Hang down your head Tom Dula

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 20, 2017

Hang down your head Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

It’s the most famous murder ballad in American folk music history. And chances are, if you know it, you know the version popularized by the Kingston Trio. Their recording of the song became a major commercial hit in 1958, selling over 6,000,000 copies. That hit single spawned a movie and helped spark the folk music revival of the 1960s. How did the song make its way to the Kingston Trio? Therein hangs a tale.

May 1st will mark the 149th anniversary of the criminal execution of North Carolinian ex-Confederate soldier Tom Dula. Not Tom Dooley? Think of the written word opera pronounced opry, as in Grand Ole Opry. Standard regional southern Appalachian pronunciation at work. So the Kingston Trio simply transcribed the name as it sounded to them.

Dula was hanged for the murder of his lover Laura Foster. The two lived in the North Wilkesboro, NC area. Tom Dula was a wild young buck, running around with two or three women at the same time. Foster, according to the ballad, gave him syphilis. He inadvertently passed it on to Foster’s first cousin, Mrs. Ann Melton. A third woman, a Pauline Foster, was in the background as well at the time.

Tom Dula gravestoneBoth Laura and Ann were pregnant by Dula. When Mrs. Melton realized that her longtime affair would be exposed by the pregnancy, that the baby’s health was seriously endangered, and that her own health had been compromised, all to her way of thinking because of Foster, she insisted that they—Dula and she—murder Laura Foster in vengeance.

As revealed in the case’s court records, early one morning in 1866, Laura Foster took her best clothes and her father’s horse and left for her rendezvous with Dula, who had supposedly gone to meet the justice of the peace so they could be married. Laura disappeared and Tom Dula fled Wilkes County.

The earliest known recorded version of the song was laid down on October 1, 1929 by GB Grayson & Henry Whitter. Whitter and Grayson met at a fiddlers’ convention in Mountain City, TN in 1927. They teamed up, and by autumn of that year, Whitter had gotten them two record deals. They recorded eight songs for the Gennet label and six for Victor, among them ‘Tom Dula.’ Grayson & Whitter’s recording of ‘Tom Dula’ is especially significant, since it was Grayson’s uncle that tracked Dula in 1866.

The ballad of Tom Dooley tells us that Dula, fleeing the murder scene, was captured before he got to Tennessee by a sheriff named Grayson. Actually, Dula made it over the state line and worked for a week in Trade, TN, at the farm of Col. James Grayson, a member of the Tennessee legislature, in order to make enough money to buy a new pair of boots and continue his journey.

Dula was captured in Tennessee around July 11 by two North Carolina deputies, with the help of Colonel Grayson, and brought back to the Wilkesboro, NC, jail.

Sign along Blue Ridge Parkway, NCFolk music historians Anne & Frank Warner collected the song in 1938 in Beech Mountain, NC from a local banjo player and singer named Frank Profitt Sr. Frank’s grandmother, Adeline Perdue, lived in Wilkes County and knew both Tom Dula and Laura Foster. Alan Lomax, of Library of Congress collecting fame, learned it from the Warners and sang it all over the country and on his radio shows. He went on to publish it in his book “Folk Song USA,” and it’s THAT version that came to the attention of the Kingston Trio.

In 1962, a settlement was reached with the Kingston Trio that divided any subsequent royalties between Frank Profitt, Frank Warner and Alan Lomax.

The song lives on even today. Bobby McMillon, whose ballad singing was featured in the film ‘Songcatcher’ and who is the youngest recipient of the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, performs it regularly. He went to school with relatives of Tom Dula.

Jeff and Gerret Warner, sons of Anne and Frank Warner, are continuing their parents’ legacy. Jeff researched and edited for his mother’s book “Traditional American Folk Songs.” Gerret assembled and prepared its photographs, taken by their parents. The sons organized their parents’ notes, manuscripts and photographs, which now form the Frank and Anne Warner Collection at Duke University.

sources: www.cmt.com/artists/az/grayson_whitter/bio.jhtml

Special thanks to Rosalie Friend for setting me on the right path with this story!

4 Responses

  • John E. Fletcher, PhD says:

    Almost all the “facts” in this story are untrue. Neither Laura Foster or Ann Melton were pregnant by Tom Dula. The source of the disease was the promiscious woman Laura Foster. The Ballad was sung as early as 1868 in Wilkes and nearby counties. The first poem was written by Col Thomas C.Land in 1868 entitled “The Murder of Laura Foster. The ballads were widespread in the tri-county area after 1870.

  • Laurie Allen says:

    Ann Melton is my great grandmother- my father was George Clyde Allen Jr.died in1976 at 56. I have postcards of Ann and Laura that I just found and posted on my facebook. Dad’s mom was Lena Page. I’d appreciate any information on my family history. I was born in 1960, both parents have died, never knew any grandparents- met one great grandmother in Fl. around 1965? she was 102 I think. There were a bunch of old people that were my Dad’s relatives. I remember the names Winne, Annabelle, I was a bit scared. We drove down from NJ to see my step grandad- Capt. Jessie O’Hyden. Lena Page Allen O’Hyden had died some time before. Not sure how- rumors that she was garden society and a bee sting to the foot killed her. Then, I hear my Dad’s family in NC owned Allen’s mountain at one time and it was like the Hatfields and McCoys, stills and all.
    Seems there is much more to my family history and I’d like to hear about it. I can be reached at laurieallen55@msn.com

  • John E. Fletcher, PhD says:

    The true facts about this case and the story of the Ballads can be found in my new book, “The True Story of Tom Dooley: From Western North Carolina Mystery to Folk Legend”, published by History Press, April 2013. It is available on Amazon and most book stores.

  • Heather Miller says:

    I cannot find any source directly linking Carlotta Foster to a man named Francis Triplett. I have found, however, where a woman, Frances Triplett, married Luke Hendricks, and another female of that name who married Thomas Bell Foster. The name Hendricks/Hendrix is interesting indeed–a contemporary newspaper cited Ann Melton as being the natural daughter of a Hendricks, a prominent Wilkes citizen. Couldn’t a possible Hendricks connection help explain that family’s motive to single Dula out for the murder of Laura Foster as a manner of shifting the blame? One thinks the family’s prominence would have been an additional factor in covering up any perceived stain on their reputation….

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Shivarees, Spin the Bottle, and Post Office

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 17, 2017

If you’ve taken part in a shivaree and played post office and spin-the-bottle, chances are you’ve been around a half-century or more.

In fact, you’ve been around so long the anthropologists may come looking for you to get information about those fine old East Tennessee customs of courtship and marriage.

Joseph Andrew Nelson and Mary "Mollie" Jane Pratt, on their wedding day in 1898. Taken in front of White School, Shooks Gap, TN, where Joseph was a teacher.

Joseph Andrew Nelson and Mary “Mollie” Jane Pratt, on their wedding day in 1898. Taken in front of White School, Shooks Gap, TN, where Joseph was a teacher. They most likely were familiar with the courtship rituals discussed here.

Dr. Charles H. Faulkner, a UT anthropology professor, sent me a copy of a book called ‘Glimpses of Southern Appalachian Folk Culture.’  It is a memorial collection of term papers by students of the late Dr. Norbert Riedl. Before Bert Riedl died of a heart attack, he and his students were studying folk culture in the Southern mountains.

It has chapters on several subjects, but the one that got my attention first was Philip Conn’s piece on ‘Traditional Courtship and Marriage Customs in the Appalachian South.’

Philip talked with his elders in Hardin Valley, Shady Valley, Ocoee Birchwood, Tellico Plains, TN, and Damascus, VA. He came up with lots of courtin’ and marriage customs before most people had dates and went on honeymoons after the wedding. They walked home from church together, sat up together with dead neighbors. They met at candy-pullings and corn-huskings.

After all the candy was pulled or the corn shucked, the young folks played post office. (Girl in separate room would call a boy and say he had a letter. He’d go and kiss her.) Or they’d play spin-the-bottle. (Boy spins the bottle and kisses the girl whom it points when it comes to rest.)

When a couple married, they didn’t go on a honeymoon. Most went to live temporarily with the groom’s parents, or, less frequently, with the bride’s parents.

The young folks in the neighborhood gave them a shivaree, called a ‘serenade’ in some communities. Nearly always, the groom was given a rough ride on a fence rail, and the bride was carried around in a big zinc wash tub.

All this was good-natured fun. But, according to the findings of Philip Conn, people in some communities went farther. They would abduct the bride or groom or both and keep them awake and apart ‘until both became thoroughly disgusted with the institution of marriage…The common denominator of shivarees was a ransom given either in the form of money, food, or wine to buy peace and privacy.”

A girl usually married a boy of her own community. Young men of some communities helped enforce this custom by hiding in ambush and throwing rocks at any outsider who called on a neighborhood girl.

One of the superstitions concerning weddings was that a bride should not bathe on her wedding day, because if she gets her belly wet, her husband will be a drunkard. Another was that if the bride’s father tapped her lightly on the left cheek with an old shoe, it would bring good fortune to the marriage. The bride’s mama sometimes gave her a poke of wheat to make certain mama would have many grandchildren.

Church weddings were rare back then. Lots of weddings were at the bride’s home, often outside in the yard if it were a spring wedding. Engagements were brief and sometimes not at all. When a boy and girl decided to get married, they wasted no time doing it. Without telling anybody, they sometimes went to a preacher or justice of the peace and got married.

But marrying at home was better. For it was considered good luck in some communities if the family cat was at the wedding.

Then there was the elopement, in which the boy ran off with the girl, usually against the wishes of her parents. ‘In cases of elopement, the ceremony was very simple, with the couple usually getting married in their everyday clothes,’ Mr. Conn wrote.

I can verify that. For I once drove the get-away car for an eloping couple. I think it must have been in the late 1930s that this young fellow came to my uncle’s general store in Mooresburg. I’d never seen him before. He wanted to borrow a car and a driver. My older cousin Bill was tending store and couldn’t go. So I took the fellow and Bill’s car.

He wore an old black hat, overalls, and a beard that must have escaped the razor for at least a week. I have seen people nearly as clean come off a day’s work with a threshing machine.

I drove him to within 100 yards of his intended’s home. He got out of the car and headed toward the house, He was bent over, hurrying, trying to make no noise. He looked like a fellow hurrying to get a shot at a deer about to move out of range.

Pretty soon, he came back with her. Both were hot, sweaty, excited. I took them to the nearest justice of the peace. The ceremony was very brief. And the groom never took off his hat.


Source: “Remember Shivarees and Spin-the-Bottle?,” from the column: Mountain Stories as told by Carson Brewer, Knoxville News-Sentinel, November 26, 1978

Carson Brewer  (1920-2003) attended Maryville College and the University of Tennessee. In 1945, he joined the Knoxville News-Sentinel staff. He began in the 1950s a weekly column, which expanded to three columns per week. Through this column, he supported local folklore and the region’s natural resources. He wrote several books on the Smokies and Tennessee, including “Valley So Wild: A Folk History” and “Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains.”

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Did Clark Dyer fly before the Wright brothers did?

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 16, 2017

Micajah Clark Dyer (1822-1891) filed patent 154,654 for his ‘Apparatus for navigating the air’ in 1874, a full 29 years before the Wright brothers made their historic first flight.

Be it known that I, Micajah Dyer, of Blairsville, in the county of Union and State of Georgia, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Apparatus for Navigating the Air; and I do declare the following to be a full, clear and exact description of the invention, such as will enable others skilled in the art to which it pertains to make and use it, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, which form part of this specification…

Witnesses at Choestoe, GA to Micajah Dyer’s illustrated and written patent document were Francis M. Swain (a neighbor) and M. C. Dyer, Jr. (the “other” Micajah Clark Dyer who, to distinguish the two, signed Jr. after his name. He was an uncle to the inventor Micajah Clark Dyer, but they were reared as brothers by Elisha Dyer, Jr., grandfather of Micajah). The document was dated February 16, 1874. It was filed in the patent office on June 10, 1874, and was approved there on September 1, 1874.

Clark and Morena Dyer, photo courtesy Union County Historical Society

Clark and Morena Dyer, photo courtesy Union County Historical Society

“When he was not busy with cultivating the land on his farm and tilling the crops necessary to the economy of his large family, Clark Dyer labored in his workshop,” says his descendant Ethlene Dyer Jones.

“There he experimented with a flying machine made of lightweight cured river canes and covered with cloth. Drawings on the flyleaves of the family Bible, now in the possession of one of Clark’s great, great grandsons, show how he thought out the engineering technicalities of motion and counter-motion by a series of rotational whirligigs. He built a ramp on the side of the mountain and succeeded in getting his flying machine airborne for a short time.

“Evidently, to hide his contraption from curious eyes, and to keep his invention a secret from those who would think him strange and wasting time from necessary farm work, Clark kept his machine out of sight, stored behind lock and key in his barn. Those who did not ridicule the inventor were allowed to see the fabulous machine. Among them were the following who bore testimony to seeing the plane; namely, his grandson, Johnny Wimpey, son of Morena and James A. Wimpey; a cousin Herschel A. Dyer, son of Bluford Elisha and Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer; and James Washington Lance, son of the Rev. John H. and Caroline Turner Lance.

Dyer's 1874 patent 154,654 for his ‘Apparatus for navigating the air’.

Dyer’s 1874 patent 154,654 for his ‘Apparatus for navigating the air’.

“Just when the fabulous trial flights (more than one) occurred on the mountainside in Choestoe is uncertain [about 1872-1874.] Prior to his death, he had invented a perpetual motion machine. It is also a part of family legend that Clark’s son, Mancil Pruitt Dyer, turned down an offer of $30,000 for the purchase of his father’s pending patents on inventions, especially the perpetual motion machine. Maybe Mancil reasoned that if he held out for more, he could receive it. Still another family story holds that Clark’s widow, Morena Ownbey Dyer, sold the flying machine and its design to the Redwine Brothers, manufacturers of Atlanta, who, in turn, sold the ideas to the Wright Brothers of North Carolina in about 1900.”

“Mr. Dyer has been studying the subject of air navigation for thirty years,” says the Macon (GA) Telegraph and Messenger, June 27, 1875, “and has tried various experiments during that time, all of which failed until he adopted his present plan. He obtained his idea from the eagle, and taking that king of birds for his model has constructed his machine so as to imitate his pattern as nearly as possible. Whatever may be the fate of Mr. Dyer’s patent, he, himself, has the most unshaken faith in its success, and is ready, as soon as a machine can be constructed, to board the ship and commit himself, not to the waves, but to the wind.”

“We had a call on Thursday from Mr. Micajah Dyer, of Union county, who has recently obtained a patent for an apparatus for navigating the air,” adds a July 31, 1875 article in the Gainesville (GA) Eagle. “The machine is certainly a most ingenious one, containing principles entirely new to aeronauts, and which the patentee confidently believes have solved the knotty problem of air navigation. The body of the machine in shape resembles that of the fowl, an eagle, for instance, and is intended to be propelled by different kinds of devices, to wit: Wings and paddle-wheels, both to be simultaneously operated, through the instrumentality of mechanism connected with the driving power.

“In operating the machinery the wings receive an upward and downward motion, in the manner of the wings of a bird, the outer ends yielding as they are raised, but opening out and then remaining rigid while being depressed. The wings, if desired, may be set at an angle so as to propel forward as well as to raise the machine in the air. The paddle-wheels are intended to be used for propelling the machine, in the same way that a vessel is propelled in water. An instrument answering to a rudder is attached for guiding the machine. A balloon is to be used for elevating the flying ship, after which it is to be guided and controlled at the pleasure of its occupants.”

Clark Dyer later invented a spring-loaded, propeller-driven flying machine, according to several witnesses who saw him launch a successful model. Legend says he later personally flew in a full-size one with foot controls and a steering device. He would glide from a mountainside in Choestoe, on a rail-like ramp of his own design.

Dyer descendant Jack Allen, of Blairsville, is a retired Delta Airlines mechanic. He has been building models since before his retirement from Delta. In 2013 Allen crafted every piece of Clark Dyer’s airplane model to scale, working from the 1874 patent drawings and descriptions, which were silent as to dimensions. Photo courtesy The Towns County Herald.

Dyer descendant Jack Allen, of Blairsville, is a retired Delta Airlines mechanic. He has been building models since before his retirement from Delta. In 2013 Allen crafted every piece of Clark Dyer’s airplane model to scale, working from the 1874 patent drawings and descriptions, which were silent as to dimensions. Photo courtesy The Towns County Herald.

“Mr. Dyer has worked thirty years on his machine,” said his neighbor John M. Rich in a letter to the editor of the Athens Banner-Watchman from April 28, 1885. “He is not crazed, but is in dead earnest, and confidently believes that he has solved the problem of aerial navigation. He is not a crank nor a fanatic, but is a good, quiet citizen and a successful farmer.”

“People said he continued to work on perfecting the machine until his death on January 26, 1891 at age 68,” says Clark Dyer’s great, great granddaughter, Sylvia Dyer Turnage. “Since the patent we’ve found was registered on September 1, 1874, I believe he had a later and more advanced design in those 17 years.”


Sources: ‘Apparatus for Navigating the Air’, Ethelene Dyer Jones; The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA, September 16, 2004

‘Through Mountain Mists’, Ethlene Dyer Jones, The Union Sentinel, January 1, 2004, Volume 10, Number 1



‘Model of Dyer’s 1874 airplane displayed at reunion’, The Towns County Herald, July 13, 2013, p 11A link

‘Georgia’s Pioneer Aviator Micajah Clark Dyer,’ Sylvia Dyer Turnage, Turnage Publishing Company, 2009

‘Aerial Navigation,’ Athens Banner-Watchman, April 28, 1885, No. XLIV, Vol. XXX

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Moving cotton through the upcountry

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 15, 2017

In the decade after the Civil War the new Air Line Railroad connecting Charlotte and Atlanta was laid through upcountry South Carolina. Two Confederate veterans saw an opportunity to create a new town at the junction of the older Blue Ridge Railroad and the new line, a town which because of this location would serve as an ideal marketing and shipping point for cotton grown in the low country.

And so Col. Joseph Norton and Col. Robert Thompson founded Seneca, SC (named for a nearby Cherokee village) on August 14, 1873, and Governor Wade Hampton signed the charter for the town on March 14, 1874.

During the cotton harvest, wagons bringing cotton would line up for blocks from the railroad station. A passenger terminal, several hotels, and a park were built near the railroad tracks.

If you walk down West South 1st St from the Seneca Presbyterian Church to Poplar St (now called Bruce Hill Blvd) you’ll be smack in the middle of “Silk-Stocking Hill.” Six of its houses were built by the Gignilliat family.

George Warren Gignilliat (1853-1926) and his brothers were among the pioneer merchants who came to Seneca and made large contributions to the development of the town. He’s one of the owners of the Seneca Oil Mill & Fertilizer Co. He also started Charles N. Gignilliat & Sons, Cotton Merchants, based in Seneca and Spartanburg.

GW Gignilliat houseThe Gignilliat family (an ancient Swiss family of wealth with roots dating back to the 1400s) had already been in the state for close to 200 years. It is one of the notable group of Huguenot families, the founders of which, said Dr JGB Bulloch of Washington DC, “either as gentlemen, planters, soldiers, lawyers, statesmen, &c., have added luster to the Commonwealth of South Carolina.”

Jean Francois Gignilliat came to America in late December of 1688 before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, where he received from the Lord Proprietors of the Carolinas a grant of 3,000 acres as the ‘first of the Swiss nation to settle in Carolina.’ He & his wife purchased an additional 4,500 acres.

Today, the Gignilliat Park Middle/High Academy and the Gignilliat Community Center stand today as reminders of this powerful family’s continuing impact on Seneca.

sources: www.clemson.edu/caah/cedp/senecatour1.pdf
The Beville Family of Virginia, Georgia, and Florida, and Several Allied… by Agnes Beville VaughanTedcastle, 1917 private printing (manu. Owned by the University of Wisconsin – Madison)

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The cake was emblazoned with Illuminated candles

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 14, 2017

It’s Valentine’s Day. We know lovers everywhere are preoccupied, but what about everyone else? Here’s a day in the life as reported in the February 14, 1930 edition of the Clinch Valley News in Raven, VA:

“A delicious and exquisite birthday dinner was served by Mrs. Parson at her home in North Raven at 7:30 on Wednesday evening, Feb. 5th, in honor of her husband, Dr. Andrew Parson, commemorating his birthday. The cake was emblazoned with Illuminated candles which harmonized with the artistically decorated color scheme of the beautiful dining room. Many presents were received and those who enjoyed the dinner were: Capt. and Mrs. D. D. Cox, Mr. and Mrs. Prease, Mr and Mrs. J.J. Draper, Miss Anna Cox, and Dr. Guinn, of Raven.

“William Wells, of Upper Swords Creek, left here Sunday morning en route to Abingdon to visit his brother Elbert, who is a patient in the Geo. Ben. Johnson hospital.
Mr. and Mrs. C.P Mitchell, west Raven, are the proud parents of a fine eight pound girl, born on Feb 10.

“Jess Boyd, private at Camp Fort Hoyle, at Fort Hoyle, Md. is at the home of his mother, Mrs. LD Boyd on a thirty day furlough.

“CLARENCE LAMBERT — Raven, Va. Feb 12 – Clarence Edward Lambert, 48 years of age, died at state convict No. 1, of spinal meningitis, about two thirty Monday evening, after being ill only a few days. He was a popular citizen living in Raven for some time and leaves a wife and several children, of this place. Interment was in the Hankins cemetery near Richlands. He is survived, besides his wife and children, his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. John Lambert and brother and sister of Raven, besides sisters and brothers elsewhere.

“MRS. JOHN MCKEE — Mrs. John McKee, aged 56, died at her home in Raven early last Thursday night. Death was attributed to heart trouble. Mrs. McKee was sitting by the fire about 9 o’clock when she suddenly became ill and fell from her chair dead. She had been completely blind in both eyes for the past 4 or 5 years. Interment was in cemetery on Horton Ridge, a few miles west of Raven. Surviving her is a husband and several children of this place.”

Source: http://www.rootsweb.com/~vatazewe/CVN/1930.htm

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