Frankie Stewart Silver

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Frances Stewart Silver (Born between 1810 and 1813; Died July 12, 1833) was hanged in Morganton, Burke County, North Carolina, for the murder by ax of her husband Charles. Frankie Silver, as she is known, is incorrectly[1] believed to have been the first woman executed in Burke County. She was the daughter of Isaiah and Barbara Stewart.


On December 22, 1831, Charles Silver, only nineteen at the time, was hacked to death with a hatchet and dismembered in the cabin he shared with his wife and their daughter Nancy, who was 13 months old at the time.[2] Charles is buried in three separate graves in the Silver family cemetery behind the Kona Baptist Church in Kona, Mitchell County, North Carolina. The dismembered parts of Charles's body were not discovered all at once, and so they were buried piecemeal as they were found; this accounts for the existence of three separate graves.

Trial and execution[edit]

Shortly after the murder, suspicion fell on Charles's wife Frankie. Barely 18 at the time of her husband's death, Frankie was tried, swiftly convicted and sentenced to death for the murder.

Because laws at the time deemed the accused to be an incompetent witness, Frankie was not permitted to testify in her own defense. When she later explained that she had killed her abusive husband in self-defense as he was loading his gun to shoot her, public sentiment turned in her favor, but it was too late. She had already been convicted and sentenced. Hundreds of persons, including seven of the twelve jurors who convicted her, petitioned in vain for her pardon.[3]

According to the Fayetteville Observer report July 30, 1833, "She made a confession of all the circumstances leading to the commission of the awful deed, from which it appears that the whole period of her matrimonial life, [a little more than 2 years] was spent in a succession of quarrels and fights, always, as she says, commenced by her worthless partner. She says he was loading his gun with the avowed purpose of shooting her, when she caught up the ax and gave him the fatal blow. A few moments afterwards she would have given, she says, a thousand worlds to have called back the blow."

Frankie was hanged on July 12, 1833. As she was led to the gallows, Frankie tried to make a final statement, but her father drowned her out by shouting "Die with it in you, Frankie!" What exactly she planned to say remains a mystery to this day.

Frankie's father had intended to bring his daughter's body home and inter her in the family burial plot, but extreme heat and humidity in North Carolina that year forced him to bury Frankie in an unmarked grave behind the Buckthorn Tavern a few miles west of Morganton, North Carolina. For many years, the exact location of Frankie's grave was unknown, but it is now thought to lie in a remote corner of the present day Devault farm. In 1952, a granite stone marking the probable location of the grave was placed by Beatrice Cobb, editor of the Morganton newspaper.

Escape attempt[edit]

Before her execution, Frankie's family broke her out of jail. Disguising her in a man's coat and hat, they carried her out of town in a load of hay. The Sheriff and his posse caught up to them quickly and easily saw through the disguise. She was promptly returned to prison.

Popular culture[edit]

As a young college student in September 1963, author Perry Deane Young discovered the letters and petitions to the governor which turned the traditional story of a jealous wife seeking her revenge upside down. Thus began a lifelong crusade by Young to show through documentation that Frankie Silver was unjustly hanged. At the height of the Watergate hearings, Sen. Sam Ervin wrote to Young to concur that Frankie should never have been hanged. Young's book, The Untold Story of Frankie Silver, reproduced all of the documents which proved Frankie's innocence. His later play, Frankie, finally gave the long-dead woman a chance to tell her side of the story.

The case of Frankie Silver served as the basis for Sharyn McCrumb's 1999 novel, The Ballad of Frankie Silver. In it, McCrumb's series character Spencer Arrowood takes a fresh look at the Frankie Silver case and at a (fictional) modern murder with many parallels.

The 2000 Film "The Ballad of Frankie Silver" and re-release 2010 "The Ballad of Frankie Silver:(Special Edition) DVD was Written, Directed and Produced by Theresa E. Phillips of Legacy Films Ltd. This film has a different theory of what actually happened in the death of her husband Charlie.

Rap artist Lil B has a bonus track on his Angels Exodus album titled Frankie Silver, the song samples American R&B duo James & Bobby Purify's song I'm Your Puppet. It does not reference the title person.

In a 2013 episode of the Investigation Discovery show Deadly Women, Frankie Stewart Silver appears. The episode was titled "Brides of Blood".


  1. ^ Williamson, David (1998), "Author discovers Frankie Silver not first North Carolina woman hanged", UNC-CH News Services 
  2. ^ The Tragic 1831 Death of a Teen Couple in the North Carolina Mountains
  3. ^ The Untold Story of Frankie Silver, by Perry Deane Young, p.113


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