The Legend of Henry Berry Lowry

In several pockets across the South, the Civil War didn’t end the day General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but instead smoldered on in terrible local violence. One such place was the Lumbee community of Robeson County in the days of the famous Lowry Band.

Then as now, Lowry (also spelled Lowrie) was a prominent name in among the indigenous Lumbee people. During the Civil War, Allen Lowry led a band of men who hid out in the swamps, eluding conscription into the backbreaking corps of slave laborers who were forced to build earthworks to defend Wilmington and nearby gun emplacements. When the war ended, violence against the Lumbees escalated, and the Lowry Band retaliated, attacking the plantations of their wartime persecutors. Allen Lowry and his oldest son were captured in 1865 and killed. The youngest son, Henry Berry Lowry, inherited the mantle of leadership.

For the next several years, long after the end of the Civil War, the Lowry Band, now led by Henry Berry, was pursued relentlessly. Arrested and imprisoned, Lowry and his band escaped incarceration in Lumberton and Wilmington. Between 1868 and 1872 the state and federal governments tried everything from putting a bounty on Lowry’s head to sending in a federal artillery battalion in an effort to capture Lowry. After an 11-month campaign of unsuccessful pursuit, the federal soldiers gave up. Soon afterward, the Lowry Band emerged from the swamps, raided Lumberton, and made off with a large amount of money. This was the end of the Lowry Band as one by one its members were killed in 1872—except, perhaps, Henry Berry. It’s unknown whether he died, went back into hiding, or left the area altogether. As befits a legend, he seems to have simply disappeared.

Henry Berry Lowry is a source of fierce pride for modern Lumbee people, a symbol of their resistance and resilience. For many years, members of the community performed the outdoor drama Strike at the Wind, which tells the story of the Lowry Band. Funding for the play dried up, but the story lives on in oral and written histories and in the 2001 novel Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphreys.

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