“Tom Dooley ”


Tom Dula/Dooley has killed Laura Foster. He has few regrets except that he didn't get away with it. He curses Sheriff Grayson, who has captured him.


G. B. Grayson, who (along with Henry Whitter) made the earliest known recorded version of the song, was descended from the sheriff who captured Dula. - PJS

I know of no absolute confirmation of the story that Foster, Dula, and company suffered from a venereal disease, but the notes in Brown to "The Murder of Laura Foster" mention that Melton in later life is said to have admitted a part in the killing -- and that she later went blind.

According to court records, Dula was charged with the murder and Melton with being an accessory before the fact.

The trial was moved to a different venue, and after some maneuvering, Dula and Melton were tried separately. The trial was badly conducted, and Dula was granted a new trial by the state supreme court. The verdict did not change.

Dula, on his last day, wrote a statement to the effect that he was solely responsible for the murder. Belief at the time, and Melton's later testimony, both seem to contradict this.

Reading the accounts of Dula's behavior after the Civil War (where he fought with courage on the Confederate side) makes one wonder about some sort of post-traumatic disorder.

At least one witness said that Melton would have hung with Dula had she not been so beautiful.

In 2001/2, an attempt was made in North Carolina to convince the governor to grant Dula a posthumous pardon. This seems rather far-fetched. Dula may not have been guilty of murder, but he *did* abandon Foster (possibly after getting her pregnant, though of course that could have been the man who gave her the venereal disease), and was at the very least an accessory after the fact to murder by Melton. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1866 (probably January 25) - Murder of Laura Foster by Thomas C. Dula (and his new sweetheart Ann Melton). Dula apparently killed Foster because he had contracted a venereal disease from her, which she had reportedly caught from Grayson.
  • May 1, 1868 - Dula is hanged for the murder.

Cross references


  • Sheila Clark, "The Ballad of Tom Dula" (on LegendTomDula)
  • [G. B.] Grayson & [Henry] Whitter, "Tom Dooley" (Victor 40235, 1930; rec. 1929; on GraysonWhitter01)
  • Glenn Neaves & band, "Tom Dooley" (on GraysonCarroll1)
  • New Lost City Ramblers, "Tom Dooley" (on NLCR02) (NLCR12)
  • Frank Profitt, "Tom Dooley" [excerpt] (on USWarnerColl01)


  1. Laws F36A, "Tom Dooley"
  2. Friedman, p. 228, "Tom Dooley" (1 text)
  3. Warner 118, "Tom Dooley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. BrownII 303, "Tom Dula" (3 texts, all very short; in addition, the "B" text of Brown's #304, "Tom Dula's Lament," is a single stanza found in the Proffitt version of "Tom Dooley")
  5. Lomax-FSUSA 82, "Tom Dooley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Lomax-FSNA 139, "Tom Dula" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Cohen/Seeger/Wood, p. 137, "Tom Dooley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Darling-NAS, pp. 207-208, "Tom Dooley" (1 text)
  9. Arnett, p. 188, "Tom Dooley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Silber-FSWB, p. 225, "Tom Dooley" (1 text)
  12. Roud #4192
  13. BI, LF36A


Alternate titles: “Tom Dooly”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1921 (Brown)
Keywords: homicide execution
Found in: US(SE)