Violence and the racial boundary: fact and fiction in the swamps of Robeson County, 1831-1871.

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Maynor, Malinda. “Violence and the racial boundary: fact and fiction in the swamps of Robeson County, 1831-1871.” Honors Thesis (History and Literature), Harvard College, 1995. Key source


Maynor begins by exploring swamps as a metaphor. Physically, swamps are a combination of land and water (neither one nor the other) dangerous to those unfamiliar with them (for instance, North Carolina Adjutant General John C. Gorman's troops) but shelter and sustenance to the Indians who know them well. Similarly, boundaries in race relations in Robeson County were crossed in the swamps. As swamps were an impediment to Gorman's troops, who were trying to track the Lowry Gang, race relations were impediments to some in Robeson County.

Maynor discusses the way in which races were described in Robeson County in the pre-Civil War Lowry era: “for whatever reason, the Indian community was mislabeled until the 1880's; their race was left unacknowledged, but their skin color was not” (p. 7). She explains the nature of land ownership; slave ownership; and where families of various races lived in Robeson County, particularly according to 1870 census, which was arranged by township. She discusses economic conditions of the various races in Thompson Township, where the Lowry Wars took place. Robeson County during Reconstruction was “politically dominated by a middle class of small planters” (p. 12). Maynor explores the Lowry War and how it was perceived by Whites in the county as well as by Indians and others associated with the Lowry gang. Appealing to the broader historical context of these events, she explains how these perceptions blurred the boundaries between races in the county.

 She views the Nat Turner rebellion and other incidents of slave violence--and the circulation of an anti-slavery pamphlet, “Walker's Appeal” (1829)--as factors in the Constitutional Convention of 1835, which further legislated the position of non-whites in society. After the 1835 Constitution, Robeson County Indians were placed into the category of “free persons of mixed blood” and denied the right to vote and bear arms. Indians considered people with a range of skin colors Indian, and for them, skin color had little to do with cultural identity as Indian. Whites (particularly through the 1835 Constitution) dealt with the threat of Indians' mixed blood by placing them in a subservient category along with Blacks. Maynor provides a perceptive explanation of Whites' views of Indians in this period as “examples of the forbidden crossing of racial boundaries” (p. 37). 

Maynor discusses in detail racial and economic factors in Robeson County during the Henry Berry Lowry period. She mentions a planned slave insurrection that was uncovered and forestalled in 1864 in Robeson County. She provides a perceptive analysis of how this planned rebellion crossed racial and hierarchical boundaries. She gives a vivid, well documented picture of conditions in the Civil War era in Robeson County for Indians and Blacks, again elucidating the theme of racial boundaries and describing political aspects of the period. She discusses the Robesonian libel case of 1871 and the racist remarks against Indians that were involved. 

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104 pages, 53 references