Robert Lowry occupied the office of governor for eight years and was Mississippi’s first governor to remain in office for two consecutive four-year terms.
Lowry was born in the Chesterfield District of South Carolina on 10 March 1829. In the 1840s his family moved to Raleigh, Mississippi, in Smith County. After reading law and being admitted to the state bar in 1859, he established a practice in Brandon. When the Civil War began, he enlisted as a private and rose to the rank of brigadier general. After the war he resumed his practice of law in Brandon and won election as a Democrat to the state legislature in 1865.
In 1881 Lowry won the governorship, defeating Republican Benjamin King by a vote of 77,727 to 52,009. During Lowry’s first administration a bill was introduced to move the state capital from Jackson to Meridian, a rapidly growing railroad town located at the junction of the Southern and Mobile and Ohio Railroads. That effort failed, and the 1890 constitution established Jackson as the permanent state capital.
During Lowry’s first term, Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis visited Jackson at the request of the Mississippi legislature, and Lowry honored them with a formal state dinner at the Governor’s Mansion. Twenty years earlier the State of Mississippi had commissioned Lowry to seek Davis’s release from prison at Fort Monroe, where he had been sent awaiting his trial for treason against the United States. The federal government eventually dropped the charges against the Confederate president. That state dinner was one of Davis’s last public appearances. Also during Governor Lowry’s first administration, Mississippi established the Industrial Institute and College at Columbus, the first state-supported college for women in the United States.
Lowry was a proponent of industrial development and strongly supported the expansion of Mississippi’s railroad system, which grew spectacularly during his eight years in office. During the 1880s the amount of track in Mississippi more than doubled from 1,118 miles to 2,366 miles, and in 1883 more track was laid in Mississippi than in any other state.
After Lowry left office, he moved his permanent residence to Jackson and spent much of his time collaborating with William H. McCardle, the former editor of the Vicksburg Times, on A History of Mississippi and on a textbook for use in the state’s public school system. Lowry briefly reentered politics in 1901, running unsuccessfully for the US Senate. He died in Jackson on 19 January 1910.
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912)
- Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol. 2 (1907)
- David G. Sansing and Carroll Waller, A History of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion (1977)