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Henry Berry Lowry

By Jefferson Currie
Reprinted with permission from the Tar Heel Junior Historian, Spring 2000.
Tar Heel Junior Historian Association, NC Museum of History

See also:  Henry Berry Lowry, By William Mckee Evans, in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 1991.


On a hot June day in 1999, a young Lumbee Indian man, Randall Oxendine, stood on the banks of the old millpond at Bear Swamp and yelled, “I’m gonna get you, Henry Berry!”  Gabrial Cummings looked at him and asked what Randall would do if Henry Berry came floating down that swamp in his flat-bottomed boat with his rifle across his knee. Randall, Gabrial, and I all laughed nervously, wondering if or when Henry Berry Lowry would come paddling down that swamp. We all looked to see if he was there...

This is an image of a portrait believed to be of Henry Lowry, although some, including some of Lowry's descendants believe this to be of another person. This image comes from the State Archives of North Carolina.Henry Berry Lowry was the legend of Robeson County even before he vanished in February 1872. He disappeared after he stole the safes from Pope and McLeod’s store and from the sheriff’s office in Lumberton. He broke open the sheriff’s safe and left it lying in the middle of a Lumberton street. In all, he stole $28,000. Three days later he vanished. The New York Herald published reports that Henry Berry Lowry had accidentally killed himself. An elderly Lumbee man, John Godwin, said that Henry Berry Lowry “had been trying to shoot the load off his gun for a long time. The load went right up through here, my mother said, and blowed the top of his head off.” This and other local legends were recorded by Lumbee historian and teacher Adolph Dial in the 1960s and 1970s. The many legends differ in their account of Lowry’s disappearance. A ninety-six-year-old Lumbee man, Mabe Sampson, believed that Henry Berry Lowry escaped from the militia and the United States troops who were trying to track him down. Mr. Sampson said that “Henry Berry left here and was sent off by a white man, loaded right here at Moss Neck. He never was killed.”

Henry Berry Lowry was one of twelve children in the family of Allen and Mary Lowry. The Lowrys struggled, as did other Indians in Robeson County, through the hard times that the Civil War brought them. During the war, the Confederacy forced Lumbees to work on building the earthen Fort Fisher near Wilmington. At home, the Home Guard accused Indians of harboring escaped Union prisoners and Confederate deserters, hiding guns, and stealing meat from smokehouses. The Home Guard supported the Confederacy and maintained law and order at home while the war was being fought. Indian men had to resort to “lying out”—or hiding—in the swamps to avoid being harassed and rounded up by the Home Guard. 

Henry Berry Lowry had had enough of being controlled and pushed around by the local Home Guard authority, so he struck back. He killed James P. Barnes on December 21, 1864, and James Brantley “Brant” Harris on January 15, 1865. The Lowry family had had ongoing disputes with both men. The Home Guard avenged the deaths of James Barnes and Brant Harris by accusing Henry Berry Lowry’s father, Allen, and brother William of various crimes. The Home Guard called an illegal court. They tried, convicted, and executed Allen and William in one day, March 3, 1865. Eighteen-year-old Henry Berry Lowry reportedly watched the executions from behind some bushes. He swore to take revenge for their deaths. 

Henry Berry Lowry was a wanted man. He lay out in the swamps but was arrested (with no warrant) for murder by the Home Guard on December 7, 1865, at his wedding to Rhoda Strong. Mary Norment, author of The Lowrie History, says that after his arrest “he filed his way out of the grated iron window bars, escaped to the woods with handcuffs on, and made his way back to his wife in Scuffletown [Pembroke].”

Henry Berry Lowry had gathered around him other Indian men who had tired of taking the mistreatment of whites. Along with this group, two African Americans and one white “buckskin” Scot joined what became known as the Lowry band. The band robbed rich white landowners, and Henry Berry Lowry became the “Robin Hood” of Robeson County. The governor outlawed Henry Berry Lowry and the band in 1869, offering large rewards for them, dead or alive. The band responded with violence. In one ten-month stretch, ten Police Guard and Lowry band members died. 

In 1871 Francis Marion Wishart became colonel of the Police Guard manhunt and had the wives of the Lowry band held hostage in prison. Henry Berry Lowry and other band members sent Wishart a letter demanding the release of their wives, or “the bloodiest times will be here than ever was before—the life of every man will be in jeopardy.” The wives were released, and Colonel Wishart and the government began to work out an end to the conflict. The killing soon stopped, and in February 1872 Henry Berry Lowry vanished. Colonel Wishart called the reports of his death “ALL A HOAX.” No one ever collected the $12,000 reward for his life.

Many years after he vanished, Henry Berry Lowry reportedly was seen in a church at a funeral for someone he knew. No one talked to him, and he talked to no one, but Robeson County resident Charlie McBryde says that “They said had you looked at his eyes good, you would have known it was Henry Berry.” Today, reminders of Henry Berry Lowry are all around the area, with a road named after him and a play portraying his life. Henry Berry Lowry has lived on in the minds and hearts of the Lumbee.

Related entry: Lowry War

Jefferson Currie is Lumbee. At the time of this article’s publication, he was an assistant curator at the North Carolina Museum of History who worked on the Henry Berry Lowry portion of the exhibit North Carolina Legends


Thank you for sharing the article about the history of HBL. I am researching my 2nd great granddaddy Arthur James Jackson and his family when I came across HBL. The article shared they were friends as my ancestors were hunted at the Maple Swamp east of Dillion, SC after they became outlaws for the “good people “ killing his father and uncle by pulling them behind horses to teach Arthur a lesson for refusing to continue to fight after the war between states in VA. He and group were called deserters and a bounty placed on them. I wondered if you had run across a connection as they surely have similar feelings about the way the fathers and relatives were treated.

My 2nd Great Grandfather was Arthur's Brother John Jackson. I'm doing some research about the Maple Swam Deserters Gang and would love to chat.

That is not Henry Berry Lowrie (correct spelling). It is my great-great-grandfather Quinn Godwin, a white man. My grandfather's uncle John Godwin had this picture in his living room for decades. My second cousin Lonnie Revels borrowed the photo 40+ years ago and put it in a brochure saying it was Henry Berry Lowrie. Please, please, stop saying this is Henry Berry. His ghost will haunt you.

Many inaccurately claim the photo to be Quinn Godwin and that it was borrowed in 1975 to be used in an LRDA brochure as HBL. This is also the same year that Adolf Dial used the photo as HBL in his book "The Only Land I Know".

However, the problem with the "theory" of the photo being Quinn Godwin is that my 2nd great grandfather, Clarence Edward Lowery (the son of Danny Leach Lowery (1886-1972) who was raised by his grandmother Rhoda Strong Lowry) had long published the photo in his book "The Lumbee Indian of North Carolina" in 1960.

This photo that is largely associated with Henry Berry Lowry came from my 4th great grandma Nelia Ann "Polly" Lowery (1871-1962), the daughter of Henry Berry Lowry. She gave it to her grandson and my 2nd great grandfather Clarence Lowery and he used it in his book, which was the first publication to feature the photo. It was this same photo Nelia Ann "Polly" Lowery showed her children and grandchildren as they were coming up and told them it was their grandfather.

This nearly two decades before the photo was said to be supposedly taken to be used in a brochure. So it directly conflicts with the claim that someone took the photo of "Quinn Godwin" in the late 70s and started using it as HBL due to the fact that the photo in question had long been identified as HBL, as well as being already published and readily available nearly two decades earlier.

Dear Dean,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and especially for taking the time to share this information. We have updated the caption included with the image to reflect this potential error and ambiguity.

Thank you!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan

Government & Heritage Library

HBL was a relative on my Father's side of the family.He said that the picture was not HBL and that he visited family in Fayetteville,N.C. long after he was supposed to be dead.Said conversations with my father took place more than 40 years ago.

Enjoyed reading your article but I also have direct descendents that are tied to the lowery gang.

The Henry Berry Lowry we've all come to know by the above photo is in fact not HBL at all. The photo is of my great-great grandfather Quinny (Quinn) Godwin, father of William Henry Godwin, my great grandfather. My late cousin, Lonnie Revels, Jr. 'Borrowed' the photo from his uncle John Godwin to be used in stories, plays since no photo of Henry Berry could be located. Now, you know 'the rest of the story.'

Dear Gail,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this with us.  That is a fascinating anecdote!

I have changed the image caption to read "believed to be Henry Berry Lowrie."  As you know, this image has become ubiquitiously associated with Henry Lowrie.  Your contribution will stay with this entry so that future visitors will be able to see it.

Thank you again and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library



Kelly Agan, I would like to thank you for retaining my explanation of the photo said to be that of Henry Berry Lowie. I can recall seeing, as a child, the photo hanging in the living room of my great-great Uncle John Henry Godwin.; the photo of his father. 2nd cousin, Lonnie Revels, Jr., had no idea where using Quinny Irvin Godwin's photo as HBL would lead. Google QIG to see the photo. Thanks again!

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