Davenport Films Titlebar
Davenport Films Home
From the Brothers Grimm
Making Grimm Movies
American Traditional Culture
American Field Sports
Behind the Scenes
Classroom Resources
Ordering Information
Contact us:


Home > Documentaries >

The Ballad of Frankie Silver

Woodcut of Hanging WomanIn 1833 Mrs. Frances Silver was hanged in Morganton, North Carolina, for the ax murder of her husband Charles. For a century and a half the case has lived on in newspapers, pamphlets, memoires, petition, folksong, and legends. Did Frankie have cause to act — or hope of justice? The Ballad of Frankie Silver explores the case through the stories of Bobby McMillon and the comments of North Carolina Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Gray, and others.

Directed by Tom Davenport and produced by Davenport Films and the Curriculum in Folklore at UNC, Chapel Hill with Daniel Patterson.

(50 minutes)

Bobby McMillon
Photograph copyrighted by Tom Rankin
Bobby McMillon, a member of the Silver family, learned stories about Frankie as he grew up in the community where the murder took place. The Making of the Ballad Singer tells how he developed a love for Appalachian ballads and tales as children. He and his partner Marina Ritch Trivette perform them widely at schools and festivals. Bobby has recorded for the Global Village and Ivy Creek labels. Mr. McMillon and Ms. Trivette are available for workshops, classes, and concerts, and may be reached at:
Bobby McMillon
PO Box 5272 Lenoir, NC 28645
Contact Marina Trivette at 828-726-1907 Please see http://www.ncarts.org/directory/bmcml_st.html for more information.


"Our judges were intrigued with the entire film, the historical background of the families involved, the questions still being raised, and the way in which the story was told. Mr. McMillon was a real gem with his wonderful accent and storytelling skills; the ballads sung by Mr. McMillon and Mrs. Marina R. Trivette were clearly understood; and the film was clear and precise."
—Elizabeth Bray Sherrill, President, NC Society of Historians.


  • The Paul Green Multi-Media Award (given each year to the best film on the history of North Carolina)


  • A Tree Accurst, Bobby McMillon and Stories of Frankie Silver, University of North Carolina Press, by Daniel W. Patterson, Kenan Professor Emeritus of English and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    For nearly 170 years, the memory of Frankie Silver has been kept allive 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, Dr. Daniel 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.
    You may order it from Amazon.com.

  • Here is a link to a site on Frankie Siliver at Ferrum College.