yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


David Donahue

The most widely known Henderson Countian of the twentieth century is Fleetwood Ball, a newspaper correspondent for the Commercial Appeal, editorial assittant for the Lexington Republican, and long-time pastor of First Baptist Church of Lexington. Thanks to Auburn Powers' History of Henderson County, the most widely known (infamous) Henderson Countian of the Nineteenth Century is Dr. Robert Lowery.

Robert Lowery was a physician, slave owner, and plantation owner. He lived about 6 miles south of Scotts Hill near what would now be called the Presley Ridge Community, and his landholdings probably spanned the Henderson County-Decatur County line. He was the largest slave holder in the area. Using information from a single source, Auburn Powers paints a vivid picture of a vengeful slaveowner who could have served as a model for the cruelty exposed by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Robert Lowery is said to have never married but to have had children by his slaves. The most inflamatory story concerns the death of the slave Antney.

The single source for Auburn Powers was Howard "Hoad" Lowery, a former slave who would have been a child in the years before the Civil War. Did Hoad tell a good story? Definitely. Did Hoad tell a true story? Maybe, maybe not.

Did Robert Lowery have children by his female slaves? The wording of the final sentence of his obituary in the Jackson Whig and Tribune could be read to imply that he did (the unnamed nearest relatives who mourned his death). Did he Robert Lowery have few white patients and die a bankrupt? Most of his wealth before the Civil War would have been tied up in his slave, so he may have been bankrupt. However, a bankrupt doctor with no white patients is unlikely to have received an obituary in a Jackson newspaper. Is the story of the death of Antney true? This seems to be a core story that probably is mostly true. However, there is a second version of the story that is much less unfavorable to Robert Lowery. Was Robert Lowery he an cruel taskmaster? This seems unlikely. Robert Lowery's former slaves inherited the plantation after his death and continued to bury in cemetery where Dr. Robert Lowery is buried for another century. Neither seems likely in the case of a cruel slave owner who had no concern for the welfare of his slaves. One source also states that the Lowery descendents who later moved to Saltillo would not say bad about him.

What is the truth about Robert Lowery? As 125 years have passed since his death, it would be difficult or impossible to find out. Listed below are six sources of material about Dr. Robert Lowery for a reader to review.

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