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The Story of Tom Dula

The story of Tom Dula is best known today because of a hit song recorded in 1958 by 'The Kingston Trio' called 'Tom Dooley.'   

According to history, Tom Dula was an impoverished Confederate veteran who returned from the war to his small North Carolina community, only to become the leading character in America's first nationally publicized murder case.  
According to history, Tom murdered a young girl named Laura Foster on the way to her wedding day. 

According to history, Tom's girlfriend, Anne Foster Melton, whose comments led to the discovery of the body, was acquitted in a separate trial based on Tom's word that she was not involved.   

But'Not everything we learn in history is true.  The facts of history are often altered by those who speak the loudest or have the strongest agendas. 

Tom Dula was hanged in 1868 for the murder of Laura Foster and a song 'Tom Dooley,' written by local poet Thomas C. Land turned the murder and hanging into legend and folklore. The doleful ballad was probably first sung after the execution and is still commonly sung in North Carolina. The song was selected as one of the songs of the century.  In 1958, the Kingston Trio, turned that music and the legend into an instant hit with their song, popularly knowns as 'Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley.'   Dula's last name was pronounced 'Dooley' leading to some confusion in spelling over the years. (The pronunciation of a final 'a' as 'y' is an old feature in Appalachian speech, as in the term 'Grand Ole Opry.')

But what really did happen in that small North Carolina community in 1868?

Why was sixteen year old Laura Foster killed?  And why did everything that happened in that little backwoods town make headlines in the New York City morning papers?   Why was Tom's former girlfriend, Anne Melton, acquitted?  Many  believed even then that she was the real murderer. 

And why, if it was such an open and shut case against Tom, did it take three trials to convict him? Why did the former governor of the state, Zebulon Vance, represent Dula pro bono in all three trials, believing in his innocence?  And why do the court transcripts of the trials not support his conviction or sentence? 

The fact is Tom Dula was hanged for the murder of Laura Foster.
The question is whether it was a justified conviction or a gross miscarriage of justice. 
That is the story behind the musical, 'Dula,' a love story that went terribly wrong.

Source Wikiopedia.com

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With Book by Paul Elliott

Music by Jeanie Cunningham

Lyrics by Elliott & Cunningham




The Legend of Tom Dula

Tom Dula's story on
Wilkes Chamber of Commerce website