A story about Henry Berry Lowry/Lowrie, “a free man of color” in the Civil War

Posted on April 29, 2009 by

Some may recall that I mentioned Henry “Dad” Brown in Harry’s Bull Runnings Blog, but I cannot emphasize enough that Brown’s story is actually a reflection of but one element of the “many Souths,” and in fact, the many perspectives of Southern free blacks during the Civil War (again, a part of the reason why I cringe when I hear or read about those who want to sell a narrow-focused “Confederate perspective” as THE “Southern perspective” of the war). As readers may also recall, I’ve also mentioned John M. “Jack” Dogans/Dougans in the past (I just posted the story again in Too Long Forgotten), which reveals an attitude quite to the contrary of that exhibited by Henry Brown.

In this post, I’m taking the actions and attitudes of free blacks/free people of color to yet another level with a story about Henry Berry Lowry/Lowrie of Robeson County, North Carolina (many thanks to reader Noel G. Harrison for bringing a link to my attention that made me aware of this story). Some folks may be familiar with the Lowrie story courtesy of the drama “Strike at the Wind.”

First, however, I think we need a little background information. The Lowry family was not free black, but was likely Lumbee, while those who followed them may have been a collection of Whites, Blacks, and Lumbee. Nonetheless, I think the Wikipedia entry for Robeson County’s involvement in the Civil War helps to set the stage:

By the beginning of the American Civil War, most Native Americans attempted to eke out an impoverished existence. Their status had continued to decline. Since 1790, Native Americans in the southern states were enumerated as “free persons of color” on the local and federal census. By 1835, and in the wake of the convergence of three historical events, Nat Turner’s ‘s Rebellion, the ratification of the North Carolina Constitutional Convention, and Indian removal, they were summarily stripped of their previously held right to vote, serve on juries, own and use firearms, and to learn to read and write. The gradual dispossession of tribal lands accelerated, and Robeson County’s Native Americans regarded the local white slave-owning elite as robbers and oppressors.

As the Wikipedia entry further explains, upon the opening of the Civil War, there were some circumstances that further impacted this population of “free persons of color:”

After a major yellow fever epidemic the following year wherein 10 percent of the Cape Fear region’s population succumbed to the disease, and free labor either joined the war effort or fled the region, Indians, along with African-American slaves, were forcibly conscripted to build a system of forts intended to defend the Gibraltar of the South, Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina. North Carolina’s ‘s adjutant general, John C. Gorman noted in his reports that Robeson County’s conscription of several years duration especially impacted, “Scuffletown [which] was included in the impressment and almost ever able-bodied male in the [Indian] settlements was dragged from home and railroaded to the coast.”


Henry Berry Lowrie

Note: This image is commonly used as one of Henry Berry Lowry, but it’s not. See the comments below for more details.

Enter the story of Henry Berry Lowry, who along with several Lowry cousins, resisted the Confederate Home Guard’s efforts to round them up to help with the construction of works at Ft. Fisher. However, the Lowry family didn’t simply hide from the Confederate authorities, but as a band of, more or less, refugees in their own homeland, became an annoyance in other ways to the local authority of the Confederacy. As one of the documents now up for sale reveals, as early as November 1863, the Lowry band began stealing items from various people in the county (were these efforts taken to ensure survival, to undermine Confederate authorities, or both?). Incidentally, the document for sale is a “partly-printed document signed by the solicitor for the State, a decision of the Superior Court of Law, attesting that ‘Seely Dial, Allen Lowrie, Martha Lowrie (free negroes)’ did on the 10 November 1863 “with force and arms” steal ‘eight sides of leather of the value of one dollar each, one set of carpenter tools comprising chisels, files, rasps, brace and bracebits, gimblets, squares and trisquares, augers, compasses [etc]’ from Dugald McDugald.” As the war continued to make living conditions unbearable and food items scarce, the Lowry band apparently continued to live off the wealthy of Robeson County, and even redistributed the food to the poor in Scuffletown (also known as “The Settlement”… which is now Pembroke, North Carolina).

Instead of me trying to explain the rest of the Lowry story, I’ve found a rather good source for descriptive information about the matter… take a look at these pages (actually, this set of pages begins on p. 79, so scroll back to begin on p. 78… pages 83-84 are the only pages missing from this more complete description of the Lowry matter) from Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War.

Overall, the story of Henry B. Lowry gives us yet another dimension of both the “free black perspective of the Civil War” and the “Southern perspective of the Civil War,” and supports the idea that thinking of the Civil War merely as a sectional conflict fails to convey an understanding of the many issues that were at hand.