Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Robeson County

Well, it’s been a while since we looked at a North Carolina county and the War. For this post, I chose Robeson County, simply because someone emailed me a couple of days ago asking about what happened in Robeson County. I hope you enjoy.

Created from Bladen County in 1787, Robeson County was named for Col. Thomas Robeson, a Revolutionary War patriot. The county seat, Lumberton, was chartered in 1788 and named for the local Lumber River. Much of the history of the area is tied to the Lumbee Indians, who inhabited the area prior to European contact.

In 1860, Robeson County had a population on 15,489, including 1,450 Indians and free persons of color, and 5,456 slaves. In the 1860 presidential elections, white Robeson County men cast 720 votes for Breckinridge, 648 for Bell, and 134 for Douglas. A few weeks later, many of those same men gathered to cast ballots on the question of calling a convention to consider the secession of North Carolina. There were 490 for calling the convention, while 871 were opposed. The Union men of the county met on February 16, 1861, and elected two Union men for the proposed convention: T. A. Norment and Col. T. J. Morisey. When the convention was finally called in May 1861, John Powell Fuller and John C. Sutherland, who had ran against Norment and Morisey and who both who were considered “red hot secessionists,” were elected to represent the county at the convention.

Just what brought about this change, from voting against the convention to electing two “red hot secessionists” is unclear. On January 1, 1861, there was a large Union meeting held at the court house in Lumberton. A pro-Union set of resolutions was adopted, and 33 guns fired in honor of the Union. A second pro-Union meeting was held on January 11 in Howellsville, and a third followed at St. Paul’s on January 19, and again in Lumberton on February 16.

However, on April 20, 1861, possibly in response to the firing on of Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops, another public meeting was held at the court house in Lumberton. At this meeting, Unionist T. A. Norment remarked that “ he had often pleaded in behalf of the Union, and that the awful calamity of civil war might never fall upon his country, but at the same time that he told them these things, he also stated that his party were totally and unequivocally opposed to coercion, and that if the government should attempt oppression in that form, or in any other, that the Union men of North Carolina, so far from being found in the back ground, would be in the foremost ranks of the contest, willing to die if need be for the honor and safety of the State…” A few days later, Richard Norment was leading a group of 80 men to Raleigh to volunteer for state service.

Fuller was born in Robeson County in 1834, and was a graduate of Randolph-Macon College in 1856, and two years later earned his license to practice law. During the war, Fuller worked for a time for the Treasury Department. After the war, he moved first to St. Louis, Missouri, and then to New Orleans, where he died in 1868. Sutherland was born in Robeson County in 1815, and spent a large portion of his life as an educator. His estate and personal papers were burnt by Sherman in 1865. Sutherland died in 1881 in Maxton.

Several companies went out of Robeson County. They include Battery E, 3rd North Carolina Artillery; 1st Company D, 12th North Carolina State Troops; Company D, 18th North Carolina Troops; Company G, 24th North Carolina Troops; Company A, 31st North Carolina Troops; Company A, 64th North Carolina Troops; Company B, 50th North Carolina Troops; Companies D, E, and F, 51st North Carolina Troops; Company I, 3rd North Carolina Junior Reserves; and, Company C, 7th Battalion North Carolina Junior Reserves.

Numerous Robeson County fathers, brothers, and sons went off to fight in the war. This left large portions of the county open to local raiders. Probably the most infamous was William Allen. Here is some information that I found on Learn NC’s “North Carolina in the Civil War and Reconstruction”:

The Lowry War

On March 3, 1865, Allen Lowry and his son William were tried in a hastily organized sham court, declared guilty of theft, and executed in Robeson County. While William was almost certainly a member — and perhaps even the leader—of a gang that committed robberies, it is unlikely that the elderly Allen was involved in any raids. What is certain is that the two men’s deaths sparked North Carolina’s famous Lowry War, a seven-year period of raids, robberies, and murders.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, many Lumbee Indians living in Robeson County were conscripted to work on the construction of Fort Fisher. To avoid forced labor and the Confederate Home Guard conscription officers charged with enforcing it, many Lumbee men camped in the woods and swamps near their homes and depended on friends and relatives for subsistence. For a community already facing desperate times, this practice, known as “laying out,” was taxing.

By December 1864, the riches of their more affluent neighbors became too tempting for four of Allen Lowry’s sons and they stole two hogs from wealthy slaveholder James P. Barnes. Several months of local troubles followed this theft. Barnes suspected the Lowrys, and when he attempted to have them captured, he was shot by a gang that included at least two Lowry brothers. In January 1865, the Lowrys killed J. Brantly Harriss, a local man who had murdered three of their cousins. They also raided the Robeson County Courthouse, stealing guns and ammunition which were then used in a series of February raids against the area’s rich planters.

On March 3 the Home Guard searched farms and homes and questioned suspects, eventually finding stolen guns, clothes, and a gold cane-head at the home of Allen Lowry. They promptly arrested Lowry, his wife, five of their twelve children, and a young woman who was visiting them. The suspects were taken to a nearby plantation and the Guard quickly convened their own version of a court of law. During the trial William Lowry attempted an escape with the aid of one of his brothers. He was shot and recaptured, but the escape attempt brought the court to a swift decision and the members voted to execute Allen Lowry and his sons Calvin, Sinclair, and William. Shortly thereafter, Calvin and Sinclair were given a reprieve because no stolen items had been found on their property or persons. That evening, William and Allen were taken back to the Lowry property, bound to a stake, blindfolded, and shot.

One journalist wrote that “[f]rom a thicket near at hand Henry Berry, the son of Allen Lowery, saw the volley fired which laid his brother and father bleeding on the ground. There he swore eternal vengeance against the perpetrators of the act.” Thus, not only did the executions fail to stop the raids, but they served to further exacerbate local tensions and made the Lowrys determined to get revenge upon the prominent persons that had wronged their family and community. After the Civil War ended, Henry made raids a constant part of local life, organizing a small band of men and coordinating their attacks on local plantations. For years these “swamp outlaws” stole from the wealthy, evaded prosecution, and killed law enforcement officers that tried to arrest them. During what came to be called the “Lowry War,” the band carefully directed their actions toward the community’s more affluent citizens. This earned them popularity and Robin Hood-like reputations among the area’s poorer citizens.

The Lowry Band committed its last major act of outlawry on 16 February 1872, raiding Lumberton and escaping with $1000 worth of goods and a safe filled with over $20,000. Shortly thereafter, Henry Berry Lowry disappeared completely and the $12,000 reward for his capture went unclaimed.

The stories surrounding Henry Berry Lowry’s fate range from the plausible to the incredible. Among the claims are that he died of a gun-shot wound; drowned; faked his own death; or was smuggled out of the area in a tool box. At least one report claimed that he fled to South America; another said that he escaped to the northwest and led the Modoc Indians in their 1872-1873 war against the federal government in Oregon. Still others claimed that he never left the area. As late as 1937 Lowry’s great-nephew, Dr. Earl C. Lowry, claimed that his uncle was still alive.

Although his ultimate fate is unknown, the legend of Henry Berry Lowry and his band of outlaws has never died. They became folk heroes, with one journalist in 1872 calling them “the Rob Roys and Robin Hoods” of Robeson County. Lowry’s influence continues today: the Lumbee community’s highest honor is named for him, several novels and plays have been written about his exploits, and since 1976 a musical drama entitled Strike at the Wind! has been performed in Robeson County every summer.

Some of General Sherman’s men visited the area on March 9, 1865, with orders to burn all bridges and railroad property in Lumberton.

After the war, there was a United Confederate Veterans camp in Robeson County – the R. F. Hoke Camp 1241, with T. F. Toon and J. H. Morrison as commander and adjutant. In 1907, the county erected a monument to local Confederate soldiers on the courthouse grounds.


Anonymous said...

Co. A, 46th NC was also formed from Robeson Co. These men participated in many hard fought battles in Lee's ANV.

~love my heritage said...

It is said that J. Brantly Harriss raped a number of Native Amerrican Indian women of Robeson County. Apparently there were relationships as well because there are still blue-eyed, blonde hair individuals with the last name Harris.

The Lowry family were a well respected family of Robeson County. They came from good stock! They were granted land from the King of England, fought in the Revolutionary War to help gain our country's freedom, owned land and were very talented carpenters!
Strike at the Wind is a phenomenal stage play that depicts the lives of the Lumbee Indians and the Lowry gang of the past.
There is a lot of rich heritage in Robeson County and the name Lowry/Lowery/Lowrie still lives on today.
It is said that Henry Berry Lowry is still a well respected individual in Maxton, NC because he stole from the rich to feed families of Maxton, NC. Some would see it as wrong and some right.