The Six Degrees of Separation Between Me and an Ax Murderer

Christina Ward 🍁🌲
Aug 18 · 5 min read
Image by Peter H from Pixabay

I am the direct descendant of an ax-murderer. Really, I am.

Through Perry Deanne Young’s book The Untold Story of Frankie Silver, I was able to trace my ancestry back seven generations to the famed ax-murderer, Frankie Silver. Fo the first time I was able to see these names in print, to trace my fingers along these pages that detail my history and follow the bloodline through my father, his father and grandfather, his great grandfather, then Frankie Silver’s granddaughter, daughter, and then her, Frankie Silver.

The names, all right there! What a soul-opening experience to take a walk through this piece of my past.

The blood of a convicted and hanged ax-murder courses through my veins and it does not bother me one bit. There is more than one way to look at every story and I do not believe for one minute that the actions of Frankie Silver deserved her hanging. The folklore surrounding the 1831 murder still lives in the hills of North Carolina, as do many of her ancestors.

December 1831

Frankie Stewart Silver, a mere 90-something pound slight woman, lived in a remote cabin with her philandering drunkard of a husband (also quite larger than her), at least, that is what some of the shadows of history claim. On a snowy evening in December after Charlie returned from a bender (how long he was gone and why is of wide-discussion) leaving Frankie and their thirteen-month-old daughter Nancy to fend for themselves — he somehow found himself chopped up and burning to greasy ash in the fireplace.

Some parts of him have never been found. The parts that were (some strewn through the property, some in the fireplace burned, and some under the floorboards of the cabin) are buried in three graves.

July 12, 1833

Frankie Silver took the secrets of the events surrounding her husbands death with her to her grave. She was hung in Morganton on July 12, 1833 — (a town that I do not live very far from myself. The folklore sings in those hills when I drive through there., the songs of my ancestors creeping into the present.

There is an infamous song that tells the “confession” of Frankie Silver, supposedly sung as she was being led to the gallows, but I highly doubt she is the author of the verses. The poem was printed in the paper some 33 years after the hanging and has become a part of folk legend surrounding the mysteries of Frankie Silver.

This dreadful, dark and dismal day
Has swept my glories all away,
My sun goes down, my days are past,
And I must leave this world at last.

Oh! Lord, what will become of me?
I am condemned you all now see,
To heaven or hell my soul must fly
All in a moment when I die.
— The Ballad of Frankie Silver

What really happened?

Did Frankie really take an ax to her husband and dismember him — alone? Or at all? Something happened that resulted in the the death and dismembering of Charlie. Personally, I’d put my money on a pissed off mountain woman, dealing with a baby on her own in the wilderness, and confronting her no-count husband when he finally wandered home. In any fight (it was heavily rumored at the time that Frankie was an abused woman), I’d bet she’d defend herself to whatever degree necessary.

Her father and brothers could be fetched (she’d have hiked alone with her baby through the snow and cold for several miles to get to her family’s place) to help cover up a crime she’d certainly be convicted for.

Who’d listen to the story of this woman anyway? Who would believe her? In the male-dominated society of those times, had the tables been turned, Charlie could likely have gotten away with hurting or killing his wife — but her actions doomed her. Her efforts to cover the crime, although understandable at the time, are likely what sent her so quickly to the gallows.

Frankie Silver was 18 years old when she was hanged. Charlie had been 19.

Very little, if any, evidence was even presented in her defense at the two-day trial. She didn’t speak in her defense at court or to her lawyers.

The story of Frankie Silver (sometimes you will see “Silvers” as the “s” was later dropped from the family name) is widely varied. So much of the history was lost, especially where the years of the surviving baby Nancy were spent. She eventually married and at some point, they began showing up in historical documents as landowners. But the early years of Nancy’s life remain a mystery.

It is human nature to be curious about one’s past.

Where do we come from — what kind of people? To find a nugget of fascination in your bloodline is even more curious. You find yourself clawing for more, developing lists of questions in your mind, and seeking answers with reckless curiosity. I collect the books, read the websites still dedicated to clearing her name, and cling to the one thing that is very clear to me through her story: Frankie Silver was a very strong woman. And she is in my DNA.

She may have carried her secrets to the gallows, but sometimes, just sometimes, I think I hear her whispering them to me.

The Ballad of Frankie Silver song:

A great history of the story of Frankie Silver:

Christina Ward is an accomplished poet, aspiring author, and columnist for the Observer News Enterprise newspaper. She earned her Bachelor of Science from Catawba College in Environmental Science which greatly influences her work. She also studied creative writing and English at Catawba. Her poetry has been published in the Cameo print literary magazine, the Arrowhead print literary magazine, Vita Brevis Poetry Magazine, and in Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine.

Christina Ward 🍁🌲

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