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Henry Berry Lowry was born in 1845 in Massachusetts to Allen Lowry, of Scottish descent, and Mary Cumbo, a Native American.
Lowry’s great-grandfather and grandfather were landowners, but over the years the family got involved in a series of lawsuits, which led to the loss of most of their property. According to some sources, this was due to their support for the Whig party, which made them an object of revenge from their Conservative neighbours. However, it is more likely that they were one of the mixed Indian families involved in the financial collapse that happened under Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Under Jackson’s presidency, both a gradual loss of civil rights and a decisive decrease in educational opportunities for members of mixed families occurred.
The position of the Native Americans further worsened during the American Civil War. After the outbreak of the war, the Confederate government forced the local tribes to work to build fortifications around the mouth of the Cape Fear River (North Carolina), where a terrible outbreak of yellow fever was ongoing.
Lowry joined a gang led by his brother William and distinguished himself by murdering a Confederate scout and an officer. In March 1865, his father and brother were captured and executed by the National Guard, and young Henry Berry became the new leader of the gang. With the fall of the Confederacy, everything seemed to have returned to normal. But, during his wedding ceremony, Henry was arrested by former members of the National Guard and charged with the murder of the Confederate scout. Lowry managed, with the help of friends, to escape from Whiteville jail and, as a result, Governor Jonathan Worth outlawed him, offering a reward of three hundred dollars for his capture, dead or alive.
Lowry remained at large for the following three years thanks to the protection of his old gang. With the political victory of the Republicans in 1866-67, his troubles seemed to be over. Lowry agreed in 1868 to surrender and stand trial in a court now purged of Conservative influence. But some of his supporters warned him of a plan by the Tories to lynch him with the consent of the Republican authorities, which would provide him with no protection. The deal failed, and the Republican leaders outlawed him again and eventually raised the bounty on his head to $11,000.
The local militia had no way of containing Lowry’s gang. Governor William Woods Holden had to provide the police with an artillery battery that finally decimated the gang. What happened to Lowry, who disappeared in February 1872, has never been definitively established: no one has located his remains or collected the bounty, nor has it been possible to verify the accounts of his appearances in Atlanta and New York.
Lowry and his followers were active for a decade. They carried out many robberies, with characteristics that may recall the exploits of the legendary English outlaw Robin Hood. The gang treated their victims courteously. If those robbed proved not to have much money, they were let go or only a part of their possessions would be taken. Sometimes the gang would issue a receipt for the stolen property, a ‘pass’ for possible subsequent robberies. In addition, the outlaws used the money they earned to distribute grain to the needy. They were looked upon favourably and protected by the poor, which is why they were never betrayed.