“Tom Dooley” is a song that originated in North Carolina, the same place where an 1866 tragedy occurred, from which the song was based. Thomas Land, a local poet, wrote it shortly after the alleged murderer was punished. In 1958, The Kingston Trio recorded it and it’s their version that catapulted the song’s success. Moreover, their cover was a multi-format hit topping the Billboard and the Billboard R&B charts as well as reaching the Cashbox Country Music Top 20. Due to the song’s popularity, it received multiple awards from various organizations. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic Inc. selected the song as one of the American Songs of Century. In addition, Members of the Western Writers of America chose the song as one of the Top 100 Western Songs of all Time.
The Terrible Story Behind the Hit
A young Confederate soldier who just came from the Civil War returned to his home in Wilkes County, North Carolina. His name was Thomas Dula or more popularly known as Tom Dooley. Apart from serving to protect his country with his life, Tom was also fond of music. He usually sings and picks his banjo while in the army camp. As a young man, Tom was the happy-go-lucky type. He had previous relationships with two of the most popular ladies in town, cousins Laura Foster and Ann Foster. The latter was Tom’s lover since 12.
When he came back home after the war, Ann was already married. This gave her cousin Laura much confidence to have Tom as her lover. However, upon seeing the dashing Tom on his return, Ann’s infatuation for the young soldier swiftly return. Ann thought, with Laura being out of the way, she and Tom would be able to rekindle their romance.
One night, Tom and Laura planned to elope and get married. The latter never happened though as Laura has disappeared. After several weeks of searching, authorities found her body. The investigation results showed that she was stabbed to death and the alleged suspect was no other than Tom. On May 1, 1868, authorities hanged Tom for murdering Laura. Prior to that, he uttered his final words,
“Gentlemen, do you see this hand? Do you see it tremble? Do you see it shake? I never hurt a hair on the girl’s head.”
They buried Tom in a cemetery in Happy Valley beside the old North Wilkesboro Road near Elksville, North Carolina.
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kingston trio, Tom Dooley