yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


 Zelma O'Neal

From Zelma O'Neal, Memories from Scotts Hill (White printing Co., Henderson, Tennessee, 1984).

Someone had heard-I believe Uncle Dan Murphy-that the father of Dr. Robert Lowery got afraid that slaves were going to be freed in North (South?) Carolina and sent his son west with a part of his slaves. Uncle Dan also had heard that Dr. Lowery simply had stolen the slaves and when his father found out he had gone west he managed to overtake him at Lexington and told him he could keep them if he would settle down here and not go any farther.

Uncle "Hode" Lowery a well-liked and respectable colored man in this community told of how his mother came from South Carolina with Dr. Lowery, as a slave. She had been chained or fastened with with a rope, to the wagon and walked every step of the way.

Dr. Lowery established his plantation near what is now called Presley Community and seems to have prospered in his farming. Mr. R. L. Haney believes he was the largest slave owner in Decatur County at that time. It has always seemed that down near the Tennessee River a large number of slaves would have been most likely since their farming land was richer but no accurate figures are available at present. However, rumors and bedtime stories told and heard are:

One story concerned a slave of Dr. Lowery's, whose wife lived at another place. He would run away occasionally to see her. They would know where to find him and go bring him home. Not too bad, but they would put a yoke on him like an oxen yoke, and make him walk while they rode.

Another concerns a tree not far south of Bethel Graveyard, and near a stream of water. It was a sort of monument to a run-a-way slave that was most likely to have been Dr. Lowery's (but there were others who owned one or two in the Scotts Hill area). It seems Lantie O'Neal told to have been a Safassras Tree and what made it easily pointed out for a great many years was that there was a sort of bed of limbs placed across the branches which stayed there a long time before rotting. A slave had run away and reached this place and built his bed. I believe Papa said that bloodhounds finally traced him.

The worst and about the only, horror story to have lasted concerning Lowery's treatment of slaves was killing Antney. He had been a sort of overseer for the workers when Dr. Lowery would assign a task-a certain amount of work for each too. Some told that when Antney would finish his task-he was very large and also very strong-he would go around and "pick on and aggreviate" the slow ones. He had become so overbearing that they claimed Dr. Lowery, himself, was half afraid of him.

So Dr. Lowery watched and one day caught him annoying one of the slower workers and simply shot him. One note says that at first, Antney did not bleed at all but after they carried him into the house, he bled a lot. A vague recollection of someone concerning his death seems to be that Antney lay there in the hot sun all day groaning and "taking on" and died at sundown. Of course, it may be that neither is correct or more likely a part of both is. Was Dr. Lowery notified or did he just happen to go to Henderson (or Lexington?) and came back and called all his slaves together and announced that they were now free. This might have been when Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1863 or again it might have been at the close of the war in 1865 it is too late now to ever find out.

It seems as if giving them their freedom was not enough but he also gave them the plantation. At least no one else is recorded as having tried to claim any of his plantation at the time of his death. It was also said that he trusted one negro cook to the extent of allowing her to look after his money. At his request he was buried in the Negro graveyard called "New Foundland" not too far from a huge White Oak Tree that people today point out as being the "old whipping tree." It was the place he tied his slaves to when he whipped them, they tell. However, hardly any of the descendents who after the early ninteen hundred's sold out and moved to Saltillo, will accuse him of any wrong-doing.

"The Last Of The Lowerys"

Actually, the statement that "no one tried to claim" his property needs this footnote. I was suddently reminded of two well-dressed strangers who came to my Grandfather O'Neal's house around 1915. No matter how busy trying to get crops "laid by" or gathered he was truly an example of "Southern Hospitality." When strangers arrived in the community they were invariably directed to grandpa's to spend the night. These men came in the middle of the week of a long hot spell of weather. I recall how well-dressed they looked with their white starched shirts and expensive suits. Their business was Dr. Lowery's estate. They said they were his legal heirs and the last of the Lowerys and from North Carolina. It seems that for once, strangers didn't get his usual welcome. He may have thought they were crooks as he was a pretty good judge of human nature. Again he may have felt that by rights it belonged more to the Lowery colored people who had tended it all these years rather than to these well-dressed North Carolineans who had never even seen Dr. Lowery.

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