Posts Tagged ‘outdoor dramas’

A couple of things crossed my desk recently that I wanted to share.  I got word about the upcoming annual homecoming in Pembroke this week for the Lumbee Tribe.  There are a ton of educational and cultural activities, culminating on Saturday, July 7.  Be sure to visit the Museum of the Native American Resource Center at Pembroke, too—they will open at 11:00 on Saturday, after the parade.  The other thing is that last week, while researching for my post on outdoor dramas, I found, sadly, that Strike at the Wind was no longer in production.  The long-running play told the story of North Carolina’s own Robin Hood figure—Henry Berry Lowrie.

Henry Berry Lowrie

Henry Berry Lowrie. Photo believed to have been taken about 1845.

Viewed by some as a hero and by others as a criminal, Lowrie has been a legend ever since he disappeared in the swamps of Robeson County in 1872.  There is a historical marker about him near Pembroke.

During the Civil War the Robeson County Indians (now known as Lumbee) were considered free people of color.  And, as such, were often forced to perform hard labor for the Confederacy. Many Lumbees worked on Fort Fisher or in salt mines.

Henry Berry Lowrie and his brothers, like many young Lumbee men, took to the swamps of eastern North Carolina to escape forced labor.  They began to raid the homes of white Robesonians, taking guns, clothing, and supplies.  Following a violent raid in February 1865, the Confederate Home Guard went to the home of Henry Berry’s father, Allen Lowrie, where they found items from the raid.  Allen’s family was taken into custody and eventually Allen and his son William were executed for the crime.

In March of 1865 Henry Berry and his brothers, some cousins, and a few other men embarked on a seven-year campaign of murder and larceny.  Most of the men who were murdered by the band were in some way involved in the Lowrie executions.  During the height of the “Lowrie War” Henry Berry often appeared in public, and occasionally shared the spoils of his raids.  His Robin Hood-like behavior made him popular among the poor.

 Governor William W. Holden declared Henry Berry Lowrie an outlaw in 1868. A bounty of $10,000 was placed on him in 1871.  Lowrie disappeared in February 1872 and the bounty was never collected.  Whether he was killed or whether he lived for a time after his disappearance we may never know.

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The Lost Colony is produced each summer at the Waterside Theater in Manteo. Image courtesy of The Lost Colony.

Chances are if you grew up in North Carolina or even if you vacationed here as a kid, you probably went to see an outdoor drama or two with your family: sitting in an amphitheater with your parents, and your siblings, and your sunburn, in no particular order of irritation.  Most of our outdoor dramas mix history with musical elements—with the end result a fun-filled summer evening.


A scene from Unto These Hills at the Mountainside Theater in Cherokee. Image courtesy of Unto These Hills.

Did you know that this summertime tradition got its start North Carolina?  The nation’s very first outdoor drama was Paul Green’s The Lost Colony, launched in Manteo in 1937.  Intended as a single season celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first English settlers’ arrival on the continent, it has remained in continuous production with the exception of the World War II years.  As his master’s thesis under Paul Green, Kermit Hunter wrote Unto These Hills about the history and traditions of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  The play, rich in pageantry, was first produced in 1950.  Hunter followed up in 1952 with Horn in the West.  The story of Daniel Boone and other mountain settlers in the 1770s is staged each summer in Boone.


A scene from Pathway to Freedom, courtesy of the Snow Camp Outdoor Theater.

With so many North Carolinians involved with the developing entertainment form, the Institute of Outdoor Drama was established in 1963 as a clearinghouse for information and advice about outdoor drama production.  The Institute, now based at East Carolina University, serves outdoor dramas around the country and assists communities considering their own productions (of which there are generally thirty to forty at any given time).  North Carolina is now home to fifteen outdoor dramas, eleven of which are historical.  Subjects are as varied as the Halifax Resolves, the Underground Railroad, and even an infamous murder.  Take in some history under the stars this summer!

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