Frankie Stewart Silver

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Frances Stuart Silver (Born between 1814 and 1815; Died July 12, 1833) was hanged in Morganton, Burke County, North Carolina, for the murder by ax of her husband Charles Silver. 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 (aka "Johnny Silver") was hacked to death and later dismembered in the cabin he shared with his wife, Frankie, and their 13-month-old daughter, Nancy.[2] Frankie was arrested, charged, convicted and hanged for the murder.

Trial and execution[edit]

Shortly after the murder, suspicion fell on Charles's wife Frankie, her mother Barbara Stuart and her brother Blackston Stuart. All three were arrested. Barbara and Blackston Stuart pled not guilty before the magistrate on the 17th day of January, 1832, and were discharged. Frankie alone stood trial for the murder.

The investigation into the whereabouts of Charles Silver uncovered a fireplace full of excessive oily ashes, a pooling of blood that had flowed through the cabin's puncheon floor and blood splatters on inside walls of the cabin. Pieces of bone and flesh were also discovered in ashes poured in a mortar hole near the spring, as well as a heel-iron similar to those worn by Charles on his hunting moccasins. According to Silver family lore, the evidence showed that Charles had been murdered and his body burned to hide the evidence.[3]

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 marker misspells Frankie's married name as "Silvers."

The motive for the murder is still not clear. It was claimed during the trial that Frankie was a jealous wife seeking revenge. Later theories asserted that she was an abused wife. There is no definitive evidence for either theory. Despite claims made by journalists at the time, Frankie never confessed, nor did she discuss her motives. There is a theory that Frankie wanted to move west with her parents to join other family members, but Charles Silver refused to do so. There was speculation that frustration with Charles' refusal was the motive for the murder.

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. The story of it goes as follows: Her family broke her out of jail, cut her hair short and dressed her in men's clothes. A sheriff's posse found them trying to make their get away in a hay wagon. Frankie was in the hay until out of sight, where she then walked beside the wagon. The Sheriff posse found them and he yelled to her, "Frankie". She called back to him, "I thank you sir, but my name is Tommy", in a deep voice..and her uncle added, "Yeah, HER name's Tommy!" The uncle said "HER" giving them away, so back to jail she went.

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, fictitiously gave the long-dead woman a chance to tell her side of the story. These accounts are known to be controversial, especially with descendants of the Silver family who claim that "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.[4]


  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. ^ Family Interpretation Of Murder, 1900 Interview With Alfred Silver, printed in the Morganton News Herald, March 28 1968
  4. ^ Pardon Frances "Frankie" Stewart Silver Petition published by Ali Randolph on Apr 09, 2013


  • The Ballad of Frankie Silver, by Sharyn McCrumb (ISBN 0-451-19739-9)
  • The Untold Story of Frankie Silver, by Perry Deane Young (ISBN 0-595-37725-4)
  • Roaming the Mountains, by John Paris (LCCCN 55-12508)
  • The Ballad of Frankie Silver:(Special Edition) DVD by Legacy Films Ltd.

External links[edit]