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Letter of A.W. McLean in 1914 – postulating the origin of the Lumbees

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Letter of A. W. McLean, September 7, 1914

Lumberton, N. C, September 7, 1914

The honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs,
Department of the Interior, Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir: I promised Mr. O. M. McPherson, special Indian agent, who recently spent some time in Lumberton investigating the Cherokee Indians of Robeson County, that I would probably send him some further information in connection with these Indians which he might be able to use in making his report.

I have made a very careful study of the history of these Indians for a number of years. In a hearing before the Committee on Indian Affairs of the House of Representatives on Friday, February 14, 1913, I submitted an historical sketch of these Indians, a copy of which I furnished to Mr. McPherson. Supplementing that sketch, I desire to submit the following as bearing upon their contention that they are of Cherokee origin:

My opinion is, from a very exhaustive examination made before and after the hearing above mentioned, that these Indians are not only descendants of Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colony, as contended by Mr. Hamilton McMillan in his statement, a copy of which Mr. McPherson has in his possession, but that they are also mixed with the Cherokee Indians. In the first place, these Indians have contended from time immemorial that they were of Cherokee descent, and they further have had a tradition among them that their ancestors, or some of them, came from “Roanoke and Virginia.” Roanoke and Virginia, of course, originally comprised all of eastern North Carolina, including Roanoke Island, the settlement of Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colony.

In the great war with the Tuscarora in eastern North Carolina Barnwell’s army was made up largely of Indians, and especially Cherokee Indians. The only serious contention made against the claim that they are Cherokees is that the Cherokees live farther west. In view of their tradition that upon their return from eastern North Carolina with Barnwell’s army some of them stopped and settled in Robeson County, there seems to be nothing in this contention. This tradition is borne out by the fact that the great road traveled by Barnwell in his expedition to eastern North Carolina was along the Lowrie Road, which passes immediately through the present settlement of these Indians.

(See Williamson’s History of North Carolina, Vol. I, pp. 194, etc. See also History of the Old Cheraws, by Gregg, pp. 1 to 31. See especially map between pp. 2 and 3, which shows that the Cheraws were located in all that section between the Cape Fear River and the Catawba River. See also on page 7 reference to Lederer’s journey, in which it is stated that he made his journey entering the State of North Carolina somewhere in Robeson County, crossing in a southwestern line, and passing through, Robeson County into South Carolina. His road was along the Great Lowrie Road, which was originally an Indian trail, and which passes directly through the heart of the Indian settlement in Robeson County. See also Hawks’s History of North Carolina.)

As will be noted from the historical sketch given by me at the committee hearing hereinbefore mentioned, John Lowrie signed a treaty on the part of the Cherokee Indians with the United States Government in 1806, This John Lowrie was the ancestor of some of the Lowrie Indians now living in Robeson County. His brother, James Lowrie, was one of the most prominent Indians in the county in the year 1810.

Several of these Indians served in the Revolutionary War. John Brooks was granted a pension by the United States Government for services in the Revolutionary War. (See warrant No. 80030, issued to John Brooks for 160 acres of bounty land for his services in the Revolutionary War. See also Revolutionary War pension file No. 6732, pension order.) In Volume XXII of the North Carolina State Records, pages 56 and 57, it appears that the following Indians of Robeson County received a pension from the Government for service in the Revolutionary War: John Brooks, James Brooks, Berry Hunt, Thomas Jacobs, Michael Revells, Richard Bell, Samuel Bell, Primas Jacobs, Thomas Cummings, and John Hammond, these pensions having been granted under the Federal acts of 1818 and 1832.

In 1871, while Congress was investigating the operations of the Ku-Klux, the Hon. Giles Leach, then a prominent lawyer residing at Lumberton, Robeson County, was summoned to appear before a congressional committee in Washington to testify in regard to the condition of affairs in Robeson County. He was naturally very unfriendly to the Indians, because he admitted in his testimony that he was employed by the State of North Carolina to prosecute some of them. Notwithstanding his prejudice, when asked the question as to what race the Lowries and the other Indians belonged to, he said:

Well, sir, I desire to tell you the truth as near as I can. I think they are a mixture of Spanish and Indian. They have straight black hair and many of the characteristics of the Cherokee Indians in our State.

When asked the question as to what blood there was in the Lowrie family, he said:

I think the father was an Indian. I think the family had about all the characteristics of the Cherokee Indians of our State. The mother was named Cumboe, and I think it very likely that there may have been some white blood an the Cumboe family. The Lowrie family is Indian.

I regard this testimony of the Hon. Giles Leach as very important as bearing upon the fact that these Indians are of Cherokee descent, because, as stated, he was strongly prejudiced against them and evidently gave no testimony favorable to them except where he felt obliged to do so.

It is inconceivable that these Indians should have had a tradition in their families which can be traced for more than a hundred years to the effect that they were of Cherokee origin unless there was some-thing in the statement. It will be noted in the pamphlet published by the Hon, Hamilton McMillan that they always claimed to him that they were of Cherokee origin. The investigation I have made of them for the last 20 or 25 years has elicited the universal tradition and history that their Indian blood was Cherokee. It is entirely possible, of course, that there may have been a mixture of some other Indian blood. In fact, it is generally believed that the Cheraws and a number of other native Indian tribes who originally lived on the border line of North and South Carolina were mixed more or less with the Cherokee Indians.

The fact that such reliable historians as Capt. S. A. Ashe, the author of a history of North Carolina, Hon. Hamilton McMillan, a man now over 80 years of age, who has lived in this section all his life and who has made a special study of these Indians, and the Hon. Giles Leach, who was one of the most noted local historians who ever lived in this section the very fact, I say, that they have all stated that it is their positive opinion from their investigations that these people have Cherokee blood in them is, when coupled with their own universal tradition to that effect, conclusive proof that they have Cherokee blood in their veins. Indeed, it would be practically impossible to prove the family or tribal relation of any people by stronger or more convincing proof.

I enclose statement of Wash Lowrie, a very old Indian, which is practically the same as the others with whom I have talked for the last 25 years.
Yours, truly,
A. W. McLean.

Statement of Wash Lowrie to A. W. McLean

On July 14, 1914, I interviewed Wash Lowrie at his home on the Lowrie Road, about 2 miles north of Pembroke. He stated that he lacked a few months of being 80 years of age. That his father was Daniel Lowrie, who died about 1864, age 73 years, and Daniel Lowrie was a natural son of James Lowrie. This James Lowrie was one of the original Indians in this section and was very well off at the time of his death in 1810. (See his will, recorded in book of wills No. 1, p. 121, office clerk superior court, Robeson County.) The mother of Daniel Lowrie was Sarah Locklear. Other descendants of James Lowrie now living in this section are the following: Luther Dees and John Dees, sons of Silas Lowrie, who was a son of Thomas Lowrie, and Thomas Lowrie was a son of James Lowrie. Sinclair Lowrie and James Lowrie and Pert Ransom are all children of Allen Lowrie, who was a son of the original James Lowrie. This James Lowrie first lived in the upper part of Robeson County, now Hoke County. He afterwards moved to Harpers Ferry, on Lumber River, and maintained first a ferry and afterwards a toll bridge at that point. He laid out and constructed the Lowrie Road. Wash Lowrie says that this James Lowrie was a nephew of Col. John Lowrie, who was one time chief of the Cherokees and who signed a treaty on behalf of the Cherokees to the United States Government. He further states that he knew old John Brooks well, having seen him a number of times before he died. This John Brooks was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. (See application for pension in the records of the War Department at Washington.) Wash Lowrie says that old John Brooks died at the age of about 110 years. His application for pension states that he was about 90 or 96 years old when the pension was granted. Says that he was told by Aaron Revels, then 100 years old, and Daniel Lowrie, his father, then 73 years old, and Joe Chavis, age 90 that these Indians in Robeson County came from Roanoke, in Virginia. That after remaining in Robeson County for some time they went to the mountains with the other Cherokees, but a number returned on account of leaving relatives in Robeson County, where they had mixed with the other tribes and probably with several of the whites.

The United States census of 1790 shows only a few Indian families in Robeson County at the time of taking that census.

Wash Lowrie states further that he has often heard of Hugh Locklear, who served in the War of 1812, and that Nelson Locklear, now living in Robeson County, is a great grandson of this Hugh Locklear, and that Hector Locklear’s wife is a great granddaughter. That he has often heard of Stephen Cumbo, who was a soldier in the War of 1812. That Abbie Cumbo, who married Allen Lowrie, was a daughter of this Stephen Cumbo.

This Wash Lowrie is now in very bad health, having suffered a stroke of paralysis, but his mind and memory seem to be good. He has many of the characteristics of the Indians. An enlarged photograph can be obtained, as he has one hanging in his bedroom.

Office Letter of September 14, 1914, To A. W. McLean

September 14, 1914.

Mr. A. W. McLean,
President Bank of Lumberton, Lumberton, N. C.

Dear Sir: The office has received your letter of September 7, 1914, submitting certain matter relating to the Indians of Robeson County, N. C, and the same has been referred to Special Agent McPherson for consideration in connection with his investigation of the affairs of said Indians, in obedience to Senate resolution 410 and the instructions of this office.

Very respectfully,
E. B. Meritt, Assistant Commissioner.

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Dennis Partridge is the owner of AccessGenealogy, a website continuously published since 1999. It’s crowning achievement is in providing Native American researchers an avenue for research online. With partnerships between it and Fold3, Native American data has finally been provided to the masses electronically. Dennis is a husband and father of three children and presently lives in Columbus, Georgia. He descends from the Greenia family of Swanton and Highgate Vermont known French/Metis/Abenaki settlements which currently house the Missisiquoi-Abenaki Tribe of Vermont, with which many of his Greenia cousins are members. His ancestry descends from some of the earliest and largest fur traders including Pierre Roy, Nicholas Pelletier and Moise Dupuis.

1 Comment


    While working in North Carolina I met a Elder Lumbee (Not sure of name) He told a similar story. He said the Lumbees were at one time a member of the Powatan empire. According to him they had a grand meeting similar to the Viking “althing” once a year. At one of these events the Powatans were discussing what to do about the “Roanoke colonist”. According to this Gentleman most wanted to exterminate them. He said his people, Lumbees, convinced the other tribal leaders to let them live and assimilated the Colonist into their tribe (Croaton?) Again this was a conversation shared over a meal in Wilmington, North Carolina around 2005. He had a Noble presence and I felt that he was genuine. Food for thought. Thanks again for your diligence in seeking truth!


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