A couple of months ago, I was out on a ramble. Not exactly a ramble – I was taking pictures for a local magazine I write for, but I was hitting some old cemeteries as well. In the Zionville Baptist Church Cemetery, in Watauga County, just a hundred yards or so from the Tennessee line, I came across the grave of Lt. Col. James W. M. Grayson.
Grayson was born in North Carolina in 1832. At some point prior to 1860, he moved to Johnson County, Tennessee, where in 1860 he was living, giving his occupation as that of a farmer. Grayson was one of many who worked hard in an attempt to keep Tennessee out of the Confederacy by attending several of the meetings held in 1861 for that purpose.
After the war, Grayson served a term in the Tennessee legislation (1867-1870). Grayson was living in Johnson County, Tennessee, in the 1870 census, with his family. He reported his occupation as that of a lawyer. 1880 found Grayson still in Johnson County. It is possible (as reported in the notes of the Andrew Johnson Papers), that Grayson moved back to north Carolina between 1880 and his death in 1900.
You are probably more familiar with Grayson through a song made famous by the Kingston Trio in the 1960s: “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley.” It seems that in July 1866, Thomas Dula, himself a former Confederate soldier, showed up at the Grayson farm, asking for work. Grayson consented and Dula worked long enough to acquire a new pair of boots. Not long after Dula left the Grayson farm, a posse from Wilkes County, Tennessee, arrived on Grayson’s doorstep. Dula had used an alias, Tom Hall, but matched the description that the posse provided. Dula was wanted for the murder of a woman back in North Carolina. Grayson went to find the sheriff, but was unable to do so, so he led the posse himself. They soon found Dula and arrested him, and Grayson helped transport him back to Wilkes County. It appears that the North Carolina General Assembly reimbursed Grayson $62.50 for his expenses (or was this reward money?). Dula was tried (one of his lawyers was Zeb Vance) and later hanged for the crime.