Did you know that during the Civil War, Henry Lowry, part Indian and African-American, was a modern-day Robin Hood. Seeking revenge for the murders of his father and brother by the Confederacy, he rained bloodshed and terror on the Southern establishment for over 8 years.
Some 42,000 North Carolinians lost their lives in the American Civil War. Native Americans in North Carolina had differing experiences. Many Cherokees supported the Confederacy, and Thomas’ Legion, also known as the 69th North Carolina Infantry Regiment of Colonel William Holland Thomas, had two full companies of Cherokees in it.
However, the “free people of color” in eastern North Carolina were treated differently. In 1861 they were forced to work on Confederate fortifications at Fort Fisher, near Wilmington. Many fled into the forests to resist such imprisonment by the Confederate Army.
Henry Berry Lowry was one of twelve children in the family of Allen and Mary Lowry. At the start of the Civil War in 1861, this population was viewed as a potential danger to the Confederacy, as well as a potential source of forced labor for Confederate military projects. In Robeson County, the Confederate Home Guard accused some local Lumbee Indians of harboring escaped Union prisoners and Confederate deserters, hiding guns, and stealing meat from smokehouses. As elsewhere in the South during the Civil War, the Home Guard supported the Confederacy and maintained law and order at home while the war was being fought. Henry Lowry’s first crimes occurred when he killed James P. Barnes (Allen Lowrie’s neighbor, who accused the Lowries of stealing food and harboring escaped Union prisoners of war) on December 21, 1864 and James Brantley “Brant” Harris on January 15, 1865 as a result of ongoing disputes with both men.
With Sherman’s army a few miles from Robeson, the Confederate Home Guard accused Henry Berry Lowry’s father, Allen, and brother William, of various crimes. After a hastily prepared kangaroo court trial, Allen and William were convicted and executed on March 3, 1865. For the next decade, Southeastern North Carolina knew terror and bloodshed as Lowry became the most hunted outlaw in the state’s history. During the war, Henry Berry Lowry often flouted the authorities who hunted him for over eight years. He murdered the “presumed head” of the local Ku Klux Klan, John Taylor, after which Lowry and many others escaped into the surrounding swamps: a tactic that they would use over and over again and which would prove highly successful at helping them avoid capture.
As the war dragged on, food became scarce as more outliers (including escaped slaves, Confederate deserters and Union prison escapees) fled to the sanctuary of the swamps. As such, the rebel band were forced to change tactics and decided to live off the wealthy class of people instead of the poor. The band raided plantations and distributed food to the poor in Pembroke, North Carolina which was known then as “Scuffletown” or “The Settlement”.
In 1872, Henry Berry Lowry disappeared without a trace. The reward on his head was never collected, and the legend of his actions grew and grew to mythic proportions. In 1874, after the death of Steve Lowry at the hands of bounty hunters, The Lowry War ended. For present day North Carolinians, Lowry is a controversial figure. He was thought by his defenders to be a hero, and by his critics to be a common criminal.
During the Lowry War, some Southern newspapers portrayed the Lowrys as “Radical Ku Klux,” sometimes in cahoots with the Union League, also known as the “Loyal League,” a Republican organization these papers attempt to portray as the Republican counterpart of the Klan. In an article about the Lowrys, the Wilmington Journal writes, “the perpetrators of these crimes are Radicals-members of the League—mostly black” An article appearing in Georgia Weekly Telegraph claims, “Lowery, the great chief of the African Ku Klux is the most Loyal man in the South.” The Daily Arkansas Gazette describes the gang’s activities in July, 1871: “In portions of North Carolina, band of negro outlaws—real ku-klux—are murdering the people, robbing stores and houses, and openly defying the authorities. Lowry, their leader, is a well-known radical politician. He can be arrested by the Federal officers at any time they please, and yet he is suffered to go at large, and murder white men at his pleasure.” In spite of these newspaper reports, the Lowrys had no official affiliations with the Republican Party, and did not function as a Ku Klux organization. These articles on the Lowry War published in Southern papers could stem from a specific political agenda aimed at attacking the credibility of the Republican Party as the party of “law and order,” as well as taking attention away from Klan violence in the South.
Other articles on the Lowry Wars attempt to sensationalize the outlaws in an effort to sell papers. An article appeared in the New York Times entitled “Robin Come Again,” comparing the Lowry gang to the robber barons of the Middle Ages. The sensationalized articles written for the New York Herald were collected into a book called The Swamp Outlaws: or, the North Carolina Bandits, Being a Complete History of the Modern Rob Roys and Robin Hoods, published in 1872. Extremely popular national papers like the New York Times and the New York Herald embraced the stories on the Lowry War because they sold papers; telling the “true,” sensationalized story of the Lowry War was financially lucrative for papers that could afford to send investigative reporters to Robeson County.