Lowry War

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The Lowry War is a notable event in North Carolina history. Led by Henry Berry Lowry (also spelled Henry Berry Lowrie), whose father and brother were murdered by men of the Confederate Home Guard, a band of American Indian, White and African-American men waged a guerrilla war against the white establishment from 1864 to 1872. He and his gang attained a kind of mythic status.


Some 42,000 North Carolinians lost their lives in the American Civil War. Native Americans in North Carolina had differing experiences. Many Cherokee supported the Confederacy. Thomas' Legion, also known as the 69th North Carolina Infantry Regiment of Colonel William Holland Thomas, had two full companies of Cherokee in it.

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 and swamps to resist such enforced labor 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, the free people of color was viewed as a potential danger to the Confederacy, as it was believed some had earlier fomented slave rebellions. But they were also considered a source for forced labor for Confederate military projects. In Robeson County, the Confederate Home Guard accused some local free blacks 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. Lowry killed neighbor James P. Barnes, 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.[1][2]

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, including illegal possession of firearms. After a hastily prepared kangaroo court trial, Allen and William were convicted and executed on March 3, 1865.[3] For nearly a decade, Henry Berry Lowry conducted raids in southern North Carolina, primarily in Robeson County and against upper-class whites. He 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. The guerrilla band 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 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 wrote at the time, "the perpetrators of these crimes are Radicals-members of the League—mostly black"[4] 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." (as in loyal to the Union)[5] 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.[6]

In spite of these newspaper reports, the Lowrys had no official affiliations with the Republican Party, and did not function as a KKK organization, which was limited to whites but was filled with insurgents who carried out violent attacks.

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 Hood Come Again," comparing the Lowry gang to the mythic robber of England in the Middle Ages.[7] 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.[8]

The legend[edit]

Since 1976, Lowry's legend has been presented every summer in the outdoor drama Strike At The Wind in Pembroke. Set during the critical Civil War and Reconstruction years, the play portrays Lowry as a cultural 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Archived March 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ qtd. in "Horrid Condition of North Carolina—Operations of the Radical Ku-klux." Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Journal & Messenger. 5 April 1870.
  5. ^ "A Loyal Ku-Klux." Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Journal & Messenger. 25 July 1871.
  6. ^ "In portions of North Carolina, bands of negro outlaws." Daily Arkansas Gazette. 26 July 1871.
  7. ^ "Robin Hood Come Again." New York Times. 22 July 1871.
  8. ^ Townsend, George Alfred. The Swamp Outlaws: or, the North Carolina Bandits, Being a Complete History of the Modern Rob Roys and Robin Hoods. New York: R.M. Dewitt, 1872.


  • Karen I. Blu, The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian, University of Nebraska Press, 2001
  • Adolph L. Dial, David K. Eliades, The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee Indians, Syracuse University Press, 1996
  • William McKee Evans, "To Die Game:" The Story of the Lowry Band, Indian Guerrillas of Reconstruction, Syracuse University Press, 1995
  • E. Stanly Godbold, Jr. and Mattie U. Russell, Confederate Colonel And Cherokee Chief: The Life Of William Holland Thomas, University of Tennessee Press, 1990
  • Jones, Rosalyn Jacobs (1983). Upward Mobility: A Historical Narrative. The John W. Jacobs Story (PDF) (D. A. thesis). Middle Tennessee State University. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  • Townsend, George Alfred. The Swamp Outlaws: or, The North Carolina Bandits; Being a Complete History of the Modern Rob Roys and Robin Hoods. The Red Wolf Series. New York: Robert M. DeWitt, 1872.