Henry Berry Lowery is a well-known villain or hero, depending on your perspective. He is clearly a legendary ancestor of the tribe now called the Lumbee. Lots has been written about Henry. One point of contention is whether or not he survived the Civil War era. Stories exist that he did in fact survive, even returning home to Robeson County, NC some years later for a funeral. More than one family claims descent from him after he disappeared, or died. And DNA testing proves that in at least one case, the family in question definitely descends from that Lowery family.
Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure, and may never know, if Henry Berry Lowery survived or not.
There are several sources that claim Henry Berry Lowery descended from the Tuscarora Indians.
During the Civil War, the situation in Robeson County was volatile and as things escalated, Henry Berry Lowery’s gang embarked on a series of raids and retribution against the white establishment. Right or wrong, Lowery’s gang killed a white neighbor, James Barnes, as well as a white sheriff. One way or another, at that point, his fate was sealed. His father and brother were subsequently killed, and a bounty placed upon Henry’s head. Most of his gang was killed or captured.
After the 1865 killing of William and Allen Lowry (Henry’s brother and father), two local white ministers wrote a letter to the Freedmens Bureau describing the Lowry family’s racial status (c. 1867). The ministers wrote, “We would premise, in the first place, that the Lowrys are free from the taint of negro blood. They are said to be descendants 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.” (Gerald Sider, Living Indian Histories of Lumbee and Tuscarora People, 2003, pg 170)
This 1867 document is important because it precedes by more than 15 years the later attempts in the mid-1880s to obtain schools for the Native people of Robeson County. During this time, Hamilton McMillan claimed that the (now) Lumbee were Native, not of African descent, and used their claimed descent from both the Lost Colony and the Native people as justification for them not having to attend schools for black children. Because they were considered to be “of color,” they were not allowed to attend white schools and McMillan lobbied, successfully, for them to have separate schools. While this indeed was a noble goal, it also taints his documents of that time period with that agenda. This 1867 letter is the earliest contemporaneous documentation I’ve seen of Native ancestry.
An 1875 statement signed by nine witnesses said that Lowery’s grandfather was of Tuscarora descent, as were several of the women in the area. (Mary Normant, The Lowry History, 1875) Another account said of Pop Oxendine (a member of the gang) that “like the rest……he had the Tuscarora Indian blood in him”. (George Townsend, The Swamp Outlaws, 1872)
In February 1872, Henry Berry Lowery robbed the sheriff’s safe of $28,000 and then disappeared. Some say he accidentally shot himself, which is certainly possible, but unlikely for a man with his level of experience with a gun. Many believe his wife Rhoda visited him out-of-state for years. Others believe he started a new family.
Henry lived for years with a bounty on his head, a virtual Robin Hood to the mixed race families of Robeson County. Recently Lisa Henderson discovered this announcement of a $300 dollar reward for Henry offered in 1866. I wonder how much the reward increased after he stole the $28,000 from the sheriff’s safe.
The photo of Henry is not a part of the reward article, although today, it surely would be and would be mounted as a “wanted” poster.
State of North Carolina.
By his Excellency JONATHAN WORTH, Governor of North Carolina:
Whereas, it has been represented to me that HENRY BERRY LOWRY, a free negro, late of the county of Robeson, in said State, stands charged with the murder of James P. Barnes, of said county, and other crimes, and that the said Lowry is a fugitive from justice:
Now, THEREFORE, in order that the said Henry Berry Lowry may be arrested and brought to trial for said alleged crimes, I, JONATHAN WORTH, Governor of said State, do issue this, my proclamation, offering the reward of
THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS
For his arrest and delivery to the Sheriff of the said county of Robeson.
In witness whereof, His Excellency, JONATHAN WORTH, Governor of said State, has hereunto set his hand and caused the Great Seal of the State to be affixed.
Done at the city of Raleigh, this the 11th day of December, A.D., 1866.
By the Governor: JONATHAN WORTH.
Wm. H. Bagley, Private Secretary.
Description. – Henry Berry Lowry is five feet eight or nine inches high, heavy built, copper color, long, coarse, bushy hair, Indian like, black eyes, high nose, with a bold look; has a scar under one of his eyes.
The Daily Journal, Wilmington, 28 December 1866.