yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
History of Henderson Co.

From Auburn Powers, History of Henderson County, Tennessee, 1930. Reproduced with permission for personal use only. No further reproduction can be made without written consent of Andy E. Powers and Sherode B. Powers.


Chapter V

The first slaves were brought into Henderson County by Joseph Reed in 1818, when he made the first settlement. The assessor's report of 1836 shows the County having 858 slaves valued at $525,000.00, making the average valuation of each slave about $600.00. Some brought much more than that. The largest and strongest negro men brought the best price providing they were young men.

Slaves were bought and sold much the same as ordinary property. In fact, they were ordinary property, and had no say in where they wished to live or what they wished to do. The owner would usually auction his slaves off to the highest bidder when he wished to sell them. The slaves were often stripped of their clothes down to the waist so that their form and muscles could be seen, and then were placed upon a platform to be sold. The slaves' desires were totally disregarded. He was sold away from his family and loved ones. Black as he was, he had the same feelings and love that we have. Yet in selling them friend was separated from friend; brother from sister; and mother from baby. They were separated from all that was near and dear to them. But they could do nothing.

It was at such an auction in New Orleans, where many Henderson County slaves were carried to be sold, that Abraham Lincoln is claimed to have said that if he ever got a lick at such he would hit it hard.

It was really heart touching to see the mother holding close to her bosom her loving babe from which she was soon to part, perhaps never to lay eyes upon it again. We have below an instance of such.

The first wife of Howard, more commonly known as "Hoad" Lowery was sold from her mother when she was only five years old. Her mother weeping bitterly and clinging to her little one until separated from it by super force, begged God to let her see it once more. Mrs. Lowery was brought to this county and grew to womanhood and married, never knowing what became of her mother. But many years later her mother learned where she was and arranged to come to see her. She came on boat to Saltillo and the remainder of the way in a wagon or cart. It had been fifty one years since the sad separation, but the mother recognized her daughter and thanked God for sparing the both of them that they might see each other again.

Slaves were allowed to marry, but they had no assurance that they would be together long. A man from one farm would usually marry a woman from another. Of course, the man was not permitted to bring his wife with him, unless his master was unusually kind and would buy her. Unless such happened, the slave and his wife were kept separated except when they would pay each other a visit. If they had any children, the children remained the property of their mother's master. You can plainly see that the negro had very little privilege. He could not claim his own children.

Very often a slave would fall into the hands of a good master and would be very grateful to him. Some masters would provide good food and comfortable clothing and lodging for their slaves and grant them privileges. Slaves under such masters fared better than many negroes do today. They had nothing to worry about and were treated kind. They had their parties and dances much as did the white people. What better life could he want?

But all masters were not good masters. Some worked their slaves hard and provided only a scanty living for them. It is said that some even fed them on boiled cotton seed and demanded them to perform heavy duties.

I shall give here an account of an unjust master. However, do not understand me to say that this man was a fair example of the slave owners in the County, for he was worse than the average. Most masters were kind to their slaves, and the slaves were very well satisfied to remain slaves.

This cruel master was named Robert Lowery. He was born in Ireland about 1805. His father sent him to the Medical College of North Carolina to learn the medical profession. He graduated from there but must not have taken up his chosen work. About the age of twenty-five he was foreman on a large plantation in North Carolina where many slaves were worked.. It is said that during the night he loaded provisions and mothers with newly born babies in an ox cart and ran away with them. He and the able bodied negroes, both men and women, walked behind the cart. One old negro did not want to run away and leave his wife. He was tied and led behind the cart. He finally became submissive and promised to behave himself if Dr. Lowery would untie him. But he escaped one night from camp when he went after water, and Lowery never saw him again.

Dr. Lowery came to Henderson County about 1830 or 1835 and settled on a large plantation known as the Lowery Plantation six miles south of Scotts Hill and near the Decatur County line. Here he and his slaves built a house for him and a string of huts for the slaves. He had the slaves clear land and plant crops.

Dr. Lowery was very cruel to his slaves. He worked them hard and fed them poorly. He spent most of his earnings on bad women, and was never married. He lived on the plantation with his slaves; and it is said that many of the Lowery negro children were of his own blood. But he made no discrimination between them. He was cruel to all alike.

Harriett Beecher Stowe could have found ample material on this plantation for another such book as "Uncle Tom's Cabin". King Nero treated the Christians no more cruelly than Dr. Lowery treated his slaves. He would dog, beat, whip, lash, and starve them.

He had two fierce dogs that he would set on the slaves and tear the very flesh from the bones. One day he set these dogs on a slave woman who had started to her hut. No one knowswhy he did so. She saw that she did not have time to reach her door, so she made for a rail fence and crossed it. She did not get far before the dogs caught her. They tore her clothes into shreds and finally stripped her of all she had on. Then there was nothing but her naked flesh for them to rage at. We do not know just how badly they tore her body, but we know the character of the dogs and the ugly work they had done before.

She did not return. Nor did Dr. Lowery seem to care if she had been torn to pieces and eaten alive by those blood thirsty dogs. She preferred to risk hunger and starvation rather than face Lowery and his demons. She wandered through woods and fields and lived upon berries and nuts and green corn until she reached a slave owner by the name of Ferry Hawkins at Saltillo. There she stopped and spent about four months as one of his slaves. She was a miserable wreck naked and half starved when she reached him.

Dr. Lowery learned of her whereabouts and took his dogs and went after her. He was allowed to take her home; but when he was about to set the dogs on her again, Mr. Hawkins raised his gun and threatened to shoot him if he even heard of his dogging her again. Lowery took her home in a decent manner, but not to his liking.

Others would run away in summer and live on such things as did this woman rather than endure the punishment that they had to undergo at Lowery's merciless hands. The sad part of that came in the early winter when they were forced by cold and hunger to return to camp. He would tie them to a large tree with their faces to it and remove the clothing from around their shoulders and back. He usually whipped them with a heavy lash, which would split the skin almost every lick. He would continue this punishment sometimes until the victim would faint from suffering and loss of blood.

After he had finished with his cruel lash, he would rub salt and pepper into the gashes. The tree to which were tied so many of these bleeding forms of living humans, still stands. It is a huge and spreading white oak. (The author has seen it.) It stands near the old camp and the Lowery front yard.

Hoad Lowery, when a very small child, came upon the scene one day when Dr. Lowery had his mother tied to the tree and was whipping her. He watched his mother endure the agony as long as he could stand it. He was small and weak, of course; but his courage was not lacking. He rushed in to his mother's assistance with his fighting blood up. He was ready and willing to take whatever might come if he could relieve his mother. But with one mighty kick, the Doctor sent him whirling through the air. He hit the ground several feet away and was unable to renew the fight in his mother's behalf.

Dr. Lowery had one slave that was larger and stronger than the others. And he could finish his task quicker than the others. One day Dr. Lowery returned and found that this slave, Antney Lowery, was not at work. The Doctor asked him why he was not working Antney informed him that he had finished his task. But the Doctor was not satisfied and took Antney to measure the task. The Doctor, seeing that he was wrong and that the slave was right, become angry and shot Antney in the back of the head. He turned Antney on his back and left him to lie in the scorching sun the remainder of the day. A mock inquest was held after which Antney was buried in the Lowery grave yard.

To mention all of Lowery's unjust treatment would require a volume within itself.

Years later, when Dr. Lowery, himself, was come to experience the Great Beyond, it is said that, in his illusions, he could see Antney before him and that he would say "Antney, Antney, is that you? What are you doing here? I thought I had killed you" and so on. Such a death must have been terrible. He was buried in his own grave yard among his slaves. If there is such a thing as the communion of spirits Dr. Lowery must be reaping his rewards.

Hoad Lowery, one of Dr. Lowery's slaves, is still living. He is a very industrious old darkey and minds his own business. The author was in his home in October of 1929, and found him grating meal from which he still makes his bread occasionally. He lives in Decatur County about six miles southeast of Scotts Hill, with his second wife. He and his wife have reached ripe old age and seem to enjoy life.

  1. What was the average value of a slave in 1836?
  2. Describe a slave auction.
  3. Tell the story of "Hoad" Lowery's first wife.
  4. To whom did slave children belong?
  5. Give a sketch of Robert Lowery's life.
  6. How did he escape to Henderson County with slaves?
  7. Tell the story of the negro woman he set his dogs on.
  8. Tell "Hoad's" experience at the whipping tree when a small boy.
  9. Tell the story of Antney.
  10. Tell of Dr. Lowery's death.

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