Tom Dula (Dooley)
“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!”
So runs the chorus of a 19th century Appalachian mountain ballad, popularised by the Kingston Trio in 1958. The song is based around the hanging of a young man, Tom Dula (pronounced “Dooley” in the local Appalachian dialect) who was executed for murder in 1868.
Dula was a veteran of the American Civil War, having fought on the Confederate side, been wounded and returned to his home in 1865 when the war ended. Dula had a reputation as something of a ladies’ man and is believed to have had an affair with Annie Foster, a local girl, before he left for the war. Annie married an older man, James Melton but when Tom returned they began seeing each other again. Tom also began seeing Annie’s cousin, Laura Foster. According to the folklore Laura soon became pregnant and she and Dula agreed to elope. She arranged to meet Dula and left her house one morning in May 1868. She was never seen alive again.
The folklore claims that Annie Melton, jealous of Laura’s planned marriage to Tom, murdered her cousin and that Tom Dula took the blame in order to spare Melton’s life. On the gallows Dula gave some enigmatic last words:
“Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn’t harm a hair on the girl’s head.”
Dula insisted, despite these words, that he still deserved to die. This, coupled with the fact that it was Annie Melton’s word that led to the discovery of Foster’s body, has fuelled the folklore.
Some believe that Dula was indeed guilty and even the lyrics of the song state that he
“Met her on the mountain,
There I took her life,
Met her on the mountain,
Stabbed her with my knife”
Local tradition however, states that Annie Melton confessed to the crime on her deathbed and was haunted by visions of black cats and the smell and sound of frying bacon.
Note: Laura Foster was murdered in Wilkes County, North Carolina, but the trial and execution was held in Statesville, Iredell County, North Carolina.