Poor Ole Tom Dooley (Dula)
“Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley,” is a North Carolina folk song performed throughout the Appalachian Mountains for years. The song was based on the murder of Laura Foster by Tom Dula in 1866. The Kingston Trio made it popular in 1958. It became #1 on R&B charts and made the Top 20 in Country.
Tom Dula was born in Yadkin Valley North Carolina 1845. He began living with a cobbler James Melton and wife Anne(Foster). The older James lost interest in his young bride Anne and allowed Anne to sleep with Tom. Later Pauline Foster cousin of Anne became a servant in the household and with Anne’s consent also sleep with Tom.
During Civil War Tom volunteered with his two siblings to serve with the 42nd regiment of the North Carolina Infantry. He was a drummer in the war and sang, played banjo and fiddle. The last part of the war he was held captive in Point Lookout Prison Camp in Maryland.
Tom managed to survive the war that took the lives of his two brothers. He returned home and resumed his life with Anne and Pauline in the Melton household.
Later Tom had an affair with Laura Foster, another cousin who followed Pauline into the area. Tom continued to sleep with Anne and Pauline during his affair with Laura. Of the three girls, Tom displayed the most affection for Anne.
Upon finding out Laura became pregnant with Tom’s child, the couple planned to elope. He shared the information with Anne and Pauline.
Before the elopement Laura Foster disappeared. Some thought Laura disappeared to hide the pregnancy and Tom would meet her later.
May 25, 1866 Laura’s father found Laura and her horse missing. Days later the horse returned without Laura. After a few weeks search of the area, searchers found a rope, used to tie Laura’s horse to a tree, near blood-soaked ground. The find located close to where Tom Dula lived prejudiced suspicion toward him. Tom left for Tennessee.
Upon a return visit to Tennessee, someone causally asked Pauline if she fled to Tennessee because she killed Laura. In jest Pauline told of how she and Tom killed Laura. After Pauline’s arrest, she broke under questioning and confessed that Anne and Tom killed Laura. Pauline led the police to Laura’s grave. The police exhumed the body. They made identification by the clothes due to the decomposed body. The police discovered a vicious stab wound where the weapon entered the heart under Laura’s left breast. This led to Anne’s arrest.
When Tom fled to Tennessee he worked for Lt Col James Grayson in return for a new pair of boots. The morning Tom received his new boots he left. Soon a posse showed up at Grayson’s farm looking for Tom. From the description Grayson realized it was Tom Hall who’d left that morning. He helped lead the posse to locate Tom camped beside a creek bed. The men from North Carolina wanted to hang Tom on the spot. Grayson stopped them, got Tom to surrender, and escorted him back to Wilkes County for a fair trial. However Grayson had no proper extradition papers, Tom never received an indictment or bail set for release. He remained in jail until his trial.
The courts tried Tom and Anne separately. Anne Melton received an acquittal. They convicted Tom of murder and hung him May 1, 1868 at Statesville North Carolina. Some report Tom’s last words as he raised a hand, “Gentlemen do you see this hand? I didn’t harm a hair on the girl’s head.”
Several stories trickled down through generations of relatives from that time:
First version – Tom who contacted syphilis, killed Laura for passing it to him whom he in turn passed on to Anne and Pauline. Also since he had the most affection for Anne they planned to get rid of Laura and the child. Due to the time difference in visual appearance or symptoms of syphilis, Tom didn’t know until later that Pauline came to the valley for treatment of syphilis.
Second version – Anne who knew of the planned elopement, killed Laura out of jealous love assisted by Pauline. James Melton, Anne and Pauline lied about each other’s whereabouts to lay blame on Tom.
Third version – Innocent Tom out of his love for Anne stated she had nothing to do with the murder of Laura Foster. He knew how crazy jealous Anne was of Laura and she probably killed her in a blind rage. After finding out what his lover did, Tom helped dispose of the body with hopes it’s never discovered. They were all young and things got out of hand.
The Ghost Story handed down about Anne (Foster) Melton – Over the years guilt ridden Anne became insane; on her death bed confessed she knew something that could have saved Tom’s life. As she lay dying large cats gathered in the trees outside her house and the air smelled of burning flesh. The cats were demons coming to take her soul to hell.
A Folk legend about Tom Dula – Tom wrote a song about him and sang it while strumming on his banjo, seated on his coffin placed on top of the wagon that carried him to the gallows. Tom joked and visited with his sister as she walked by the wagon. Tom told the sheriff, “You have such a clean rope; I ought to have washed my neck.”
In 2001 a group of people in the county passed a petition for the acquittal or pardon of Tom Dual to the governor of North Carolina grounds being:
• The judge instructed to exclude certain testimonies
• Conflicting testimonies
• Pauline’s non-creditable testimony
• Circumstantial evidence in general not sufficient to convict Tom
• Transported over state line without proper extradition papers
• No indictment or bail set
The governor denied the pardon as needed the same court to handle proceedings.
In 2009 a posthumous pardon was brought up again but the governor went out of office before any ruling.
In light of various standards today – Poor ole Tom was a victim of crazy love and unhealthy relationships – also a miscarriage of justice.