Monthly Archives: February 2012

Love on the Dark Side

As we turn our attention to “Love in the Archives” and #loveheritage today, we should remember that love doesn’t always end in hearts and flowers. Sometimes it ends in murder.

The story of Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley) may be one of the most famous murder mysteries in North Carolina history. That’s due in large part to the folk song “Tom Dooley” made popular in the 1960s by the group The Kingston Trio. But the song glosses over a few aspects of the real historical case and, even with all the facts that we can find in the archival records in our collections, there are still many things that we don’t know about what happened on that day in 1866.

If you don’t know the story, it goes like this:

A woman named Laura Foster disappeared in Iredell County, N.C. on May 25, 1866. One of the last people to see her alive saw her riding a horse and carrying a bundle of clothes in her lap. When asked, Laura replied that a man who she fancied, Tom Dula, had come to see her and that she was on her way to meet him. She was found in a shallow grave in September of that same year, stabbed near the heart. Tom Dula left the county a few weeks after Laura Foster disappeared, but he was tracked down in Tennessee on July 11, 1866 and was eventually charged with her murder. During the court case, several witnesses testified that Dula was having a relationship with Ann Foster Melton and that both he and Melton had been acting suspiciously during the days before and after Foster’s disappearance.

The original map drawn by Col. Isabel in the trial of Tom Dula, used as exhibit A

The original map drawn by Col. Isabel in the trial of Tom Dula, used as exhibit A; learn more on our Educational Resources website.

Dula was found guilty of Laura Foster’s murder and sentenced to be hung on February 14, 1868. He was eventually executed on May 1, 1868, but the question remains: did he do it? Or, perhaps a better question: did he do it alone?

A few years ago one of our summer interns, Carrie Misenheimer, created a Educational Resources website which featured the story of Tom Dula and Laura Foster. The students side of the website includes a brief description of the case, a map of the paths Tom and Laura allegedly traveled on the day of Laura’s disappearance, a summary of the main players in the case and their relationships to each other, and several documents from the court case. The teachers side includes lesson plans and additional background on the court case.


North Carolina’s Cyrano de Bergerac

Love in the Archives” and #loveheritage are our themes on the blog today as we point you towards love themed materials in our collections. A couple of days ago I asked Debbi Blake, head of our Public Services Branch, to think about what kind of romantic archival items she had run across in our collections. Almost immediately she reminded me of our George Moses Horton materials – “a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac going on there,” she said.

Acrostic poem by George Moses Horton

Acrostic poem by George Moses Horton; learn more on our Educational Resources website.

She’s right, of course. George Moses Horton was a slave who became well-known for writing, reciting, and selling acrostic poems to students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The acrostics featured the names of students’ sweethearts and were used by the students to woo the young ladies in question although, as materials in our collection prove, their efforts were not always successful. Horton used the money that he made selling poetry and fruit at the university to buy his time from his master at 25 cents (and later 50 cents) per day.

As a slave Horton was not legally allowed to marry, which makes his writing love poetry on behalf of young men who could even more tragic.   However, in 1829, Horton published a book entitled The Hope of Liberty –  it was the first book published in the south by an African-American.

A few years ago one of our summer interns, Carrie Misenheimer, created a Educational Resources website for us and one of the subjects she focused on was George Moses Horton. The students side of the website includes a brief description of Horton’s life and various items from our collections related to him. The teachers side includes lesson plans on Horton; I encourage you to check out both sides if you have time, particularly if you are a teacher in North Carolina.

The Emblem of Language and Flowers

Emblem of Language of Flowers, a list of flowers and their symbolic meaning

Emblem of Language of Flowers, a list of flowers and their symbolic meaning, from the Williams-Womble Papers

As part of our celebration of “Love in the Archives” and the #loveheritage Valentine’s Day event, below is a transcription of “The Emblem of Language and Flowers,” a list of flowers and their symbolic meaning, likely written as a school exercise by an unidentified student. This item is from the Williams-Womble Papers, which you can read more about on our Civil War 150 blog.

The Emblem of Language of Flowers
Apple blossom Preference
Aeacia yellow Concealed love
Ambrosia Love returned
Aloe Religious superstition
Almond tree Indiscretion
Ash tree Grandeur
Bachelors button Hope in love
[unlegible]lm Sweets of social intercourse
[unlegible]alsam Impatience do not approach me
Broom corn Industry
Broome Humility
Buttercup Riches
Brumble Envy
Burdock Touch me not
Cedar You are not entitled to my love
Cattehfly I am a willing prisoner
China aster duble Your sentiments meet with return
China aster single You have no cause for encouragement
Pink duble red Love
Pink white Fair and fascinating
Plum tree Keep your promises
Rose bud white Too young to love
Rose bud red Pure and lovely
Rosemary Keep this for my sake I will remember
Iris Message
Ivy Friendship
Holly Domestic Happiness
Holly hock Ambition
Indian pink Always lovly
Jasmine You beare a gentle mind
Ipomala I attach myself to you
Peach blossom Here I [unlegible] my choice

Love in the Archives

You see, it started like this:

Ethel Leona Evans and Pvt. Thomas Newton Bryson, both of Macon County, N.C., ca. 1917

A candidate for most romantic item in our collections? Ethel Leona Evans and Pvt. Thomas Newton Bryson, ca. 1917

Last year I participated in an online effort called “Ask Archivists Day,” in which archivists all over the world answered questions about their work and their collections via Twitter and other social media. It was a lot of fun, the questions from the public were varied and interesting, and the event became a wonderful community building exercise among members of the archival profession who normally would not have the opportunity to interact with each other. In short, the whole thing was a success and will hopefully be repeated this year.

In January, the same group behind Ask Archivists Day announced an effort to spotlight love related materials in archival collections on Valentine’s Day. Archives from all over the world signed up to share their examples of “Love in the Archives” online using the Twitter hashtag #loveheritage. I volunteered on behalf of the State Archives because, although not everyone is a fan of Valentine’s Day, who doesn’t love Love?

And we have plenty of materials in our collections that we could focus on. We have Civil War letters between husbands and wives separated by the conflict. In our Bible Record materials we have a few examples of very elaborate marriage announcements, like the one from the Turner-Fearrington Family Bible Records. Our Non-Textual Materials Archivist, Kim Cumber, has created a Flickr set of some of the images of couples (romantic and otherwise) from her collections.

But when I started thinking about selecting the most romantic item in our collections for #loveheritage, I immediately thought of our Military Collection’s World War I materials, which we are in the process of adding to the North Carolina Digital Collections. Among the smaller collections within the World War I Collection are the photographs of Thomas N. Bryson from Macon County, N.C., who served in the U.S. Army’s 30th Division. One of his photos shows him in uniform as a young private, embracing Ethel Leona Evans. While we have quite a few photographs of couples during this war, this photo captures a feeling of relaxed intimacy that makes it extremely memorable to most people who see it. And, while in many cases we only know about the portion of a person’s life that is documented through our archival materials, this time we know that Ethel Evans and Thomas Bryson were married after the war ended, which I think adds to the romance of the photograph.

While I was scanning the Bryson photographs, I noticed a photo album in the same box of archival materials. Curious, I decided to take a peek at them and discovered a wealth of images related to the U.S. Navy during the war and, more importantly for the purposes of this post, a series of wonderful, candid photos of couples. The album is part of the Warren C. McNeill Papers (which is also part of the World War I Collection); McNeill was from Lumberton, N.C. and he  served on the U.S.S. Louisiana.

"Some Party" from the Warren C. McNeill Papers

Warren C. McNeill and Joe kissing two women, one of whom may be named Vii or Via.

He also had a vibrant sense of humor which we know about thanks to the short captions he assigned to his photographs. A photo of McNeill with two women and a dog in his lap sports the caption: “Arm Full.” On another image showing two women wearing sailor uniforms, McNeill asks: “Who’s Navy[?]” But the photo that has gotten the most attention around our offices over the last two weeks and, in my opinion the best candidate for the most romantic and amusing item from this album, is a photograph of McNeill and another sailor kissing two women. McNeill is looking at the camera, a fact that is remarked upon on the back of the photo in a comment evidently written by the woman he is kissing. She writes: “Every body says we don’t look experienced because you are looking at the camera…” McNeill, as usual, provides his own commentary with the caption “Some Party” on the front of the photograph.

The McNeill papers also feature a few commercially produced postcards, including one showing a group of sailors and women, arm-in-arm, looking out to sea. The caption on the postcard asks, “When shall we meet again[?]”

Postcard with caption "When shall we meet again"

“When shall we meet again” postcard from the Warren C. McNeill Papers, part of the World War I Collection

I’ve been very excited to share these wonderful images; in fact, I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of showing them to almost every person I know or have met in the past two weeks. Luckily everyone else seems to find them as interesting as I do – either that or they’re all being very polite when confronted by my archival enthusiasm. These materials have inspired several of us in the Information Management Branch to begin working on a few love themed posters. It’s still early days for that process, but hopefully I’ll be able to show you a few draft versions on Valentine’s Day. I also plan to post a few other examples of “Love in the Archives” that we’ve found over the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we enjoyed finding them.

Civil War Lecture Update, the Archives on Twitter, and World War I

If you haven’t already seen the correction on the previous blog post, the date of the “Changing Tides: The Burnside Expedition” lecture has been changed from February 13, 2012 to February 20, 2012 due to unforeseen circumstances; we apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause those planning to attend. We hope that many of you will be able to join us in the State Archives/Library auditorium on the 20th to hear the talk.

Also, the State Archives of North Carolina (the form of our name that we will be changing to soon) has a new, official Twitter account: @NCArchives. Please follow us for the latest news on archives, records management, genealogy, North Carolina history, and upcoming events.

The newest additions to the World War I collection in the North Carolina Digital Collections are the photographs of Thomas N. Bryson (who was from Macon County, N.C., and served in the 30th Division during World War I) and the photo album of Warren C. McNeill (from Lumberton, N.C. and who served on the U.S.S. Louisiana). I’ll have more information about those collection in a blog post that will be online next week.

Civil War Sesquicentennial Lecture Series 2012

The State Archives’ Civil War Sesquicentennial lecture series (PDF) continues Monday,  February 20, 2012*  in the auditorium of the State Archives and Library building from 10:30-11:30 a.m. The first topic for 2012 is “Changing Tides: The Burnside Expedition” and the lecture will be given by Chris Meekins, who frequently writes posts on our Civil War 150 blog as part of our First Wednesdays history/digitization project.

Other lectures scheduled for 2012:

  • May 14: “Sacred Bodies: Caring for the Dead During and After the War” – Bill Brown, Debbi Blake, Chris Meekins, N.C. State Archives
  • August 13: “Bringing in the Dead: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas and Death Study” – Josh Howard, Office of Archives and History, Research Branch
  • November 19: “Confederate Conscription Laws: A Primer” – Bill Brown, N.C. State Archives

* The date of this lecture has been changed from February 13, 2012 to February 20, 2012 due to unforeseen circumstances; we apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause those planning to attend.