Henry Berry Lowrie was and continues to be a hero to the Indians of Robeson County. His defense of the crimes against Indian people was not based on their tribal identity, but on the issue of the fact that they were in the same situation as himself and his family based solely upon their race!
In order to understand the actions of Henry Berry and his gang, one must first understand the times they were living in. The 1830's were a time of termination and extermination for the American Indians in the east and across this nation. This was the era of the Trail of Tears and the mass absorption of Indian lands and civil rights. Laws, public opinion, and social circumstances all demeaned the status of any non white in the country. And the spark that lit the flame of racism and injustice in Robeson County was the 1840 General Assembly law prohibiting non-whites from owning firearms.
Without the right to carry a gun, Robeson County natives were left without a way to defend themselves and with a prohibited means of hunting. Soon "tied mule" incidents began to occur. The concept was that a white farmer would allow his cattle to graze on an Indian farm or tie his mule somewhere on Indian land. The white farmer would them file a complaint, accusing the Indian of theft of the mule or cattle. With the complaint filed the Indian farmer would be arrested. In order to clear himself of the charges, the Indian land owner had two choices: he could sell a section of his farm to the 'victim' as payment for the allegedly stolen cows or mule. Or, he could work off the price of the cattle or mule through a system of indentured servitude.
The Hero of Robeson County: The Story of Henry Berry Lowrie
Without justice, defense, or the items necessary for the basics of survival, you enter the world that Henry Berry and his family grew up and existed in. In 1864, a Confederate officer accused Allen Lowrie and his sons of stealing hogs and butchering them for their meat. The local Home Guard was sent in to investigate the matter, and they allegedly found firearms on the property. Attacking the Allen Lowrie Family was a wise idea on the part of the white farmer. The Allen Lowrie Family was a wealthy, well respected Native family, with an enormous estate for that time of over 2,000 acres. To shatter them would maintain the fear level in the rest of the Native community.
Allen and his sons were arrested and Mary Cumba Lowrie and her daughters were physically assaulted. William and Allen were executed for their crimes. Henry Berry was not home during this violation. He arrived to find his mother and sisters assaulted, his brother and father murdered. He promised to to find justice for his family's death and the dishonor reeked upon his entire family.
Shortly after the murders on the Lowrie farm, Henry Berry's gang was beginning to form. Comprised of three Lowrie brothers: Henry, Steve, and Tom; two Lowrie cousins: Calvin and Henderson; two brothers-in-law: Andrew and Boss Strong; two Black men: George Applewhite and Eli Ewin (known as Shoemaker John); John Dial and William Chavis, and a White man, Zach McLaughlin, the Lowrie gang was ready to evoke justice based on the very principles that this nation was founded on: "...with Liberty and Justice for All.".
With their families in their hearts, justice in their hands, and a love of this land they called home, Henry Berry and his gang began the pursuit of righting the wrong the was shouldered on his family and the other nonwhites of the county.
The Saga of Henry Berry Lowrie 1864 Part II
Henry and his followers were living in the one safe place they could, in and along the swamps from Union to Moss Neck. The band supported themselves on the kindness of their community and the community did what it could to lend its support. With the Civil War gaining strength , the Confederate soldiers and government were beginning their swing into power in the South. Non-whites were seen as free labor in the Confederate effort. The slightest indiscretion would see any healthy male sentenced to doing time along the Cape Fear creating barricades and strengthening the forts.
Hunger was quickly overtaking the minorities of Robeson County. Unable to hunt with a gun, unable to farm without the fear of being seen by a Confederate authority who would demand the healthy men for service, a food shortage began that Henry Berry could not ignore. Soon into the his siege, Henry Berry and his band began to realize the strain that their entire community was feeling. Most of the Indian owned land was being left untended, crops were abandoned and the young men were no where in sight.
Henry Berry and his band began following the idea of the others who were in hiding in the swamps; the soldiers and the runaway slaves. They began to take from those who had plenty and could get more for their families.
Seeing the struggle that the Robeson County natives were under, Henry Berry and his followers began to make visits into the more affluent sections of Robeson County. They would take from those who had more and then pass out the surplus to the needy families in the community. Many families could not have survived if it weren't for those raids by the band of Henry Berry.
It was in this way that the first life was taken by Henry Berry. It was the life of James Barnes. Mr. Barnes had been accusing the Lowrie Family of theft and evil intent for many years. Several times he had accused the family and brought along the Home Guard to take the boys to the train headed for Wilmington. Whenever the Confederate Guard came looking for more "recruits" for Wilmington, Mr. Barnes would lead them through his neighborhood and find the bodies they needed.
In need of food for the band and the community and out of a sense of protection for his community, Henry Berry traveled to the farm of Mr. Barnes. Somewhere between the post office and the Barnes home, Henry Berry killed Mr. Barnes. The threat of his silent raids with the Home Guard was gone.
A short time after that, James Brantley Harris stepped forward to be the next in line to face Henry Berry and his band!
James Brantley Harris was a conscription officer who made advances toward the ladies of Scuffletown. His position and actions made him no friends, but it was through the deaths of three young Indian men that the fate of this rough character was sealed.
A young Jarmen Lowry was the first to be killed. Oral tradition states that he was killed late one night because he was mistaken for Henry Berry Lowrie. It seems that Henry Berry Lowrie had earlier told James Brantley Harris that he would no longer tolerate his behavior either as an officer or as a harasser of women. Scared at the possibility of his own murder, Harris was quick to draw his gun and ask questions later. Jarmen Lowry was the first victim of this set of circumstances. After the death, the Robeson County grand jury decided to overlook this unfortunate incident.
The Lowry Family was not so quick to forget. Jarmen Lowry's brothers Wesley and Allan Lowry, who had been conscripted into service in Wilmington, were returned home for their brothers funeral. Their returned presence added to the fear Harris felt. Shortly after the brothers return to Scuffletown, they were arrested by Harris for being absent without leave. After being led away by Harris and the Home Guard, the brothers of the slain boy turned up dead at Moss Neck station.
In early January of 1865, Harris was riding with a young Indian woman. He stopped the buggy and the Indian woman left. A few moments later, gun shots rang out and Harris' body fell to the floor of the buggy.
With two deaths on their record, the Lowrie Band was sure that there would be quick military action against them. But instead of waiting for the action, Henry Berry and his followers acted first. They raided the Robeson County Courthouse where goods were being stored.
After that coup, the gang made several other smaller raids on local wealthy plantation owners. February 27, 1865 the raid turned to Argyle Plantation, the Maxton residence of the widow Elizabeth Ann McNair. After a short gun battle in which the widow herself is alleged to have shot one of the band's followers, the Henry Berry gang helped itself to the goods of the plantation. Upon returning home, they were hailed as heroes and modern day Robin Hoods by the people they helped. On the other side the Home Guard's position was strengthened at the attack on a well loved pillar of their society and community.
In March of 1865, the raids on small Indian farms began as the now fortified Home Guard searched for the outlaws. But as quickly as they started the stopped. General Sherman was on his way and the larger war took its place in the minds and bodies of the people now in the direst path of the flames of defeat.