Henry Berry Lowrie & The Lumbee
Henry Berry Lowrie or "Henry Berry Lowry" (born c. 1844 – 1847-disappeared 1872) led an outlaw gang in North Carolina during and after the American Civil War.
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Robin Hood Figure
Many locals remember him as a Robin Hood figure, particularly the Tuscarora and Lumbee people, who consider him one of their tribe and a pioneer in the fight for their civil rights, personal freedom, and tribal self-determination. At the height of his fame, Lowrie was described by George Alfred Townsend, a late 19th century New York Herald correspondent, as “one of those remarkable executive spirits that arises now and then in a raw community without advantages other than those given by nature.
Lowrie was born in the Hopewell Community, Robeson County, North Carolina. Born to Allen and Mary (Polly) Cumbo Lowrie, Henry was one of twelve children born to Allen's two wives. As head of one of the most affluent non-white families in Robeson County, Allen Lowrie owned and operated a very successful 200 acre mixed-use farm in Robeson County.
Rise to power:
During the Civil War years, several Lowrie cousins, like many free men of color, had been forcibly conscripted to work on behalf of the Confederacy in building Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina. Many resorted to "lying out" or hiding in Robeson County's swamps to avoid being harassed and rounded up by the Home Guard. Two of Henry Berry Lowrie's cousins were killed by James Harris after returning from their brothers' funeral. Henry Lowrie and his gang then killed Harris.
After Allen Lowrie's neighbor, James Barnes, accused the Lowries of stealing food and harboring escaped Union prisoners of war, the Lowrie gang killed him. The Confederate Home Guard convened a kangaroo court, and then executed Henry Berry's father and brother. The Lowrie gang then embarked on a series of robberies and murders with political overtones that continued on-and-off until 1872, a conflagration that would come to be known in North Carolina as the Lowry War.
Lowrie's gang continued its actions after the end of the war. Republican governor William Woods Holden outlawed them in 1869, and offered a large reward for their capture, dead or alive. The band responded with more revenge killings.
Henry Berry Lowrie's band of guerillas had become a powerful force opposing the Conservative Democratic power structure, who were pro-white supremacy. The Lowrie gang stole from, sabotaged, and killed many Conservatives. Moreover, they recognized the plight of the non-white population of Robeson County. Despite their best efforts, law enforcement was unable to stop, or even hinder the Lowrie gang, largely due to their popular support. However, shortly after one of his most daring raids, in which he robbed the local sheriff's safe for more than $28,000, Henry Berry Lowrie disappeared. Shortly thereafter, every member of his gang, save two, were captured and killed. Henry himself is reported to have been accidentally killed while cleaning his gun.
Henry Berry Lowrie's fame is unhindered by the relatively short amount of time he spent directly influencing the history of Robeson County. While there is no direct evidence that any member of the Lowrie gang self-identified as Indian there were numerous accounts describing Henry as being a mixed blood Tuscarora, there was one (listing nine witnesses) that stated that his grandfather claimed to be of Tuscarora heritage and another that went so far as to say that Pop Oxendine (another member of the gang) had the Tuscarora Indian blood in him just like the rest. As a consequence of these outsiders' descriptions of Lowrie as Indian, he has become one of the most notable figures in North Carolina Indian history. Paul Sant Cassia observed of Mediterranean bandits that they "are often romanticized afterward through nationalistic rhetoric and texts which circulate and have a life of their own, giving them a permanence and potency which transcends their localized domain and transitory nature. The same can be said of Henry Berry Lowrie.
Since 1976, Lowrie's legend has been presented every summer in the outdoor drama Strike at the Wind!. Set during the critical Civil War and Reconstruction years of Lowrie's career as outlaw-hero, the play portrays Lowrie as a Tuscarora culture hero who flouts the South's racialized power structure by fighting for his people's self-determination and allying with the county's downtrodden citizens, the blacks and poor whites.
The Lumbee are a Native American tribe of North Carolina, though their origins are disputed. While Lumbees today identify ethnically as Indians, according to documentary sources they are in origin a mixture of Native Americans, European Americans and African Americans. The name "Lumbee" is derived from the region near the Lumber River (or Lumbee River) that winds through Robeson County, North Carolina.
In 1885, the Lumbee were recognized by the State of North Carolina as Croatan Indians. They unsuccessfully sought federal recognition thereafter. In 1951, the Robeson County Commissioners conducted the first tribal election of a name. Tribal members voted for adoption of the name "Lumbee Indians of North Carolina". The Lumbee claim to be descendants of the Cheraw and related Siouan-speaking tribes of Native Americans originally inhabiting the coastal regions of the state of North Carolina.
In 1956, the United States Congress passed House Resolution 4656, known as the Lumbee Act, which recognized the Lumbee as American Indians. However, the Act also specifically prohibited the Lumbee from receiving federal services ordinarily provided to federally recognized tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the only tribe in this circumstance, the Lumbee have sought full federal recognition through congressional legislation. Federal recognition through congressional legislation is generally opposed by some recognized tribes.
Origins and legends:
The area of North Carolina today occupied by the Lumbee is called Robeson County. Until 1787 it was part of Bladen County. When North Carolina Governor Matthew Rowan dispatched surveying parties in 1753 to count Indians in the state, the report stated there are "no Indians in the county."
Colonial tax records from 1768 to 1770 identified only one Indian in Bladen County, Thomas Britt, and Britt is not a name traditionally associated with Lumbee families. Inhabitants of Bladen County with characteristically Lumbee names were classified as "Mullato." Genealogical researcher Paul Heinegg traced the 35 Mullato families listed on the 1768-1770 Bladen County tax rolls and 24 "other free" families listed as Robeson County residents in the 1790-1800 censuses back to free persons referred to as "Negro" or "Mulatto" in Virginia or North Carolina.
A colonial proclamation in 1773 listed the names of Robeson County inhabitants who took part in a "Mob Railously Assembled together," apparently defying the efforts of colonial officials to collect taxes. The proclamation declared that "[t]he Above list of Rogus," which included many characteristically Lumbee names, "is all Free Negors and Mullatus living upon the Kings Land." A colonial military survey described, "50 families a mixt crew a lawless People possess the Lands without Patent or paying quit Rents."
In the first federal census of 1790, the ancestors of the Lumbee were among those enumerated as "free persons of color," a category used to describe free Negroes and Mullatos and meaning freed African slaves or products of mixed race unions. In subsequent censuses, they were counted in "all other free persons" or later "Mulatto." In the 1870 census, the first in which "Indian" was a separate category, almost all Robeson County residents with characteristically Lumbee names were classified as "Mulatto."
Alarmed by the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831, North Carolina and other Southern states enacted laws known as the Free Negro Code, curtailing the rights of free persons of color. In 1835, North Carolina adopted a new constitution abolishing the right to vote granted to free people of color by the 1776 constitution. During the debate, Judge Gaston of Craven stated that the majority of free persons of color in North Carolina during the colonial period were the descendants of white women who had unions with blacks and were "therefore (because of the race of the mother) entitled to all the rights of free men." Craven's argument was rejected and free people of color were disfranchised, regardless of their maternal ancestry, property holdings or literacy.
Reference to the origins of the present-day Lumbee population was made in 1840 in a petition by 36 white Robeson County residents, complaining that Robeson County had been "cursed" by the presence of what they described as being a "free colored" population that migrated originally from the districts near the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers.
The first recorded instance of any reference to the Lumbee being Indian dates from 1867 after the Civil War. During a multiple murder investigation by Lieutenant Birney of the Freedmen's Bureau, two suspected men wrote a letter that stated the tradition that the Lowry gang had descended from Tuscarora Indians: "They are said to be descended from the Tuscarora Indians. They have always claimed to be Indian & disdained the idea that they are in any way connected with the African race." The Freedman's Bureau had jurisdiction over newly emancipated slaves, not Indians.
In the 1870 census, the first in which "Indian" was a separate category, almost all Robeson County residents with characteristically Lumbee names are classified as "Mulatto."
In 1872 George Alfred Townsend published "The Swamp Outlaws" about the famed Lowrie Gang. Townsend described Henry Berry Lowrie, the leader of the gang, as being of mixed Tuscarora, mulatto, and white blood: "The color of his skin is of a whitish yellow sort, with an admixture of copper—such a skin as, for the nature of its components, is in color indescribable, there being no negro blood in it except that of a far remote generation of mulatto, and the Indian still apparent." Townsend also stated in reference to Pop Oxendine that "Like the rest, he had the Tuscarora Indian blood in him...If I should describe the man by the words nearest my idea I should call him a negro-Indian gypsy." ,Townsend's statements were reiterated three years later in both the memoirs of General Jno C. Gorman and in Mary Norment's "The Lowrie History" (1895)
During Reconstruction, the ancestors of the Lumbee joined newly freed African slaves in voting Republican. After Reconstruction, when schools and society were segregated, they objected to being classified as "colored" and having their children required to attend schools with children of freed slaves. In 1885, Hamilton McMillan, a North Carolina Democrat who represented Robeson County in the legislature, put forward the theory that the Lumbees were actually "Croatan Indians" descended from survivors of England's "Lost Colony" who intermarried with the Hatteras, an Algonquian people. McMillan's theory was motivated by the desire to politically separate the Lumbee from the newly freed slaves and bring them over to the Democratic voting column.
Other authors subsequently repeated McMillan's speculation as fact. However, no extant evidence exists for "Lost Colony" origins and the theory has been discarded by scholars. Of the many characteristically Lumbee names, none is shared with members of England's failed colony.
McMillan introduced legislation declaring the Lumbee ancestors to be Croatan Indians and giving them their own schools, separate from the white and black schools. This was the first official effort to classify the Lumbee ancestors as Indians. McMillan's success created a three-caste society in Robeson County. Prior to 1885, surviving records described Lumbee ancestors as colored, free colored, other free, mullato, mustie, mustees, or mixt blood.
Despite the lack of direct genealogical proof, in the early decades of the 20th century, various Department of Interior representatives also described the Lumbees as having Native American origin, and assigned them variously to one tribe or another.
Skeptics of McMillan's theories argue that the North Carolina politician may have been motivated by a desire to court the votes of the Lumbee. Free people of color were enfranchised again after the Civil War by the 15th Amendment, which protected suffrage for all male citizens, regardless of race, at the same time protecting suffrage of the new citizens who were emancipated slaves. Reclassification as Indians of McMillan's colored Robeson County constituents gave them a social status above the newly emancipated slaves.
In 1936, Carl Seltzer, a physical anthropologist engaged by the federal Department of the Interior, conducted an anthropometric study of several hundred self-identified Indian individuals in Robeson County. He determined that twenty-two were of at least half-Indian blood descent. In 1972, Dr. William S. Pollitzer published a combined anthropometric and serologic study of the Lumbee population. He estimated that the Lumbees had 47% African ancestry, 40% white, and 13% Indian. Most contemporary scholars no longer consider such types of studies valid for determining racial or ethnic identities.
In the late 20th century, genealogist Paul Heinegg and historian Dr. Virginia E. DeMarce performed extensive research in primary source documents, such as deeds, land records, wills, tax lists and court records to develop detailed genealogies of free people of color in the Chesapeake Bay area during the colonial years and later. They were able to trace the migration of numerous primary Lumbee ancestral families from the Tidewater region of Virginia into northeastern North Carolina and then into present-day Robeson County, North Carolina. They found that 80% of those identified as free people of color (or other) in the Federal censuses in North Carolina from 1790-1810 were descended from African Americans free in Virginia during the colonial period. Most of those free African-American families in Virginia were descended from unions between white women (servant or free) and African or African-American men (servant, slave or free), reflecting the fluid nature of relationships among the working classes. From documenting family histories through original documents, Heinegg and DeMarce have traced most Lumbee ancestors and have been able to construct genealogies that show the migration of specific families and individuals from Virginia to North Carolina
As the war progressed and the Confederacy began to experience increasing labor shortages, the Confederate South began to rely on conscription labor. A yellow fever epidemic in 1862-63 killed many slaves working on the construction of Fort Fisher near Wilmington, North Carolina, then considered to be the "Gibraltar of the South." North Carolina's slave owners resisted sending more enslaved African Americans to Fort Fisher. Robeson County, along with most eastern North Carolina counties, began to conscript young free men of color. A few were shot for attempting to evade conscription, and others attempted to escape from work at Fort Fisher. Others succumbed to starvation, disease and despair. Documentation of conscription among the Lumbee is difficult to locate and the practice may have been limited to a few specific areas of the county.
Several dozen Lumbee ancestors served in regular units in the Confederate army; many of these later drew Confederate pensions for their service. Others tried to avoid coerced labor by hiding in the swamps. While hiding in the swamps, some men from Robeson County operated as guerrillas for the Union Army, sabotaging the efforts of the Confederacy, and sought retribution against their Confederate neighbors.
Lowrie Gang War
Perhaps the most famous Lumbee ancestor is Henry Berry Lowrie, who organized an outlaw group. Most of the gang members were related, including two of Henry Lowrie's brothers, six cousins (two of whom were also his brothers-in-law), the brother-in-law of two of his cousins, in addition to a few others who were not related through kinship. The Lowrie gang included formerly free men of color and also freed slaves and whites.
The gang committed two murders during the Civil War and were suspected in several thefts and robberies. After an interrogation and informal trial, Robeson County's Home Guard killed Henry Berry Lowrie's father and brother as Union General Sherman's army entered Robeson County. Shortly thereafter, Henry Berry Lowrie and his band stole a large stockpile of rifles intended for use by the local militia from the Lumberton courthouse.
Lowrie's gang avenged the deaths of his father and brother by killing several of the men responsible, one of whom was the sheriff of the county. The band stole two safes (one of which belonged to the sheriff), plundered the plantation storage bins and smokehouses of local elites, and gave the spoils to the poor in Robeson County who had suffered at the hands of local elites.
In 1868, Lowrie and his band were outlawed. The reward for his capture climbed to $12,000, second only to that offered for Jefferson Davis. Robeson's elites and the governor of North Carolina requested the aid of Federal troops and federal detectives in the attempt to apprehend North Carolina's most famous outlaw. These efforts proved useless. Lowrie enjoyed wide support, and he and members of his band were seen at public events. Reports of the Lowrie band's derring-do received national coverage; their exploits were featured in the New York Times and in Harper's Magazine. Lowrie's last-known feat occurred on February 16, 187, when he and his band stole $20,000 worth of goods from a Lumberton store. They also managed to take the store's safe, which contained approximately $22,000 in cash.
Most observers believe that Henry Berry Lowrie accidentally killed himself while cleaning his gun. Some members of the community, however, claimed to have seen Lowrie in various town locales long after news of his death was broadcast. The true cause of his death remains controversial. All the members of the Lowrie band, save one, suffered violent deaths. One cousin and member of the gang, Henderson Oxendine, was publicly executed by the state of North Carolina.
The war that Lowrie gang waged against the Democrats in Robeson County had far-reaching consequences: the mulatto community developed a sense of itself as unique, possessed with a unique identity and history, while Henry Berry Lowrie became a culture hero to the Lumbee people.
Legends of North Carolina
Henry Berry Lowery Lives Forever: by Jefferson Currie*
On a hot June day in 1999, a young Lumbee Indian man, Randall Oxendine, stood on the banks of the old millpond at Bear Swamp and yelled, “I’m gonna get you, Henry Berry!” Gabrial Cummings looked at him and asked what Randall would do if Henry Berry came floating down that swamp in his flat-bottomed boat with his rifle across his knee. Randall, Gabrial, and I all laughed nervously, wondering if or when Henry Berry Lowry would come paddling down that swamp. We all looked to see if he was there. . . .
Henry Berry Lowry was the legend of Robeson County even before he vanished in February 1872. He disappeared after he stole the safes from Pope and McLeod’s store and from the sheriff’s office in Lumberton. He broke open the sheriff’s safe and left it lying in the middle of a Lumberton street. In all, he stole $28,000. Three days later he vanished. The New York Herald published reports that Henry Berry Lowry had accidentally killed himself. An elderly Lumbee man, John Godwin, said that Henry Berry Lowry “had been trying to shoot the load off his gun for a long time. . . . The load went right up through here, my mother said, and blowed the top of his head off.” This and other local legends were recorded by Lumbee historian and teacher Adolph Dial in the 1960s and 1970s. The many legends differ in their account of Lowry’s disappearance. A ninety-six-year-old Lumbee man, Mabe Sampson, believed that Henry Berry Lowry escaped from the militia and the United States troops who were trying to track him down. Mr. Sampson said that “Henry Berry left here and was sent off by a white man, loaded right here at Moss Neck. He never was killed.”
Henry Berry Lowry was one of twelve children in the family of Allen and Mary Lowry. The Lowrys struggled, as did other Indians in Robeson County, through the hard times that the Civil War brought them. During the war, the Confederacy forced Lumbees to work on building the earthen Fort Fisher near Wilmington. At home, the Home Guard accused Indians of harboring escaped Union prisoners and Confederate deserters, hiding guns, and stealing meat from smokehouses. The Home Guard supported the Confederacy and maintained law and order at home while the war was being fought. Indian men had to resort to “lying out”—or hiding—in the swamps to avoid being harassed and rounded up by the Home Guard.
Henry Berry Lowry had had enough of being controlled and pushed around by the local Home Guard authority, so he struck back. He killed James P. Barnes on December 21, 1864, and James Brantley “Brant” Harris on January 15, 1865. The Lowry family had had ongoing disputes with both men. The Home Guard avenged the deaths of James Barnes and Brant Harris by accusing Henry Berry Lowry’s father, Allen, and brother William of various crimes. The Home Guard called an illegal court. They tried, convicted, and executed Allen and William in one day, March 3, 1865. Eighteen-year-old Henry Berry Lowry reportedly watched the executions from behind some bushes. He swore to take revenge for their deaths.
Henry Berry Lowry was a wanted man. He lay out in the swamps but was arrested (with no warrant) for murder by the Home Guard on December 7, 1865, at his wedding to Rhoda Strong. Mary Norment, author of The Lowrie History, says that after his arrest “he filed his way out of the grated iron window bars, escaped to the woods with handcuffs on, and made his way back to his wife in Scuffletown [Pembroke].”
Henry Berry Lowry had gathered around him other Indian men who had tired of taking the mistreatment of whites. Along with this group, two African Americans and one white “buckskin” Scot joined what became known as the Lowry band. The band robbed rich white landowners, and Henry Berry Lowry became the “Robin Hood” of Robeson County. The governor outlawed Henry Berry Lowry and the band in 1869, offering large rewards for them, dead or alive. The band responded with violence. In one ten-month stretch, ten Police Guard and Lowry band members died.
In 1871 Francis Marion Wishart became colonel of the Police Guard manhunt and had the wives of the Lowry band held hostage in prison. Henry Berry Lowry and other band members sent Wishart a letter demanding the release of their wives, or “the bloodiest times will be here than ever was before—the life of every man will be in jeopardy.” The wives were released, and Colonel Wishart and the government began to work out an end to the conflict. The killing soon stopped, and in February 1872 Henry Berry Lowry vanished. Colonel Wishart called the reports of his death “ALL A HOAX.” No one ever collected the $12,000 reward for his life.
Many years after he vanished, Henry Berry Lowry reportedly was seen in a church at a funeral for someone he knew. No one talked to him, and he talked to no one, but Robeson County resident Charlie McBryde says that “They said had you looked at his eyes good, you would have known it was Henry Berry.” Today, reminders of Henry Berry Lowry are all around the area, with a road named after him and a play portraying his life. Henry Berry Lowry has lived on in the minds and hearts of the Lumbee. If you are ever in Robeson County, go down to the swamps and be still. You can feel him, and if you look real close, you might even see him.
*Jefferson Currie is Lumbee. He is an assistant curator at the North Carolina Museum of History who worked on the Henry Berry Lowry portion of the exhibit North Carolina Legends.
Lowry Lives On
The legend of Henry Berry Lowry lives on in North Carolina’s Lumbee communities. Residents claim that the spirit of Lowry emerged time and again in the struggles of Lumbee people throughout the twentieth century. To fight back when threatened and to unite for a common cause: these are the goals that endeared him to his people.
From Henry Berry Lowry College to an annual outdoor drama based on the Lowry legend, the Lumbee remember the Robin Hood of Robeson County. Baseball caps, T-shirts, and other items carry the message “Henry Berry Lowry Lives Forever.”
Adolph L. Dial, a historian and teacher, recorded these stories from Lumbee community members from 1969 through 1971.
The Deeds of Henry Berry Lowry
Mabe Sampson: They tried to drive him [Henry Berry Lowry] to the batteries in the Civil War, and he refused to go. He was then an eighteen-year-old boy. He went for the woods. Then they got in behind him and tried to catch him. They couldn’t catch him. He was too sharp for them. Old Brantley Harris, an old white man, got in behind him and tried to catch him, but they didn’t catch him.
Henry Berry went there [Lumberton], took Andrew and Boss out of jail, and killed old Sheriff Cane [King]. They robbed the bank and took the safe and put in on a dray. Along in them times, they had a two-wheeled dray to horse up. Put that bank on that dray, come across the river, blowed it open, and got the money all out.
Adolph L. Dial: Where was that?
Sampson: Right there. Robbed the safe over to Stanley McCloud [McLeod]. Took his safe and got all the money there was in it. Walked across the river, dynamited it, blowed it open, and got all the money that was in it.
Dial: I take it that you have a great deal of respect for the Lowry gang in that they really did something for the Indian people.
Sampson: Yes, you know why Henry killed? They tried to send him down there, and you know why he killed that gang? They went there, old Brantley did, and killed his brother, Allen. I believe John was the other one. He made them dig their own graves and killed them, being they wouldn’t tell where Henry was. He was in the bushes dodging, and he wouldn’t go to Wilmington.
A Robin Hood
Dial: What is your view on Henry Berry? Do you look at him today as a man of respect and a justified cause?
Clifton Oxendine: I think of him as sort of a Robin Hood: he took the part of the underdog, the group that was underprivileged. He was trying to help the Indian people, who were discriminated against when it came to entering the Confederate army and helping to bear arms but were used as manual laborers the same as the slaves were. I think he was rendering a service there.
What Happened to Henry Berry Lowry?
Dial: Over the years, did anyone tell you what they thought happened to Henry Berry Lowry?
John W. Dial: Yes, my grandfather’s wife told me that they took him up to Tom Lowry’s and said the other boys was in the house. They heard a gun fire and said when they went out there, he was standing, he gone up that way looking around and aturning around, and he fell. Never spoke to none of them.
Willoughby Jones: My father, Phillip, said that he stayed with him some, that Henry Berry was a mighty respectable man, had a lot of respect for women and children and so on. Later on, as he disappeared, someone said that he was killed. My dad said that he was well acquainted with him, that he absolutely was not killed, that he was left from here. He remembered he absolutely knowed that he was shipped. He was shipped off in a large box. He just absolutely knew that he was not killed.
Dial: Mr. Godwin just arrived. Mr. Godwin, what do you think happened to Henry Berry Lowry?
John Godwin: He got accidentally killed. He had been trying to shoot the load off of his gun for a long time. Back then all of them had a hammer and a tube. If they didn’t get powder in that tube and put the cap on it, it wouldn’t fire. He forgot about it and didn’t take the cap off. His gun loaded out with a rod with a hook on the end of it, and he slipped. His knee struck that hammer, it fell back and fired off. The load went right up through here, my mother said, and blowed the top of his head off.
Dial: Where do you think Henry Berry was buried?
Godwin: He was buried, she said, over there by Thunder Port. You don’t know where that is, though. Back Swamp across the other side of Deep Branch Church. There used to be a bridge there. They called it the Sampson Bridge. You crossed the Back Swamp. He was buried above to the right of that road in a slew. That’s where she said that the outlaws told where they buried it.
Dial: In a slew in Back Swamp.
Godwin: Where the water had run over it, nobody ever did find it.
Sampson: Uncle Sampson used to say, “Come on if you want to see him the last time.” He told him he didn’t want to see him. Go ahead.
Dial: Mr. Sampson feels and many people feel that Henry Berry Lowry was quite an outstanding man for the Indian people. What is your feeling?
Godwin: Yes sir, he was, according to the reports that my mother said about him.
Dial: You feel he was justified in doing what he did?
Godwin: That’s right, yes. He didn’t do anything unless you bothered him. He’d always send you word if you got in his business. He’d send you word not to do that anymore, and if you did, why he’d go hunt you.
Dial: All of us know that Henry Berry Lowry’s death is still a mystery today. We’re not sure what happened to him. What do you think happened to Henry Berry Lowry?
Sampson: Henry Berry left here and was sent off by a white man, loaded right here at Moss Neck. He never was killed.
Dial: Go ahead and tell that story.
Sampson: Thirty years afterward he was in Oklahoma. He run a toll booth there across that river.
Dial: Where did you get this story?
Sampson: From the old folks.
Dial: Mr. Oxendine, how old are you?
Charlie Oxendine: I’m eighty years old.
Dial: Did you ever know Rhoda Lowry, the widow?
Oxendine: We stayed right there, half a mile of her.
Dial: Can you remember her well?
Oxendine: Oh, yes.
Dial: Did you ever hear her talk any about Henry Berry Lowry?
Dial: What are some of the things you remember she said?
Oxendine: He disappeared, and ain’t none of them ever knowed what went with him.
Dial: Did she ever say what she thought happened to him?
Oxendine: No, she didn’t say, but Henry Berry’s sister, Aunt Pert, come up their home and married in that family. She said that the day before he disappeared—now this is what she told us—he come there at the house where her and her mother was and said that he shot robins all day. She said he got them up, robin birds, you know. “Well,” he says, “I’m leaving now.” He said, “I’m going away now,” and she said they never did know another thing about him. She said he just disappeared. He said, “I’m leaving now.”
Dial: Who said that?
Oxendine: Henry Berry said, “I’m leaving.”
Dial: Do you think he died with his own gun or went away?
Oxendine: There’s all kind of stories told about it. But there’s one thing, nobody never did get the $10,000.
Dial: His wife was put in jail once, was she not? Will you tell us about this?
George Ransom: Yes, they came out there, captured his wife and put her in jail. Along the way, she got contact with him.
Dial: Was she taken to Lumberton?
Ransom: She was taken to Lumberton. She was put in jail there, and they kept her in there. He wrote a note and sent it over there, telling them he’d give them so long to get his wife back home, or he’d tear up the town.
Dial: I believe he said he would destroy Lumberton and put it in blood and ashes, something along that line.
Ransom: That’s right. He said he would put it in blood and ashes, yes. The women of Lumberton got rough about it and they got out on the streets and got them to turn the woman out and let her go home.
Willoughby Jones: My father Philip said that he stayed with him some, that Henry Berry was a mighty respectable man, had a lot of respect for women and children and so on. Later on, as he disappeared, someone said that he was killed. My dad said that he was well acquainted with him, that he absolutely was not killed, that he was left from here.
Adolph Dial: He seemed to think he left.
Jones: He remembered he absolutely knowed that he was shipped. He was shipped off in a large box. He just absolutely knew that he was not killed.
Many legends about Lowry can be heard today in and around Robeson County.
Friend and Foe
Not everyone remembers Henry Berry Lowry with awe and respect. Some people consider him a common criminal. People debate his character and reputation through the legends they tell.
I think one of the stories that helped form my opinions and my impression of Henry Berry Lowry as a person and what he was doing was related to me when I was a young child. I was living in Pembroke, it was in the fifties, and there were two old maid sisters that were very close to my family, wonderful wonderful women. White women. Which is, you know, important only from the standpoint that it was their perspective. They were relating a story about him that had been passed down to them from their mother when she was a child.
And the story that stands out in my mind was when their mother was a young girl, Henry Berry Lowry and his band appeared on their farm and asked her grandmother if she would be kind enough to cook a meal for him and his men, because they were hungry and apparently they had been riding for quite some time, and she said that she would.
And she said that he was just as polite, that her mother said that nobody could be politer to anybody than he was to her and her mother and their family. I don’t think her daddy was there at the time.
And the only thing he said, that he told her mother, that he hated to ask her to do it when she finished the meal, but would she take one bite from every dish that she cooked. And she said why of course, and she did. And they ate, and he thanked her profusely for feeding them and complemented her on what she had prepared, and told her that if she ever needed him for anything, all she had to do was get word to him, and that he would come and, you know, anything that she needed he would do it.—Charles McBryde, Lumberton, 1999
There is a story that the soldiers that were hunting him [Henry Berry Lowry] down were eating lunch out there at the swamp one day, and he walked up to them and just started talking to them. And they didn’t know who he was, and they were hunting him. So he just walked up there, started talking to them, I don’t know if he sat down and ate lunch with them or anything, but, you know, and just walked off. They realized who he was later.
And even stories that he would get on the train and have a drink or something on the train, and ride the train.
There’s another story where he dressed up like a soldier and hunted himself.—Jefferson Currie, 1999
—Dr. Earl C. Lowry, grandnephew of Henry Berry Lowry, in the News and Observer (Raleigh), 1937
Henry Berry Lowry was an unusual character. He wore boots with the heels in front part of the time so that he could not easily be traced. He was always courteous to strangers. It was not unusual to see a company of soldiers marching along the road and Henry Berry and the commanding officer at the rear.
They were having the wedding and the law came in, arrested him, and took him to Wilmington. They put him in jail, kept him there a while and he got out of there.
He said the jailer carried him his supper one night, he left the cell door unlocked. He come out of there, got a blanket, tore it up, and made a rope. He tied it around a musket and there was a hole in the chimney where someone else had gotten out of jail and he went down to the ground on that rope.—George Ransom, Robeson County, 1969
—Dr. Earl C. Lowry, in the News and Observer (Raleigh), 1937
[Henry Berry Lowry’s] wife cooked a cake and carried [it to] him. Inside was concealed a small pistol. When the jailer next came in, Henry Berry surprised him with the pistol, took the keys, and unlocked the jail, escaping, throwing the keys in the river and swimming across.
The Killing of J. Brantley Harris
Regardless of the objections raised by the Indians, of having to go and work at Fort Fisher as slaves, the Confederate authorities drafted some of them, and used them to help build the immense sand fortifications at Fort Fisher. The work was hard; the Indians complained or murmured, but to no avail. George Lowry, his [Henry Berry Lowry’s] brother, had several sons. Two of these sons were carried to Fort Fisher to work during the year of 1863. After remaining there about a year, they were granted furloughs for a few days. For some reason they never returned to Fort Fisher. Finally, J. Brantley Harris, a member of the Home Guard of Robeson County, arrested them as deserters. He put them aboard the train at Moss Neck Station, which was four or five miles away, to send them back to Fort Fisher. On the way to the station, Harris killed both of these boys—nobody knows why—instead of sending them back to Fort Fisher.—Clifton Oxendine, Robeson County, 1969
The Fate of Henry Berry Lowry
Henry Berry Lowry disappeared in 1872 after the robbery of the sheriff’s office and Pope and McLeod’s store in Lumberton. Since his disappearance, many stories have circulated in the Lumbee community to explain what happened to him. The stories often conflict, but no one disputes the fact that the reward for Henry Berry Lowry, dead or alive, was never paid.
I’ve probably heard all the stories that everybody’s heard. I guess the stories that stick out in my mind that I’ve heard, of course, is the one where he accidentally killed himself, around Moss Neck somewhere, cleaning a gun. Another one is where he left deer blood and apparently some, you know, tissue, deer tissue, to make somebody think that, that he had been killed.—Charles McBryde, Lumberton, 1999
On May 8, 1937, Dr. Earl C. Lowry spoke at the Indian Normal School (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke). The next day, the News and Observer (Raleigh) reported that Lowry had insisted Henry Berry Lowry did not die but faked his death with the help of family and band members.
Armed with two small pistols and dressed in a Federal soldier’s uniform, Henry Berry Lowry boarded the train as it pulled out of Pates. His trusted bodyguard, Andrew Strong, stood guard at a box car 50 yards away. At Moss Neck another member of his gang waited at the station platform “in case he was needed.” Henry Berry Lowry drew pay for 4 years from the army before his discharge.—Dr. Earl C. Lowry, in the News and Observer (Raleigh), 1937