Appalachia Ghost Stories Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

Naomi Wise – The Story Behind the Song


Photo from Find a Grave

From This Day in NC History:

Poor Naomi Wise, “Sacrificed to the Beast in Man”

On April 8, 1808, Jonathan Lewis was arrested for the murder of Naomi Wise. Wise, an orphan, cook and an occasional field hand noted for her beauty and her innocence, lived in the household of William Adams in Randolph County. Lewis was a frequent visitor to the Adams house.

Courting Naomi while promising marriage to another woman, Lewis led the pregnant Wise to the Deep River and pushed her off a bluff, drowning her. Jailed in Asheboro, he escaped and made his way to Ohio. He was eventually tracked down by a bounty hunter and returned North Carolina, where he was acquitted of murdering Wise for lack of evidence. Legend has it that he confessed to the crime on his deathbed.

Much of what we know of the murder comes from an account by Braxton Craven, president of nearby Trinity College, who researched the story. Craven based his 1851 retelling of crime on the memories of local residents. Lewis, by Craven’s account, was a “merciless wretch, a hyena.”

The site of Wise’s death came to be known as Naomi Falls. The story was brought to people nationwide largely through the folk ballad, “Naomi Wise,” which was a favorite of Doc Watson’s.  Like “Tom Dooley” and “Frankie and Johnny,” the song relates the story of a North Carolina murder with drama and pathos.


If you’ve never heard the song go here for a great version by Doc Watson.


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  • Reply
    Joyce P. Phillips
    October 28, 2019 at 9:32 am

    While I lived in WNC for a number of Years, I had never hears this story. Now that I am back in SC, I treasure your posts. I iss the mountains, even though I live on the coast.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 27, 2018 at 11:18 am

    My love for Old-Time Mountain music didn’t develop until later in life. I live not too awful far from where Doc Watson lived. 33 miles as the crow flies. I wanted to go see him live but put off going until I was past going.
    Have you read about how Doc’s son Merle died? He was doing some work on his tablesaw late at night in his basement. The saw threw a piece of wood into his arm and he couldn’t get it to stop bleeding. He got on his tractor and rode until he found a house that had lights on. The folks there got the bleeding stopped and bandaged him up. He got back on the tractor and headed home. Somewhere along the road he went over an embankment and the tractor rolled over on him. He was 36 years old. Now that’s the real tragedy.

  • Reply
    October 27, 2018 at 10:56 am

    I heard Naomi Falls but didn’t know what was behind it. Real interesting Tipper. God Bless!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 27, 2018 at 10:37 am

    My father had a sister named Omie–only other time I’ve heard that name. Makes me wonder if Granny heard this song.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 27, 2018 at 8:16 am

    I always liked those songs but did not know the history. Especially that the murder took place in North Carolina. Thanks for the lesson. That makes the songs more special.

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