ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Mr. and Mrs. George Ransom
INTERVIEWER: Adolph Dial
DATE: July 26, 1969
I: This is Adolph Dial, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Ransom on July
26th, 1969. Mr. Ransom is the nephew of Henry Berry Lowry. Mr. Ransom,
what is your age?
R: It is eighty-four.
I: What is your mother's name?
R: Sarah Jane Ransom.
I: And your grandmother's name?
R: Polly Lowry.
I: Miss Polly Lowry was the daughter of Henry Lowry, is that correct?
R: No. She was the wife of Henry Berry Lowry.
I: Your mother is the sister of Henry Berry Lowry. Is that correct?
R: Yes, Sir.
I: What is your mother's name again?
R: Sarah Jane. She had a nickname of "Pert."
I: I'm sure, Mr. Ransom, that over the years you have often heard your
mother say something about Henry Berry, the gang, and so forth. First
of all, let us go back to why Henry Berry began his reign. Will you
tell us the story of the batteries, in your own words?
R: He went to the woods to keep from going to work to build Batteries. He
stayed in the woods for two weeks. He came home and his mother told
him to wash and clean up because nobody was going to bother him. He
stayed home a few weeks and something must've happened because he went
back to the woods again. He stayed in the woods from then on.
I: Henry Berry Lowry was interested in fighting as a soldier but not in-
terested in building batteries.
R: No sir. He said that if they gave him a gun he'd be willing to fight,
but he wasn't willing to go down there and build batteries.
I: Did this lead to the murder of Henry Berry Lowry's brother and father?
R: No, that didn't. What led to that was that they accused Uncle William
of stealing something, and they came down, carried him out and killed
I: What relation was Uncle William to Henry Berry?
R: He was his brother.
I: Was Henry Berry's father Allen Lowry?
R: That's right.
I: You believe that Mr. William Lowry had not stolen any goods. What do
you think actually happened there?
R: He didn't steal anything. He was a carpenter and he had been down at
Wilmington building houses. He bought some things down there and brought
them home, and they claimed that he stole it.
I: Do you think they had a particular reason for accusing him of stealing?
R: Yes. Old Bob MacIenzie was trying to do everything that he could to him.
He wanted to buy the place and they wouldn't sell it. He was working
to get them any way he could.
I: Did Bob Mackenzie live near hhe Lwwrys?
R: No. The Mackenzie place is over there. That's where he stayed.
I: They didn't want to sell their farm? They wanted to keep it?
R: That's right. They wouldn't sell to him and he got mad at them about
that and everything that happened. That's why he accused them of doing
I: What accident led to the murder of William and his dad, Allen? Do you
want to tell us about that?
R: Grandmother and Uncle George laid hold of him, put him in the smokehouse,
locked him up and went back into the house. They got Granddaddy and
William, and took them with him. Uncle William had a little knife and
he slipped it out, he cut the rope and .They
took him down to the swamp and killed him.
I: I heave heard that Allen Lowry and his son William were made to dig
their own graves. Have you ever heard that story?
R: No, sir. I never heard that and my mother never said anything about
I: No one would really know. They just know that they were killed. They
wouldn't know if they were made to dig their own graves, would they?
R: No, sir. Of course Uncle William was not able to dig the grave after he
I: I was speaking of the story that they were made to dig their own graves
and then they shot them in their graves.
R: No, they shot them before they put them in their graves.
I: You think that behind all of this was the battery thing and Mackenzie
wanting to get the family for not wanting to fight.
R: Yes. Hebvriinht them to the smokehouse, locked them up, he figured that
Uncle Henry Berry would come there and they'd get to capture or kill
I: Who did they lock up in the smokehouse?
R: My mother, my grandmother, my aunt, my Uncle James, and one or two
more. I don't know their names.
I: Your mother was with the gang that was locked up in the smokehouse?
R: Yes, she was locked up in the smokehouse?
I: Do you recall her telling the story of being locked up in the smokehouse?
R: Yes, sir, many a time I've heard her tell it.
I: What did she say?
R: They locked them up in the smokehouse and kept them in there for two
days and nights.
I: That was a long time.
R: Yes. When Uncle William cut the rope and ran, they shot him. Then they
brought him back there and he was trying to tell Grandma something or
other, and they said, "Hold your head there." He was telling her some-
thing about where Henry Berry was and where there was money buried.
But they wouldn't let him tell the story, wouldn't let him tell Grandma
what he wanted to tell her.
I: After the death of Allen and William Lowry, Henry Berry began his reign
of terror there for about ten years--1864 to 1874. During the time that
the Lowry gang reigned, what is your idea on the respect for the Lowry
gang over the years? What did most people seem to think of the Lowry
gang, what with Henry being a respectable gentleman?
R: My mother said he always respected everybody. They made a plea with
him and he never attacked any womenfolk.
I: Yes, I've always heard that he was a respectable gentlemen to all women,
regardless of race.
I: It appears that he didn't interfere with anyone unless they were after
him, so to speak.
R: That's right. If they interfered with his business, he took care of them.
I: Yes, that seemed to be the story. Oftentimes you had to have some
ammunition and so forth. I suppose he had to find ways of getting this,
did he not?
R: Yes. He had friends that furnished it to him.
I: I have been told by some that even men among the white race would aid
him. Do you know of any story that might be of interest along this
R: Yes, McNair was the one that ordered the rifle he had.
I: Do you recall his first name?
R: I believe his name was John F. McNair.
I: We'll check on that first name but at least it shows that he was aided
by some members of the white race. In other words, some had a certain
amount of sympathy for his cause, I suppose as a result of the death
of his brother and his father.
R: Yes. Dr. Prince was one of his main people.
I: Where did Dr. Price live?
R: I don't know where he lived. But he was his main man to pass notes by.
I: Do you recall Dr. Price's first name?
R: No sir, I don't.-
I: I see.i So he would use Dr. Price for sending messages?
R: That's right.
I: I suppose your mother has related this story to you.
R: Yes, she did. I're heard her tell it time after time. Dr. Price was
his right hand man.
I: Will you tell me something about the night Henry Berry Lowry married?
R: They were having the wedding and the law came in, arrested him, and
took him to Wilmington. They put him in jail, kept him there a while
and he got out of there. He said the jailer carried him his supper
one night, he left the cell door unlocked. He come out of there, got
a blanket, tore it up, and made a rope. He tied it around a musket and
there was a hole in the chimney where someone else had gotten out of
jail and he went down to the ground on that rope.
I: I have read stories about Henry Berry's wife, Rhoda, aiding him at
least one time in escaping from mail. Did you ever hear your mother
speak of this?
R: No sir, I never did.
I: Mr. Ransom,will you tell us some of the stories that your mother told
during her lifetime?
R: She told a lot of stories about the same thing all the time. She said
that when he got out of jail at night, he went to the window, stood
there and looked at them dance awhile. He fooled around there, got
hold of an old light, went to a stump and chopped the chain in two.
He pulled it up, tied it around his waist and said he was coming to
Lumberton when day broke the next morning.
I: After he was jailed at Wilmington, was he ever jailed again?
R: Not that I know of. No, he was never captured any more.
I: His wife was put in jail once, was she not? Will you tell us about
R: Yes, they came out there, captured his wife and put her in jail. Along
the way, she got in contact with him.
I: Was she taken to Lumberton?
R: She was taken to Lumberton. She was put in jail there and they kept
her in there. He wrote a note and sent it over there, telling them,
if he'd give them so long to get his wife back home, or he'd tear up
I: I believe he said he would destroy Lumberton and put in blood and ashes,
something along that line.
R: That's right. He said he would put it in blood and ashes, yes. The
women of Lumberton got rough about it and they got out on the streets
and got them to turn the woman out and let her go home.
I: In other words, when Henry Berry told them that if they didn't release
his wife, Rhoda, that he would destroy Lumberton, the citizens of Lumberton
became concerned and they decided they wanted to get her out of the jail?
I: That's right.
R: They wanted her to get away from there because they knew he'd do what
he said he'd do.
I: Yes, they say that he often lived up to his reputation and what he said
he would do, he would do. Mr. Ransom, where were you living during your
R: I was born on the Henry Gardner place.
I: The present Henry Gardner place there out from Pembroke on the Union
R: Yes sir. That's where I was born. My daddy left there and went to
Mawbry County. He got killed up there in Mawbry. My mother came back
and went down along Ashgrove. I was raised down on Ashgrove. Then she
stayed with her sister, Marianne, for a year and went out and got a
house for herself. She raised three children down there on Ashgrove.
I: Ashgrove Swamp. Do you remember when you lived on the Henry Gardner
place near Pembroke?
R: No sir, I don't remember.
I: That's Henry Garbman's place about two miles from Pembroke on the Union
R: That's right.
I: But you only know you were born there.
R: That's right.
I: Do you recall hearing your mother say where she was born?
R: She was born over there at the old original Lowry place. She was born
and raised there 'til she got married. After she got married, she came
over here with my daddy to...
I: The Henry Garbman place.
R: Yes. He built a house there and they stayed in their own house. Uncle
William was out here on this road where he stayed, where he died. That
was his place. But he gave it all to Daddy.
I: Over the years, has your mother related to you and to the other children
various stories about Henry Berry? Do you find that her stories were
always the same? They didn't seem to be conflicting stories, is that
R: That's right.
I: Now coming up to what happened to Henry Berry Lowry, we have one story
that he died as a result of an accident while cleaning his gun and that
he was buried in a stream where it would keep the grave always covered.
Others say that he went away with Captain Gorman. What did your mother
seem to think about what happened to Henry Berry Lowry during about
R: You couldn't make her believe that he was killed. She just wouldn't
I: She never did believe that he was killed?
R: No sir, she said he was not killed.
I: What did she believe happened to him?
R: She believed he ran away with Jimmy Gorman.
I: What was Gorman's job down here?
R: He came down here to capture and carry him back to where he was.
I: For some reason he must have become his buddy or something.
R: He did. When he got off of the train he never stopped 'til he got to
my grandmother's. My mother said that he wanted to know where he was
and she told him that she didn't know, that she hardly ever seen him.
He said, "I want to see him. I didn't come here to kill him 'cause I'm
his friend. I came to carry him away from here." So he left in three
days. He and Gorman went down there to Cumberland Flats. He was in
there every day while Gorman was here.
I: This could very well be true because this was during Reconstruction
time and the Republicans were in full power. Since the Indian people
were a minority and the white people wanted to get Henry Berry and
collect that ten thousand dollar reward for his body, dead or alive it
could very well be true that Captain Gorman had orders to come in here
and help him escape. He could very well have escaped. There's a
story that is often told that he returned at least once and attended a
man's funeral. Did you ever hear that story?
R: No sir, he surely didn't attend it.
1: You don't think he ever returned after he left?
R: No sir, he's never returned. If he did, he never did get in contact with
I: It seems that if he had returned, he surely would have contacted his
R: That's right.
I: Your mother was Henry Berry's sister, right?
R: Right. She was his older sister.
I: How old was your mother at the time that Henry Berry Lowry began his
reign? Do you know about the time she was born? Do you have her birth-
date? (Mrs. George Ransom has brought out an old Bible, According to
the family record of births, Mrs. Sally Ransom was born in 1842) Mrs,
Sally Ransom was your mother, is this correct?
R: Yes sir.
I: She was an adult at the time of Henry Berry Lowry's reign during 1864.
She would've been twenty-two years old.
R: Yes. She told me that when she was a young girl, the men would come
there hunting Henry Berry and would try to question her about him, try
to make her tell where he was.
I: She recalls people looking for Henry, coming by and questioning her. I
guess the only thing she knew to tell them was that she knew nothing.
R: That's right.
I: Those people were good in keeping secrets back in that day, were they
R: Yes. If she had known where he was, she wouldn't have told them. She'd
have died before she told them.
I: Had you ever thought, Mr. Ransom, that she could have known where he was
and never did tell her son?
R: No, if she had known where he was, she would have told me.
I: I know you could have kept that secret too.
I: Mr. Ransom, will you tell me something about your mother's early home
and home life when she first got married?
R: She said that they lived under a pine-straw shelter until they were able
to build a house. She said they made their forks out of reeds to eat
I: That's rather interesting. You didn't hear her say how long she lived
under this pine-straw shelter, did you?
R: They lived there until they were able to build a house.
I: Do you recall hearing your mother tell about the Yankees coming through?
Any interesting stories along that line or during the Civil War?
R: Nothing on that. She heard the Yankees were coming through but they
didn't hit'right through there. Old Bob Makenzie sent his horses to
Grandmother's to hide them, to keep the Yankees from getting 'em. When
he came over with them, she went out and told him to take them right
I: He wanted tQo h ehis_ horses in with the Indians so the Yanks wouldn't
R: That's right.
I: Isn't it true that when the Yanks came through they were rather friendly
to the Indians but they gave the white race a hard way to go?
R: Yes, they were friends to the Indians. They'd help them out all they
could. But they'd burn up everything that the white folks had anything
to do with.
I: I can see why Bob Makenzie wanted to hide his horses in some Indian
homes. They would think they belonged to the Indians and...
R: He wanted to take them there and say they was her:rif the Yankees happened
to come there. She told him to take them and carry them back. So he had
to take them and go back with them.
I: I see. Mr. Ransom, would you give me the name of Henry Berry Lowry's
brothers? Did he have any brothers?
R: Yes, .......... Patrick, William, Steve, Thomas and Henry Berry.
I: Not all the Lowry boys went with the gang, did they? Just Steve and Tom
and Henry Berry?
R: That's right.
I: Why didn't the others go?
R: I don't know. They settled off. Uncle Patrick was settled over here
when Uncle Henry Berry went to the woods.
I: Mr. Patrick was a minister, wasn't he?
R: Yes, sir. He was a minister.
I: What were the girls names?
R: One of the girls was named Mary Anne.
I: Did she marry?
R: She married William Locklar.
I: What set of Locklars is.-that?
R: I don't know anything about his brothers, but he moved and settled on
I: What about some more of the girls?
R: Aunt Rhodie and one of the girls named Puss.
I: Do you recall her real name?
R: I never heard anything but Puss.
I: Puss Lowry?
I: That was the one Polly Lowry?
R: No sir.
I: I see. Is that all you know of?
I: What about Henry Berry Lowry's children? Do you recall their names?
R: No sir, I don't.
I: Mr. Ransom, is it true that oftentimes the Indian people--the friends
of Henry Berry Lowry--would letihim sleep in their barn and so forth,
during his reign?
R: Yes, sir. Hugh J. Mitchell said he could come here to try to make him
go hunting. He wouldn't go, and the boys were down in the gin house
I: Hugh J. Mitchell was a white fellow. The white people would help to
hide him out, too?
R: Yes, they protected him all he could.
I: It appears that Henry was liked not only by the Indian people but by
quite a few of the white people also.
R: Yes, he had plenty of friends with the white folks.
I: How do you account for this?
R: I don't know if being afraid of him caused them to be a friend to him
I: At least they were friends to him.
R: They were friends to him. They'd help him out.
I: This is Mrs. Bessie Ransom, the wife of Mr. George Ransom. When did
you marry, Mrs. Ransom?
W: December 16th, 1934.
I: I know that you've done quite a bit of work with the people in this
area, helping them prove their date of birth, getting on social security,
and so on. You told me awhile ago about one source down on Burnt Swamp
that you use. Will you tell us about that?
W: School records, registers that were taught by Lowry, Johnny Lowry, and
maybe Lowrie and ....
I: Who has these records?
W: John Wess Oxendine.
I: John Wess Oxendine on Burnt Swamp?
W: Yes, Union Chapel.
I: Do you recall how far they go back in...?
W: They go back to 1890--at least 1898.
I: Did you attend the old normal school?
W: Yes, I did.
I: Who was your teacher?
W: W.R. Moore and O.R. Samson.
I: Mr. Anderson Locklear?
W: I believe he was at the elementary school, right down below the old
I: We have a building now for each one of these men--W.R. Moore, O.R.
Samson, and A.N. Locklear.
W: I taught school with A.N. Locklear.
I: You did? He was quite a man. I understand ha had an audience with
the President of the United States at one time.
W: I didn't know about that.
I: He once visited the President in Washington. What did you do after
your education at New Hopes, and the old normal? Where did you go
W: After they moved to Pembroke, I went there. Then I went up in
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and took a business course there at the
School of Commerce. Then I came to Washington D.C., in the spring of
1919 and worked at the War Risk Insurance Compensation Division of the
I: Now there were several of you children. How many?
R: There were eight.
I: How many of the eight taught school?
R: Of the eight, I believe seven taught.
I: Did Mr, William teach also?
I: What did it take to be a teacher during the early days?
W: We took an examination at the county superintendent's office for a
secondary certificate and then later on we could take another exam-
ination and get what we called a first grade certificate. I began
to do summer school work and after I'd finished the course of studies
offered at the state normal, I did my other work in summer school ex-.-
tension courses and got credit at the four year college.
I: You are now a retired teacher, I believe.
W: Yes, I retired in 1956.
I: What's your birthdate?
W:1 April 11, 1896.
I: What was your mother's name?
W: Eliza Jane.
I: She was my great-aunt is that correct?
W: That's right.
I: As a matter of fact, we're first cousins.
W: Your grandmother's sister, that's right.
I: That makes us first cousins, is that correct?
W: No, your mother and I are first cousins.
I: I suppose we're second cousins.
W: Yes, second cousins.
I: Do you recall your mother telling any interesting stories about the
great earthquake in Charleston, South Carolina? Of course, it had
some effect here too. Oftentimes people relate their birthdate to the
shake. Have you found, in working with many of the people on their
birthdate and social security, that they use the shake?
W: Yes, I have. My husband always refers to his being born a year before
I: He said a while ago he was born in 1885. That was the year that the
normal school was established and also it was one year before the
shake in 1886. I find that many people say, I was four years old
or born after the shake or before the shake" quite a bit of this.
R: Some were born the night of the shake.
I: Do you know of anyone born the night of the shake, Mr. Ransom?
R: No, I don't.
I: I have heard that very story too. It was quite an interesting time.
Some of the people thought the judgement was here, I understand.
R: My mother said they were praying and hollering.
I: I understand there were quite a few that converted back then.
R: Yes, they got good then.
I: Do you recall any shake stories?
W: No, I don't remember it.
I: I know you don't remember the shake, but do you recall your mother...
W: I remember hearing my parents talk about it but I don't recall now.
I: I see. That date was August 30th, 1886, I believe.
I: Mr. Ransom, I want to thank you and Mrs. Ransom for your cooperation
in this interview.