Tom Dula: Poor Boy Was Bound to Die

An image of Dula from the Wikimedia Foundation

On October 21, 1866, Tom Dula was convicted of the murder of Laura Foster.  It was at daybreak that the jury returned the verdict in the Iredell County Courthouse, where it had been moved from Wilkes County.  The jury had not received their orders from the judge until about midnight the night before. They deliberated during the night.  The defense moved for an arrest of judgment, which was overruled and the judge pronounced sentence: that Thomas Dula be hanged by the neck until dead on November 9, 1866.  Former Governor Zebulon B. Vance represented Dula pro bono.

Speculation abounded as to Vance’s reasons for taking the case, one of the few he ever lost before a jury. Regardless of his motives, he gave a spirited defense and succeeded in twice taking the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  The crowds of spectators and reporters that appeared in the courtroom were as likely there to see the charismatic Vance as they were to hear the sensational testimony.  Ultimately, however, the High Court upheld the conviction and Dula was hanged for the crime in May 1868.

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5 responses to “Tom Dula: Poor Boy Was Bound to Die”

  1. ncarts says :

    Visit the Historic Happy Valley North Carolina Arts Trail at to hear the Tom Dula legend that originated there. With a backdrop of music from Doc Watson, the Kingston Trio and Frank Proffitt, Jr, area residents Edith Carter (Whippoorwill Academy), singer-storyteller Bobby McMillon and Caldwell Heritage Museum director John Hawkins vividly describe the story.

  2. Christopher Graham says :

    What evidence do we have that this is actually a photograph of Tom Dula?

    • NC Culture says :

      Hi Mr. Graham,

      Thanks for writing. As the caption, mentions we actually grabbed this image from the Wikimedia Foundation/Wikipedia, so we can’t speak to its origins. We dug a bit deeper and found that the Iredell County Public Library is actually the source of the image, so if you questions, they’re probably the best folks to check with.

      You can see the original image on their website at Thanks for writing and for following us!

      • Christopher Graham says :

        Hi again. The original image is at the Library of Congress. It is unidentified. Thanks for the reply.

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