Frankie Silver

Frankie Silver's maiden name was Stewart. She was tried and hanged in Morganton, Burke County, NC on July 12, 1833 for killing her husband, Charlie Silver. She killed him with an axe and chopped the body to pieces and burned some of it in the fireplace. Frankie and Charlie lived in what is now Mitchell
county, but at the time was a part of Old Burke County.

There are numerous records (papers) found about this case in the vertical files of the North Carolina Room of the Morganton Branch of the Burke County Public Library. And I am told that the old court records are still at the Clerk of Courts Offices in Morganton.

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. The book is published by Down Home Press, Po Box 4126, Asheboro, NC 27204. Price is $14.95. This is perhaps the true account of this old tragedy and provides a genealogy of the descendants of Frankie's daughter.

A novel, The Ballad of Frankie Silver, by Sharyn McCrumb is a very popular telling of the story. It is published by Dutton Books of the Penguin Group. I believe the Young book to be the authentic telling of the story.

Posted by Mary Jane Simmons
on Wed, 17 Mar 1999, in response to "Frankie Silver", posted by Mary Nanney
on Tue, 16 Mar 1999

The Ballad of Frankie Silver
by Sharyn McCrumb

(Exerpted from her brochure)

In 1832 Frankie Silver, a small blonde woman, aged 18, was charged with the murder of her young husband Charlie in their frontier cabin in what is now Kona, Mitchell County, North Carolina. On July 12, 1833, Frankie Silver became the first woman in the state of North Carolina to be hanged for murder.

Was she guilty ?

The enduring mystery of this case concerns the words that Frankie Silvers' father shouted at her as she attempted to make a speech from the gallows: "Die with it in you, Frankie!" What did he not want her to say?

Burgess Gaither, the 1832 clerk of court for Burke County who witnessed the case of Frankie Silver from arrest to execution, narrates the story of the Silver murder as it unfolds before a frontier populace that was at first shocked by the savagery of the crime, and then appalled as they came to understand the true nature of the events, discovering that they are powerless to stop the wheels of justice, and save the young woman from the gallows. Gaither is a 25-year old lawyer, who has married a daughter of the wealthy and influential Erwin family of Morganton. Born of a genteel but impoverished family, Burgess has worked his way into the profession of law, and married his way into the path of power. He wants to fit into polite society on the fringe of the frontier, yet his aristocratic complacency is shaken by the case of Frankie Silver, and he wonders if there is such a thing as equal justice under the

Present-day east Tennessee Sheriff Spencer Arrowood, recuperating from a gunshot wound received in the line of duty, is obsessed with the case of Frankie Silver, because he has just been invited to witness an execution.

Tennessee has a death penalty law on the books, but it has not been used in twenty years. This must change soon because people are still being sentenced to death, and Tennessee is running out of prison space in which to house them. Finally the legal logjam has been broken, and Lafayette Harkryder is slated to die. (No Southerner actually pronounces "Lafayette"; the young man was always called "Fate.") Fate was eighteen when he allegedly murdered a young couple hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Spencer Arrowood, then a deputy, had apprehended the fugitive, and he testified at the trial. Now a letter from Riverbend, the new maximum security penitentiary in Nashville, says that Fate Harkryder has requested that Sheriff Arrowood witness his execution.

The sheriff is troubled by the memory of the case. At the time, he was sure that the prisoner was guilty; now he wonders if he uncovered the whole truth. He remembers that Sheriff Nelse Miller used to say, "'These mountains have produced only two murder cases that make me wonder about justice: Frankie Silver and Fate Harkryder." Spencer wonders what he meant by that, and he begins to look into both cases, hoping to satisfy himself that justice indeed was done. He will find disturbing parallels between the historic frontier murder case and the sordid 'Seventies conviction of an east Tennessee teenager.

It is too late to save Frankie Silver, but what about Fate Harkryder? If the sheriff learns that the wrong man was convicted, he has very little time in which to save him.

The three graves of Charlie Silver at Kona, Mitchell County, North Carolina
[from Sharon McCrumb: The Ballad of Frankie Silver]

Additional Frankie Silver Resources

This is one of the most interesting accounts of the story of Frankie Silver ever. Perry Deane Young, one of the foremost researchers and folklore does a magnificent job.


The following links are currently defunct. We will try and restore them:

Author discovers Frankie Silver not first N.C. woman hanged

The facts behind a North Carolina fable

Blood on the Frontier


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Derick S. Hartshorn - 2008
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