Outlawry in Robeson County, North Carolina
The Atlanta Weekly Sun
For the Week Ending 1872-03-27
page 5, columns 3-5
Source: Georgia Historic Newspapers
The extraordinary persistence of the Lowery gang in their bloody work, in Robeson county, North Carolina, demands an outline sketch of their career, for the information of many who have not kept themselves posted in regard to the so-called “Mulatto War” that for several years past has been waged in the swamps and vicinity of Lumber River.
THE SCENE OF THE OUTRAGES referred to is Robeson county, which borders on the State of South Carolina. Lumberton is the County Seat. The present voting population is about three thousand, of which about fifteen hundred are men of mixed breeds, (some, part Indian, and some mulattoes), who were enfranchised since the surrender of the Confederate Armies.
The ancestors of the leaders of this motley crew of mulattoes and mustees were resident there in colonial times, and were never slaves. Prior to 1835 they were entitled to vote. At that time, as was generally the case throughout the South, all free negroes were dis-franchised, owing to the alarm created by the aggressive abolitionism of mischievous agitators at the North.
At the close of the War of Independence many of these motley people were rich in the ownership of numerous slaves. But owing to prodigal living and indulgence in the grosser forms of dissipation, many years ago, they had become comparatively impoverished. Before the late war between the States they had become, in general, so degraded as to be regarded with great disfavor by most of their neighbors.
They reside for the most part near SCUFFLETOWN, on the line-of the Railroad, about half way between Florence, South Carolina, and Newbern, North Carolina. At the former place, it will be remembered, the Confederates had a prison, in which, during the war, many Federal prisoners were confined. Newbern was the scene of active operations on the part of the Federal armies.
This motley crew occupy a region of about ten miles square, much of which is swamp, interspersed with islands of fertile soil, and intersected by numerous bayous, called by the resident population bays. Much of it is thick set forest, impenetrable with safety by strangers save when accompanied by a trusty guide.
HENRY BERRY LOWRY, the chief of the outlaws, is said to be a cross upon the Cherokee and white man, though the negroes of North Carolina, feeling considerable pride in his reputation for courage, claim that he is mulatto. He is a very young man, and is said to have been only eighteen years of age when he commenced his career of bloodthirsty outlawry. The length of time, during which he has been able to baffle every attempt at capture, together with the shrewdness and boldness of his strategy, and the unerring aim of his rifle, stamp, him as a man of no ordinary ability, which, if exerted in the direction of law and good order, would rank him high among his fellows.
During the late civil war many of these free colored people—the Berrys, the Strongs, and the Oxendines, and their associates and neighbors—were impressed to WORK UPON THE CONFEDERATE FORTIFICATIONS, which provoked a spirit of resistance to the authorities, with whose cause they were not in sympathy. Many of them deserted. Federal prisoners, escaped from Florence, were harbored among them. Together, these prisoners and their motley hosts, followed a predatory life, robbing their neighbors, and sometimes extending their excursions far off from home, robbing and murdering defenseless people.
After the close of the war THE FREEDMEN’s BUREAU inaugurated its deviltry in Robeson county; and this motley gang of marauders, though none of them, fes far as has been ascertained, were ever slaves, became its especial pets. Carpet-bag Radicals had use for their votes. To the Freedmen’s Bureau agents and these conscienceless adventurers much censure is due for the aid and comfort given the outlaws, whose hands are so deeply stained in the blood of many innocent victims. By the secret of co-operation of such confederates, whatever occurs or is proposed in Wilmington affecting the outlaws, is known in less than fifteen hours on the islands and in the dense forests of Scuffletown.
On February the 8th, 1872, the Legislature of North Carolina offered a reward of ten thousand dollars for the capture of Henry Berry Lowery, and five thousand each for Stephen Lowery, Boss Strong, Andrew Strong, George Applewhite and Thomas Lowery. Several Republicans, among them the chief black members, voted against these rewards. Two colored members, to their credit be it remembered, voted for and made speeches advocating them. Mills, (colored), proposed increasing them. Mabs, (colored), opposed, and Page, (colored), proposed to give the outlaws thirty days to leave the State.
To such straits have the ba&ed people of the vicinity been driven, that it was suggested, (and we believe the suggestion was in part acted upon), that they might be driven away by operating upon their superstitious fears, by means of charms, so much dreaded by the believers in Fetischism.
In proof that the outlaws are believers in Fetisch, the fact is recalled that on the person of Henderson Oxendine, who was hanged for murder, was found A HUMAN BONE, probably taken from a hand, together with a mixture of herbs. But it seems that the charms proposed did not have the desired effect.
It is supposed that these well-armed outlaws are supplied with ammunition by the country merchants of their vicinity, who, through fear or for the sake of filthy lucre (most probably the latter) traffic with them.
The feud between the Lowery gang and their neighbors, began in 1863, growing out of the relations of the parties during the war. In 1864 the outlaws banded themselves together to rob. Yet after the war, as above stated, the Freed man’s Bureau took them under their esspecial guardianship.
The following is a brief recapitulation of some of the outrages committed by them, for all the details of which we have not the space to spare. These will, no doubt, some day furnish material of a volume which will be read with interest by the admirers of “Dick Turpin” and others of his ilk.
No better proof of the inefficiency of the Federal authorities in Robeson county, and of the direction of their sympathies, is needed, than the simple statement of the fact that of the eighteen or twenty men, who have been killed in cold blood in this war of the Lowerys, (so-called), only two have been Republicans in politics, and these two had been impressed to hunt Henry Berry Lowery.
In December, 1864, a man by the name of Barnes, was murdered by the outlaws, and in February, 1865, Brant Harris was also killed by them. The Freedman’s Bureau agent and the Radicals indicated sympathy for them in these two murders, because they grew out of provocations alleged to have occurred during the war.
Thus emboldened they robbed and murdered Sheriff King January 25th, 1869. The persons said to have been present and participating in this murder were John Dial, Stephen Lowery, Geo. Applewhite, Henderson Oxendine, and Calvin Oxendine, Henry Berry Lowery, and Boss Strong. Steve Lowery and Geo. Applewhite were condemned to be hanged. They, together with a majority of the prisoners, escaped jail before the day set for their execution. It was for this murder that Henderson Oxendine was hanged.
The murderers when they went to Sheriff King’s house were disguised, having their faces blackened.
Owen C. Norment was killed in April, 1871, because he endeavored boldly to arouse the people against the Lowerys on account of their robberies and murders. He was shot in his own yard, into which he had stepped from his house to investigate an unusual noise. The physician sent for to attend him was fired upon while on his way to Norment’s. One of his mules was killed, and the Doctor and his driver forced to take to the woods for safety. On the same night, Archie Graham and Ben. McMillan, neighbors of Norment, were shot. Graham was dangerously wounded. The home of a Mr. Jackson was also fired into and his dog was killed.
Norment’s wound were in his lower extremities. One leg was amputated, he, however, died in a couple of days.
Some time prior to the killing of Norment, the Lowery gang shot and killed a negro belonging to one Joe Thompson, because they believed he was cognizant of their having robbed Thompson.
The Lowerys profess great contempt for coal black negroes.
ZACK M’LAUGHLIN, who is said to have inflicted the mortal wound upon Norment, was a native of Scotland. He and another renegade white man named Biggs were accustomed to consort with the mulatto gang, and spent their low energies in seducing mulatto girls. One evening this couple met at the shanty of a mulatto siren, where, in an altercation no doubt growing out of long standing enmity, Biggs killed McLaughlin, for which he received a reward of $400. McLaughlin was a meaner specimen of mankind than the Lowerys or Strongs.
On the 3d of October, 1870, the Lowery band robbed, the house o£ one Angus Leach, where was stored a considerable amount of brandy distilled from native fruits. In the melee that occurred, (for resistance was made,) old Angus Leach was struck over the head with a gunstock, seriously injuring him. A negro man was tied up and whipped with a wagon-trace and his ears slit with a knife. The liquor they did not destroythey removed out of the reach of revenue officers.
Next night parties, whose fruit had been placed at Leach’s, went in pursuit of the party of robbers, whom they found at George Applewhite’s, (a thick-lipped, deep-browed, woolly-headed African,) and fired upon them, and wounded nearly every man in the party. Boss Strong was shot in the forehead, Henderson Oxendine in the arm, and George Applewhite in the thigh.
Steve O. Davis, a fine, brave youth, rushed ahead of the attacking party as the outlaws fled to the swamp. Henry Berry Lowery turning, took deliberate aim at him, and shot him through the head, killing him instantly.
In addition to these murders, detective Sanders was killed in 1870, and Taylor, Sanderson, the McLains, Archie Brown, Ben Betha and Henry Revels in 1871.
THE MURDER OF SANDERS is a most notable one among the many chargeable to the Scuffletown outlaws. John Saunders was a native of Nova Scotia, and a detective from Boston, who came to Robeson county to try his hand at earning rewards offered for the outlaws. He wired himself among them as a schoolmaster, and the swamps of Scuffletown. To offset the suspicions of the whites, which his extraordinary behavior aroused, it is said that he joined a so-called Ku-KIux band and participated in several alleged outrages. In the middle of December, 1870, he established himself in a bay near Moss Neck, near William McNeill’s. The McNeill’s were good citizens, and had engaged in some conflicts with the outlaws, whose suspicions after a time became aroused. They watched Sanders very closely. Saunders too, became much demoralized by his intimacy with mulatto sirens.
The outlaws having determined to kill Saunders, they subjected him to the most cruel tortures, lasting through three or four days. They fired over his head in derision, bruised him by beating him with their gun stocks or any other handy implements, administered arsenic to him, and opened veins in his arms. Steve Lowery finally killed him. They permitted him to write to his family, and when they buried his body they placed his wife’s daguerreotype upon his breast. That some of these outlaws still live and terrify the people in their vicinity, as the telegraph daily informs us, is a disgrace to Government that claims to protect its people. The encouragement that has been given them, directly and indirectly, by the emissaries of the party in power, should damn it forever in the estimation of all lovers of peace and good order everywhere.
P.S.—Since writing the foregoing we have received the Robesonian of the 21st inst., which says it may be accepted as true, that Henry Barry Lowery is not now with the band; that he is either dead as reported, or has left the country, and that Boss Strong too has disappeared, and has not been seen since he was reported to have shot and killed McQueen.
An item of late news, in the same paper, says there is great excitement in Scuffletown and some great event has evidently happened among the mulattoes. An unusual amount of running, strange stories afloat—some asserting that H. B. Lowery is certainly dead—that he fell by the accidental discharge of his own gun, and others that he had only gone over the swamp to look after Boss Strong.