum at Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson, North Carolina and is shown here with permission fromMrs. Edith F. Carter.

After his return to Elkville after the war, we know from the trial that he certainly had affairs with Ann Melton, Laura Foster and Pauline Foster. In addition, two other women are mentioned, Caroline Barnes, an 18-year old girl of whom he had an argument with Ann and the elusive Manda Barnes* that Tom tried to avoid on the morning of Laura's disappearance, according to the testimony from Betsy Scott. Again, I think that there is great possibility that he may have had affairs with many more that we do not know anything about today. And one of these may well have been James Isbells wife, who at 27 was roughly the same age as the other women, he had affairs with at that time, except from the much younger Caroline. He could walk five miles to German Hill, so why not eight miles to King's Creek to visit his second cousin? Such an affair could have started before the war, as James Isbell joined the army almost one year before Tom. He could have continued such a relationship after the war, or maybe the relationship didn't start until after the war. I have in a previous article suggested that Tom theoretically could be the father of Isbells daughter, Mary Virginia, just like he could be the father of Ann Meltons eldest daughter, Martha Jane, and possibly several other "fatherless" children - he probably had many female relationships and contraception was not common at the time, which also caused the number of venereal diseases to skyrocket during this period. And he could have had relationship with several other women, as a lot of men never returned from the war and obiously he didn't care much whether his lovers were married or not.

* If she was a woman. I have argumented in another article, that Manda could be a mishearing or misspelling of Manly, and Manly Barnes was the father of Caroline Barnes.

There is nothing in any of the stories, neither the case acts or the legends that suggest that Tom had long term relationships with other women than Ann Melton. We are told that he visited Laura Foster a few times and then stopped visiting her, maybe to resume contact with her a month or so later - again only for a few visits. This also explains why some witnesses testifed during the proceedings, that Tom had said that he nothing to do with Laura Foster anymore. The relationship with Pauline he managed simultaneously with his affair with Ann and it appears from the testimony that it was a rather sporadic relationship with only a few encounters. Nor did anything suggest that he had long term relationships with the two women Barnes (maybe only one). If that had been the case it would have been mentioned at the trial. To me it seems as if Tom was the kind of man to whom the conquest was the most important part of a relationship. When he had "hunted down his prey", he quickly lost interest. Ann was the only woman, that he had a lasting relationship with - and she was married to another for all or at least most of the time the relationship lasted. There is therefore reason to believe, that any relationships of Tom's, including a possible relationship with Louisa Isbell, had been shortlived.

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