A Tree Accurst

Bobby McMillon and Stories of Frankie Silver

By Daniel W. Patterson

240 pp., 6 x 9, 24 illus., 2 figs., , appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4873-9
    Published: October 2000
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6091-5
    Published: June 2003

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Awards & distinctions

2001 Chicago Folklore Prize

A Nota Bene selection of The Chronicle of Higher Education

On a wintry night in 1831, a man named Charlie Silver was murdered with an axe and his body burned in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. His young wife, Frankie Silver, was tried and hanged for the crime. In later years people claimed that a tree growing near the ruins of the old cabin was cursed--that anyone who climbed into it would be unable to get out. Daniel Patterson uses this "accurst" tree as a metaphor for the grip the story of the murder has had on the imaginations of the local community, the wider world, and the noted Appalachian traditional singer and storyteller Bobby McMillon.

For nearly 170 years, the memory of Frankie Silver has been kept alive by a ballad and local legends and by the news accounts, fiction, plays, and other works they inspired. Weaving Bobby McMillon's personal story--how and why he became a taleteller and what this story means to him--into an investigation of the Silver murder, Patterson explores the genesis and uses of folklore and the interplay between folklore, social and personal history, law, and narrative as people and communities try to understand human character and fate.

Bobby McMillon is a furniture and hospital worker in Lenoir, North Carolina, with deep roots in Appalachia and a lifelong passion for learning and performing traditional songs and tales. He has received a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award from the state's Arts Council and also the North Carolina Folklore Society's Brown-Hudson Folklore Award.

About the Author

Daniel W. Patterson is Kenan Professor Emeritus of English and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lives in Chapel Hill.
For more information about Daniel W. Patterson, visit the Author Page.


"[Patterson] has done a masterful job of using folk sources. . . along with historical and legal facts in reexamining and retelling this tragic story."--Journal of Appalachian Studies

"By intertwining historical event and present day account, Patterson reminds us that our understanding of history is always mediated by the sources through which we receive our knowledge of it and that, conversely, the scripts we accept as historical truth influence our own self-awareness."--North Carolina History Review

"A Tree Accurst is a landmark in folkloristic literature whose analytical strength draws power from collaborations among performers and scholars of expressive folk culture."--Western Folklore

"Patterson does a tremendous job in presenting a thorough and insightful look at the complex relationship between historical fact and the oral tradition. . . . Patterson's book moves the reader with skill and control through the details of events and personalities. . . . He handles the elements of McMillon's artistry in the craft of story building and story telling just as adeptly."--Southern Cultures

"A Tree Accurst is a fascinating book--one that reveals much about oral history, the transmission of folklore, and the social history of Appalachia in the nineteenth century."--Altina Waller, coeditor of Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century

"This stunning work is a carefully researched and ethically solid examination of the ways in which regional folklore functions in the cultural construction of history, law, and gender. It will be of interest--and importance--to folklorists, social historians, and anyone interested in the expressive, cultural aspects of law."--Barre Toelken, Utah State University