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The only woman ever hanged in Burke County
The Ballad of Frankie Silver was published in a new edition by St. Martins Press early in 2013. The novel, a New York Times best-seller, tells the moving story of the 18-year old mountain girl who became the first woman hanged for murder in the state of North Carolina (1833.)
In a little mountain cemetery in Mitchell County, North Carolina stand three graves - all belonging to the same man.
Behind the legend of graves is the true story of Frankie Silver, an 18-year old frontier girl, hanged for murder in Burke County North Carolina in 1833, for a crime she might not have committed. This stirring tale of mountain justice is also a study of a frontier family, and of the contrasts between the mountain South of log cabins and trappers and the flat land South of plantations.
Burgess Gaither was the 1832 Clerk of the Court for Burke County who witnessed the case of Frankie Silver from arrest to execution; he narrates the story of the Silver murder as it unfolds before a frontier populace that was at first shocked by the savagery of the crime, and then appalled as they came to understand the true nature of the events, discovering that they are powerless to stop the wheels of justice, and save the young woman from the gallows. Gaither is a 25-year old lawyer, who has married a daughter of the wealthy and influential Erwin family of Morganton. Born of a genteel but impoverished family, Burgess has worked his way into the profession of law, and married his way into the path of power. He wants to fit into polite society on the fringe of the frontier, yet his aristocratic complacency is shaken by the case of Frankie Silver, and he wonders if there is such a thing as equal justice under the law.
Present-day east Tennessee Sheriff Spencer Arrowood, recuperating from a gunshot wound received in the line of duty, is obsessed with the case of Frankie Silver, because he has just been invited to witness an execution.
"Some stories wait more than a hundred years for the right teller to come along… McCrumb shifts easily back and forth in time, combining police procedural with an old-fashioned historical narrative worthy of Dickens or Jane Austen." - The Asheville Citizen-News
The Ballad of Frankie Silver Quilt, made by Jane HicksTwenty years ago, Spencer Arrowood, then a deputy, had apprehended a fugitive and testified at the trial that sentenced him to death. Now a letter from Riverbend, the new maximum security penitentiary in Nashville says that Sheriff Arrowood is required to be a state's witness to the execution.
The sheriff is troubled by the memory of the case. At the time, he was sure that the prisoner was guilty; now he wonders is he uncovered the whole truth. He remembers that Sheriff Nelse Miller used to say, "These mountains have produced only two murder cases that make me wonder about justice: Frankie Silver and Fate Harkryder." Spencer wonders what he meant by that, and he begins to look into both cases, hoping to satisfy himself that justice indeed was done. He will find disturbing parallels between the historic frontier murder case and the sordid seventies conviction of an east Tennessee teenager.
It is too late to save Frankie Silver, but what about Fate Harkryder? If the sheriff learns that the wrong man was convicted, he has very little time to save him.
The Frankie Silver story inspired the New River Valley Chapter of the Virginia Women Attorneys Association in their 2004 fund raising efforts.