Frankie Stewart Silver

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Frances Stuart 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 [1] believed to have been the first white woman capitally 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, her mother Barbara Stuart and her brother Blackston Stuart and they three were arrested. While Frankie is not noted to have appeared at the time the Defendants Barbara Stuart and Blackston Stuart plead not guilty, before the magistrate on the 17th day of January, 1832, and were discharged. There appearing no evidence of behalf of the State against them and were placed under bond of one hundred pounds to appear at the March 1832, Term of the Superior Court of Law for Burke County, Isaiah Stuart went on the bonds as surety.[3]

So this left Frankie to stand trial alone in the murder.

The evidence from the investigation into the whereabouts of Charles Silver, Frankies husband also known as "Johnny", uncovered a fireplace full of excessive oily ashes, which produced grease floating up to the surface of water when placed in a glass. A pooling of blood that had flowed through the cabin's puncheon floor which was about the size of a dogs liver. Speckled blood was also found upon the inside walls of the cabin. Pieces of bone and flesh were also discovered in ashes poured in a mortar hole near the spring, also a heel-iron, such as Charles wore on his hunting moccasins. The evidence showed that Charles had been murdered and his body burned to hide the evidence.[4]

Barely 18 at the time of her husband's death, Frankie was tried, due to the overwhelming evidence, swiftly convicted and sentenced to death for the murder.

She had almost 3 years to confess while awaiting her hanging. No confession was ever documented.

A poem said to have been written and recited by her on the gallows was also proved to be a false account. Frankie was hanged on July 12, 1833. As she was led to the gallows, Frankie started to make a final statement, but her father shouted "Die with it in you, Frankie!"

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.

The motive having never been proven, will never be known. It was assumed by rumors in books and letters submitted to newspapers by random sympathizers in later years try to suggest that Frankie had been abused. But, at no time had any evidence been shown, nor are there any official records that Frankie ever confessed of it.

Escape attempt[edit]

During the time between her sentencing and hanging, Frankie was broken out of jail by someone making entry by way of one of the basement story windows, and opened the doors leading to the prisoner's, apartment by the aid of false keys. She was apprehended a few days later in Henderson county, and taken back to jail. When taken, she was dressed in male apparel, with her hair cut short. her father and uncle were committed to jail as accessories to her escape.

Popular culture[edit]

Curiosity and rumors fueled the speculation that she was an abused woman. Many books and plays were written dramatizing the actual events of the murder. Most were sympathetic to Frankie and were based upon speculation as no factual documentation existed of her being abused.

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, "supposedly" reproduced all of the documents which proved Frankie's innocence, His later play,Frankie, fictitiously gave the long-dead woman a chance to tell her side of the story. These accounts are known to be controversial being there were no documents to ever officially exist as this author suggests.

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".

A petition to have Frankie Officially Pardoned for the murder was formed unsuccessfully on April 9th, 2013.[5]


  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. ^ Avery, Clifton K. Official Court Record of the Trial, Conviction and Execution of Francis Silvers First Woman Hanged in North Carolina . Morganton, NC: The News Herald P. 1952? [The dates 1944 and 1952 are given in a forward by Beatrice Cobb, but no actual publication date is listed.]
  4. ^ Family Interpretation Of Murder, 1900 Interview With Alfred Silver, printed in the Morganton News Herald, March 28 1968
  5. ^ Pardon Frances "Frankie" Stewart Silver Petition published by Ali Randolph on Apr 09, 2013


External links[edit]