From the age of nine, the lives of Charlotte Corbin Barnes and a Civil War veteran who died nearly a century earlier have been intertwined. Bedridden with a nervous disorder, little Charlotte would cry uncontrollably each time she heard on the radio the plaintive Kingston Trio folk ballad about Tom Dooley and his being doomed to hang for the murder of his sweetheart. Charlotte just knew Tom was innocent. She knew he couldn’t have killed his sweetheart. Each time Charlotte heard the song, her mother would try to comfort her by telling her “it’s only a song about a made-up character.”
Several years passed. Charlotte had become a television producer/researcher in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was looking for a project when she ran across a newspaper article about the opening of the Tom Dooley Museum in the foothills of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Reading the article, Charlotte discovered for the first time that Tom Dooley had been a real person. Shaken to her core by this revelation, she set out on a journey of discovery to see if she could prove once and for all Tom Dooley’s innocence.
Charlotte always dreamed of being an archeologist and this was her chance to fulfill that dream. She scoured the Happy Valley area of Wilkes County where Tom had lived and recorded the oral histories of a score of people who had been told the story by relatives alive at the time the murder occurred. Those oral histories were then transcribed and compared for similarities and contradictions. Being the voracious researcher, Charlotte also visited area libraries and the state archives in Raleigh pouring over books and looking through old newspaper articles, census records and personal letters on her quest to find the truth. Her passion for the subject continues today even after her definitive book on the subject has gone to print.
Did Charlotte find the truth? Decide for yourself as you read her epic manuscript, 50 years in the making. Down in the Valley: My Search for the Truth Behind the Legend of Tom Dooley.