Frances “Frankie” Silver was born in 1815. She was hung in Morganton North Carolina on July 12, 1833 for killing and dimembering her husband, Charlie Silver. She was only 18 years old at the time of her death.
Frankie married Charlie at the age of 14. A year later she gave birth to their daughter, Nancy. The couple’s happiness did not last for long, however. Charlie began drinking heavily and abusing Frankie.
Just days before Christmas of 1831 Frankie reported her husband missing after he did not return from a hunting trip. Many people residing in Mitchell County helped search for Charlie, but they never found any sign of him. Finally, Jack Cullis who was a local hunter, discovered burnt human remains in the fireplace at the Silver’s cabin in the mountains. There were more body parts found around the property, including underneath the cabin’s floor.
Frankie was immediately arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Frankie’s mother and brother were also arrested, but only Frankie was tried and convicted of Charlie’s murder. Her relatives were arrested because they were believed to have helped Frankie dispose of the body.
In March of 1832 Frankie’s trail began at the Burke County Courthouse. Frankie was never able to give her testimony because women were not allowed to do so in these times. It only took the jury two days to find her guilty though there was very little evidence against her. The jury believed that she hacked up her husband with an ax in a jealous rage. The prosecutor suspected that Frankie thought her husband was having an affair. She was sentenced to be hung on June 28, 1833.
Some legends say that Frankie had later explained that she had hit him with the ax as he was loading up his gun to shoot her. Unfortunately by this time it was too late. She was already convicted and sentenced.
On May 18 Frankie’s family helped her break out of jail after many denied appeals by her attorney. She was disguised in a man’s coat and hat and hidden in a load of hay that was being taken out of town by wagon. She was caught a few days later in Rutherford County and returned to prison. As the date of her hanging grew near, the governor delayed the execution for two weeks when petitions to save her life were introduced. The people who believed that she was an abused wife that had murdered Charlie in self defense signed these petitions to have her pardoned. Nonetheless their efforts failed and she was hung on July 12, 1833.
On the scaffold she wore a white dress that was given to her by some of the wealthier women in the county who believed her to be innocent.
Before being hung she was asked by the Sheriff if she had any last words. Before she could answer, her father yelled from the crowd, “Die with it in ye, Frankie!”
For years there have been stories that she told the Sheriff that she did have something she wanted to say, but that she would rather sing it. The legend tells that Frankie had written a poem while in jail titled “Frankie Silver’s Confession” and that she sung this before her hanging.
This has been contested over the years and after much scrutiny and research, it was found that Frankie had not written or even sung this “confession”. Many historians agreed that it had actually been written by a school teacher named Thomas S. Scott, who lived in Morganton during the time of the execution.
Another legend says that on December 23, 1831, Frankie went to see her mother to ask if she had seen Charlie because he had went hunting with his friend, George Young, and never returned. During the encounter her mother noticed that she was acting unreasonably distressed. The next day when Charlie was still missing, his father, John, went with Frankie to George Young’s house. George said that he never had plans to go hunting with Charlie and had not seen him for some time. Frankie insisted that George was lying. John took Frankie back to her cabin where he found Charlie’s dog. He thought this was odd because Charlie always took his dog hunting with him. This is when John began to think something sinister had happened and called the Sheriff. The Sheriff began a search that eventually led to Charlie’s scattered remains. Frankie’s family, the Stuarts, did not get along with Charlie’s family. The Stuarts were poor whereas the Silvers owned a lot of land and were regarded as wealthy by comparison. It was said that the Stuarts family tried to talk Charlie into selling his land and he refused and this was motive for the murder. Alfred, Charlie’s brother described in detail what happen, though he couldn’t possibly have really known this information. He claimed that Frankie had sent him to chop wood. Alfred said: “Being tired and sleepy after the labor of chopping , my brother lay down on the floor, close by the fire with his little girl in his arms, and went to sleep. His head rested on an inverted stool for a pillow. Frankie gently took the baby from his breast, put it to bed, picked up the ax from the door, where she had placed it for the purpose, and whacked his head half off at a single blow. She intended to cut it clean off, but miscalculated and either stood too close or too far back. The first lick did not kill him instantly for he sprang to his feet and cried: ‘God bless the child!’ The wife fled to the bed by the child, and covered herself up, ‘til she heard Charles fall, then jumped out and finished the job with a second blow.” Other members of the Silver family accused Frankie’s parents of the murder, some saying that Frankie’s father was in the cabin urging her to kill Charlie and that if she didn’t her father would kill her.
It was not known where Frankie was buried for many years, but it is now believed to be in a far corner of the present day Devault Farm, about 10 miles west of Morganton, NC off of HWY 126.
Frankie and Charlie’s daughter, Nancy was raised by her grandparents, though it is not sure wither by the Silvers or the Stuarts. She eventually married David Parker of McDowell county. David died during the civil war. The couple had children who were rumored to be raised by others and not reunited with Nancy until she remarried. Her second husband was William C. Robinson. They had one son together, Commodore. Nancy’s great-granddaughter claims Robinson raped one of Nancy’s daughters and Nancy made him leave. She then took her first husband’s name, Parker, again and that is what is on her gravestone. She is buried in Macon county at Mount Grove Cemetery, far from her parents.
Charles has three different graves that he is buried in at the Silver family cemetery behind Kona Baptist Church in Kona, North Carolina. This is so because all of his body parts were not found at the same time. They buried the pieces as they found them.
Which of these legends do you believe?
Was Frankie an abused woman who was defending herself?
Did Frankie maliciously kill Charlie thinking he was having an affair?
Or was Frankie’s family also involved in a dispute over land?
Will we ever know for sure?