north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
      Few names in North Carolina history rouse more controversy than that of Henry Berry Lowrie. Viewed by some as a hero and by others as a common criminal, Lowrie and the story of his band and his “war” have passed into the realm of legend since he disappeared in the swamps of Robeson County around 1872. In 1860 the county had 8,572 whites and 6,917 non-whites. At that time Lumbee Indians were considered free people of color. During the Civil War the Confederacy attempted to impress all non-whites of military age into performing labor for the army—their status as "free persons of color," without the right to bear arms, made the Lumbees candidates for work on Fort Fisher or in salt mines. The combination of intolerable work conditions, demeaning conscription officials, and the ambiguous racial abuse provoked local Indians. Two murders, both attributed at the time to Henry Berry Lowrie, were sparked by the impressment of Indians.

      Young Indians, like Lowrie and his brothers, took to "lying-out" in the swamps to escape forced labor, and began to raid the homes of white Robesonians, taking guns, clothing, and supplies. After a violent raid in February 1865, the Confederate Home Guard went to the home of Henry’s father, Allen Lowrie, where they found guns and goods. Allen’s family was taken into custody and Allen and his son William were executed. In March 1865 Henry and his brothers embarked on a seven-year campaign of murder and larceny. The core of the Lowrie band included several cousins, two freedmen, and one poor white. Most of the men who were murdered by the band were involved in the Lowrie executions. During the height of the “Lowrie War,” Henry often appeared in public, and occasionally shared the spoils of his raids. His Robin Hood-like behavior made him popular among the poor. His heavily armed gang and ability to elude capture made him an object of fear among whites.

      Governor W. W. Holden declared Lowrie an outlaw in November 1868. The General Assembly placed a $10,000 bounty on him in 1871. Although a white militia was organized to capture him, Lowrie disappeared in February 1872 and the bounty was never collected. Whether Lowrie was killed accidentally or intentionally, or whether he lived for a time after his disappearance may never be known. The mystery surrounding his death served to enhance his legendary status. Henry Berry Lowrie’s house has been moved to the grounds of the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center in Pembroke. It awaits restoration but is open to the public.


References:
Malinda Lowery, “Drowning Creek” (unpublished undergraduate thesis, Harvard University, 1995)
W. McKee Evans, To Die Game: The Story of the Lowry Band, Indian Guerillas of Reconstruction (1971)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 104-105—sketch by W. McKee Evans

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north carolina highway historical marker program


An image believed to be Henry Berry Lowrie, courtesy of The Museum of the Native American Resource Center at UNC Pembroke.

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources