Frankie Stewart Silver

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The grave of Charles Silver in Kona, Mitchell County, North Carolina.

Frances Stewart Silver (born 1814 or 1815; died July 12, 1833) was hanged in Morganton, Burke County, North Carolina, for the axe murder of her husband Charles Silver. Frankie Silver, as Frances was known, is believed to have been the first white woman put to death in Burke County.[1]

Frankie was the daughter of Isaiah and Barbara (née Howell) Stewart.

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 motive.

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 also speculation that her frustration with Charles's refusal was the motive for the murder.


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, convicted, and hanged for the murder.

Arrest and trial[edit]

Shortly after the murder, suspicion fell on Charles's wife Frankie, her mother Barbara Stuart, and her brother Jackson aka; "Blackstone" Stewart. All three were arrested. Barbara and Blackstone Stewart plead not guilty before a magistrate on January 17, 1832, and were discharged. Frankie alone stood trial for the murder.

The investigation into the whereabouts of Charles Silver found a fireplace full of oily ashes, a pool of blood that had flowed through the cabin's puncheon floor, and blood spatters on the inside walls of the cabin. Pieces of bone and flesh were discovered in ashes poured into 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 had been burned to hide the evidence.[3]

Theoretical explanation[edit]

Frankie could either be interpreted as a family ties murderer for the possibility that she manipulated family members to help kill her husband, or a battered woman murderer for the possibility that she killed him in self-defense during one of the beatings he would give her. Whatever happened that night inside the family cabin remains a mystery. It is probable that she was a victim of abuse from her husband due to the fact that a petition was signed by townswomen and several members of the all-male jury in Frankie's favor. However this petition did not sway the Governor. Another reason this will always remain a mystery is because as Frankie was asked about her last words, legend has it her father yelled out from the crowd "Die with it in you, Frankie!". This made some believe, along with them helping her escape, that family members were involved in the killing of Charles Silver. [4] [5]

Escape from jail[edit]

During the time between her sentencing and hanging, Frankie was broken out of jail by someone who entered by way of one of the basement windows. With the aid of false keys, this person opened the doors leading to the prisoner's apartment.

Frankie was arrested again a few days later in Henderson County. When taken, she was dressed in men's clothes, and her hair been cut short. Her father and uncle were committed to jail as accessories to her escape.

The story 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 she was out of sight; she then walked beside the wagon. Someone in the posse yelled to her, "FRANKIE!" She called back to him in a deep voice, "I thank you sir, but my name is Tommy." Her uncle then added, "Yeah, HER name's Tommy!" Saying "HER" gave them away, so back to jail she went.



Frankie's father had intended to bring his daughter's body home and bury it in the family burial plot. However, extreme heat and humidity in North Carolina that year forced him to bury it in an unmarked grave behind the Buckhorn Tavern, a few miles west of Morganton. For many years, the exact location of the grave was unknown, but it is now believed to be 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."

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 upside down the traditional story of a jealous wife seeking her revenge. 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 among 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 of 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 its re-release in 2010 as 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 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 9, 2013.[6]


  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. ^ "Blood on Her Hands" by Bailey/Hale
  5. ^
  6. ^ Pardon Frances "Frankie" Stewart Silver Petition published by Ali Randolph on April 9, 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.
  • The Ballad of Frankie Silver: As told by Bobby McMillon in Folkstreams film

External links[edit]