My own theory of the case: Tom and the women
There is no doubt that Tom was
a womans man, roday you might call him a womanizer. He liked women, and they also
seemed to have liked him as well. We don't know much with certainty about Tom's affairs, but we do know a little. We know for
that he had his sexual debut quite early, even after the standard of the period.
When he was 13- or
14-years old he had a sexual relationship with Ann (Foster) Melton, but we do not
now how long it had lasted, or whether it was his first relationship. He may
have had others even before that and the relationship with Ann could also have
commenced earlier. He may
also have had other relationships simultaneously with the one with Ann - at
least when he
got older he did have relationships with more women at a time.
* No sources that I have
been able to find are mentioning a murder in Wilmington late 1864 or early 1865,
when Martin's Brigade and the rest of Hoke's Division, to which the 42nd North
Carolina Infantry Regiment belonged, was in town, but it was wartime, so it is
not certain that a death, although it was violent, was recorded as a homicide.
After his return to Elkville after the war, we know from the trial that he certainly had affairs with Ann Melton, Laura Foster and Pauline Foster. In addition, two other women are mentioned, Caroline Barnes, an 18-year old girl of whom he had an argument with Ann and the elusive Manda Barnes* that Tom tried to avoid on the morning of Laura's disappearance, according to the testimony from Betsy Scott. Again, I think that there is great possibility that he may have had affairs with many more that we do not know anything about today. And one of these may well have been James Isbells wife, who at 27 was roughly the same age as the other women, he had affairs with at that time, except from the much younger Caroline. He could walk five miles to German Hill, so why not eight miles to King's Creek to visit his second cousin? Such an affair could have started before the war, as James Isbell joined the army almost one year before Tom. He could have continued such a relationship after the war, or maybe the relationship didn't start until after the war. I have in a previous article suggested that Tom theoretically could be the father of Isbells daughter, Mary Virginia, just like he could be the father of Ann Meltons eldest daughter, Martha Jane, and possibly several other "fatherless" children - he probably had many female relationships and contraception was not common at the time, which also caused the number of venereal diseases to skyrocket during this period. And he could have had relationship with several other women, as a lot of men never returned from the war and obiously he didn't care much whether his lovers were married or not.
* If she was a woman. I have
argumented in another article, that Manda could be a mishearing or misspelling
of Manly, and Manly Barnes was the father of Caroline Barnes.