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Thursday, December 1, 2011

North Carolina Author: Thomas Charles Land (1828-1912)

Thomas Charles Land, my 2nd great grand uncle, was known as “Tommy.” Because of his travels in the northwest, he also earned the nickname of “the rover.”  He was the son of William Thomas Land and Nancy Jane Carlton.  He was born and grew up in the Stony Forks area of Wilkes County.   He was educated in the old field schools which he attended a few weeks during the winters and at the old Beaver Creek Academy which he attended for a short time.   He farmed and taught school until the outbreak of the Civil War.  During his later years, he served as a member of the local board of education.
At the beginning of the Civil War he enlisted in the Confederate Army of America as a private and rose to the ranks of commissary, corporal, and lieutenant colonel.  He served in the 53rd Regiment of the North Carolina Infantry along with and as superior officer to his brother-in-law, Alexander Balus West, my 2nd great grandfather.  Some sources indicate that Thomas Land participated in 65 battles.  He was wounded in the Seven Days Fight around Richmond and returned home to recuperate.  During his absence-on-leave, he was appointed to the position of lieutenant colonel of the 53rd Regiment, a position that he assumed upon his return to the 53rd Regiment.  He was wounded again during the Battle of Winchester where Alexander Balus West was killed.  Thomas attempted to return to the military but found it necessary to resign.  As a result of his injuries, he could not fulfill his military duties.  He returned to his home in Wilkes County where he taught school and farmed.
In 1870 he moved to Oregon and lived there until 1884 when he returned to Wilkes County.  Again, in 1891 he returned to Oregon.  One writer indicates that he took his great nephew, T. D. Land, with him. In 1898 he returned home to Wilkes County.  While he was in Oregon, he was engaged in farming and mining and enjoyed hunting deer, bear, and elk.  When he returned to Wilkes County, he brought a highly-prized set of elk horns.
In addition to being a farmer, teacher, military officer, and hunter, Thomas C. Land was also a writer.  According to the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, James Larkin Pearson, an admirer of Thomas Land, Thomas enjoyed creating rhymes and wrote a great many letters, poems, and other prose works, some of which were published in a Raleigh paper, perhaps, in The Raleigh Standard.   One of his most widely-known poems was a mountain ballad written sometime during or just after 1868.  This ballad was about the murder of a young, Wilkes County resident, Laura Foster.  His first rendering of this poem, which, according to Pearson was “lengthy and crudely written,” was published in local newspapers.  He later decided that the ballad was too long and later wrote a shorter version which Pearson said was “catchy” and had better rhythm.  The ballads, which were published in the local papers, were sung or chanted all over Wilkes County.  They soon reached readers as far away as Virginia.   As Pearson stated, “The only reason the Laura Foster case has been remembered is the fact that a school teacher named Thomas C. Land was also the local poet who wrote songs or ballads about local happenings and whose mind ran to poetry and romance.”  Pearson also said, “The murder of Laura Foster was thus immortalized by a local poet.”
Today, we recognize this poem, in which a Wilkes County love-tryst and murder were brought to national attention in the song, “Tom Dooley,” as the one recorded by the Kingston Trio.   In that song, Dula’s name was changed to Dooley, but no mention of Laura was made.
Pearson recounted the story of Thomas Land’s poem and the wide publicity that it received in his autobiography, Poet’s Progress, but Pearson said he did not know if Land were the one who put the words to music.  At least, some writers credit Thomas Charles Land as the author of this ballad.  See
Thomas Charles Land’s original ballad consisted of three sections: The Murder, The Search, and The Resurrection and Inquest.  The full version may be found in James Larkin Pearson’s autobiography, Poet’s Progress. Land’s refrain, which I assume is from his shorter, revision, is as follows:

                Tom Dula, Tom Dula,
                Oh, hang your head and cry!
                You killed poor Laura Foster,
                And now you’re bound to die.

James Larkin Pearson considered Land among “the old people that I knew.”  Pearson said, “I have made some effort toward collecting his work, but his people seem unconcerned.”  In the appendix of Pearson’s autobiography, he has included three letters to him from Thomas C. Land.  These letters were mailed from Oregon in 1891.

Thomas Land never married, but, according to my 1st cousin 1X removed, CALT, he was a role model along with his other brothers for my great grandfather, Thomas Harvey West.  At the age of 5, Thomas Harvey lost his father, Alexander Balus West, in the Civil War.  Thomas Harvey and his mother, Nancy Land West, lived near her brothers in the Stony Fork community of Wilkes County. Thomas Land died at home in Wilkes County in 1912 and was buried in the Thomas Land Family Cemetery on the land where he was born and reared.
Revised 12-11-11, 12-13-11
·         Crouch, John. Historical Sketches of Wilkes County, 1902. New River Notes,
·         Pearson, James Larkin. Poet’s Progress, Autobiography of James Larkin Pearson or The Life and Times of James Larkin Pearson, 1879-1981. Wilkesboro, North Carolina:  Wilkes Community College, 2005.
·         “Tom Dooley” (song),”


  1. Hi there. I enjoyed reading your blog.
    I have been doing some research on Thomas C. Land for my daughter's Social Studies project. I believe he was my husband's great-great-great uncle. Of interest, we have an authentic Civil War diary in our possession that I believed belonged to this man. It was passed down to us by relatives.

  2. Hello Sally,
    Thank you for signing on as "a follower." I would love to compare our Land lineages. I'm sure that your husband and I would be some degree of cousins.

    Thomas Charles Land (18 Mar 1828 Wilkes, NC - 30 Nov 1912 Wilkes, NC) was my 2nd great uncle. Some on-line researchers indicate that he was married, but I have never found any evidence of that. In fact my 1st cousin 1R told me that he never married. He was an adventurer and poet as I have described in the this post. I have a copy of a poem that he penned about his experiences in the Civil War. This poem, which was shared with me by a Land 4th cousin 1R, may be in the diary that you have.

    Thomas Land was the brother of my 2nd great grandmother, Nancy Land, who married Alexander Balus West.

    Before a comment from a reader becomes public in this blog, I must post it. If you will send me your e-mail address in a comment, I will NOT post that comment but will respond to you through e-mail. I will do the same for anyone whose comments include an e-mail address that the writer requests NOT be made public.

    I look forward to hearing from you again.

  3. Sally, I'm so happy you found the message that I posted on Jan. 21, 2013. It's certainly not too late for us to communicate. I'll be in touch.


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