The Untold Story of Frankie Silver:
A Different Perspective
Nearly five years ago, Perry Deane Young asked me to post a letter
he had written to the Mitchell (NC) New Journal. [See Note 1, below]
That letter was about to blossom into a challenging study of the
fascinating 19th century Appalachian folklore story of Frankie Silver.
For those who are unfamiliar with Perry Deane Young or the
Story of Frankie Silver, this should answer many questions.
Recently, Perry wrote me and asked that I post a follow up.
I am delighted to do so. I am exerpting his letter to me. [See Note 2, below]
To cut to the chase, here is Perry's web site:
Perry Dean Young reveals research on the questionable diary
Letters to the Editor
August 1, 2000
I read in a recent issue of the Mitchell News-Journal a reference to a diary written by Nancy, the daughter and only child of Frankie Silver, who was hanged at Morganton in 1833. This is major news to those of us who have studied this case for many decades. In my book, The Untold Story of Frankie Silver, I made every effort to assemble all the known facts about poor Frankie and her child, but more important, I tried to explain that much that has been handed down about her was pure fiction. She was not, for example, the first or only woman hanged in North Carolina, she wasnt even that in Burke County. She did not sing a confession in the form of a ballad from the scaffold, although a local school teacher did write such a ballad plagiarized from an earlier Kentucky murder story. In the 17 letters and petitions to the governor trying to get a pardon for Frankie, we learn that Frankie killed her husband in self defense. She made this confession to two different groups of citizens and one of them wrote it down. Several of the pardon petitions begin "Having read the confession of Frankie Silver." There is no indication, however, that Frankie herself ever wrote anything. Nobody has yet found a copy of the confession referred to in these petitions but Im convinced we will find it one of these days.
Meanwhile, a diary written by Frankies daughter poses another set of problems. In the 1860, 1880, 1890 and 1900 U.S. censuses, Nancy Silver Parker Robinson is listed as being unable to read or write. [Her name does not appear in the 1850 and 1870 censuses.) If someone has a diary in her handwriting, it should be brought forth for serious historians to examine and prove its authenticity beyond a reasonable doubt. We have a wonderful history in Yancey and Mitchell counties, but we do not need to settle for fictions about our past when the facts are so much more important and interesting.
Perry Deane Young
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Subject: Frankie Silver
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2005 11:22:48 -0500
Dear Derick Hartshorn: "............ I am writing to you now about my book and play about the Frankie Silver story. I am attaching reviews of the book for your consideration and will provide reviews of the play if you would like to see them as well. I am especially proud of the review which your own Mary Jane Simmons wrote of my book and which you still carry on your website.
The play, Frankie, which I wrote with Bill Gregg was first presented at the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre at Mars Hill in 2001. We are hoping to mount a new production this October and present it in several locations throughout Western North Carolina. The entire play is set in Morganton and naturally we would like to see it produced there.
I have given talks about the Frankie Silver case all around Morganton and Burke--at Lenoir, Statesville, Burnsville, Asheville, Avery, Mitchell and McDowell. But, I have never been invited to speak there in Morganton. Needless to say, there are important connections not only with the story of Frankie Silver but with my research that led to the book. The late Bob Byrd xeroxed his huge files in their entirety for me. Everybody there was so gracious and helpful, I would like the opportunity to say thank you. I charge no fee or honorarium and would be delighted to come speak if you think the genealogical or the historical society would be interested in hearing what I have to say...
Perry Deane Young
P.O. Box 1366
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Here are the reviews as Perry gave them to me:
"Most of my life I've heard stories about a pretty mountain lady who was hanged for nothing more serious than murdering her husband. Here...and I can say at last after one and a half centuries- -is the true account, thoroughly researched and beautifully presented. It's a high-road journey into this Appalachian mystery.
--John Ehle, author of The Land Breakers, The Road, The Journey of August King.
"Of all the tales of tragedy to emerge from the mists of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, none has been more enduring than that of the death of Charles Silver at the hands of his wife, Frances Stuart. Unfortunately, it has accumulated exaggeration and error much as a snowball hurtling down the slope is covered with debris. Only in recent days have efforts been made to peer behind the veneer of distortion and discover the truth. Perry Deane Young has not only been ideally situated to uncover the long hidden and neglected documentation, but also had the expertise in research and the literary skill to bring the facts to expression. At long last Frankie has an advocate with whom she would be pleased.
--Lloyd Bailey, professor of Old Testament History at Duke University and president of the Yancey county History Association, author of Heritage of the Toe River Valley, Vols. I, II, III.
Perry Deane Young has taken one of the best-known stories, legends, ballads of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains and reconstructed Frankie Silver's murder of her husband in December 1831, and her public hanging in July, 1833, as close to the truth as thoughtful research makes possible. His detailed record of that research reveals a model of professional and personal perseverance that adds a new dimension to an old and riveting tragedy.
--Wilma Dykeman, author of The French Broad, The Far Family and (with James Stokley), Highland Homeland and Neither Black nor White.
Young Frances Silver's ax murder of her husband in the Appalachian mountains in 1831 and her subsequent hanging was the subject of a novel by Sharyn McCrumb earlier this year, The Ballad of Frankie Silver. Young, a veteran reporter, has sifted actual documents to chronicle and correct the facts about a fascinating case surrounded by myth.
--Nancy Pate, The Orlando Sentinel
This book is thoroughly researched and clearly written by Young, who says in the preface, "It's high time we allowed for the possibility that Frankie Silver may have been unjustly hanged." One of several books published recently on the Frankie Silver story, this one is likely to stimulate renewed interest in the case among scholars and others.
-- Al Stewart, Our State
(Perry Deane Young) provides important historical background to this fascinating story...Young is able to build suspense, even for a story many of his readers may already know... This personal tone is refreshing in a historical study...By personalizing both Frankie Silver's story and his own search for it, Young has given readers an interesting and well-written book about history and the way it is created.
--Lynn Moss Sanders, Appalachian Journal Lynn Moss Sanders teaches literature and folklore at Appalachian State University.
There are many stories about Frankie Silver. The best book I have seen on the subject is The Untold Story of Frankie Silver by Perry Deane Young This is perhaps the true account of this old tragedy and provides a genealogy of the descendants of Frankies daughter. A novel, The Ballad of Frankie Silver, by Sharyn McCrumb is a very popular telling of the story I believe the Young book to be the more authentic telling of the story.
Mary Jane Simmons on the Burke County Genealogy website: www.rootsweb.com/~ncburke/silver.htm
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Derick S. Hartshorn - ©2008