Born in Mabel, Chautauqua County, New York, March 6, 1813, Morrow B. Lowry was the son of Morrow and Anna (Barr) Lowry. The family moved to Erie where Morrow’s father and family members purchased thirteen 400-acre lots pursuant to a 1792 settler’s bill passed by the General Assembly. The land entangled with legal problems, the family grew tired of court costs and returned to Chautauqua in 1823 after Lowry’s mother died.
In a dire financial position in 1824, Lowry’s father constructed a flat-bottom boat on Lake Chautauqua, a vessel that served as the family home, and navigated it from Jamestown, New York to Crawford County, where the Lowrys settled at Watson’s Run. His brief two-year education came from the instruction of “an incompetent master of an old log schoolhouse.” After Lowry’s father moved once more to Youngsville, Warren County, Morrow left home for North East, Erie County to work in a cousin’s hardware store through 1828; then in a Buffalo hardware store through 1831. He pursued his own business career at nineteen; borrowed $10,000 on a six-month note; travelled to New York; purchased inventory; shipped it to Conneautville, Crawford County; and set course for a merchandising career that made him one of the wealthiest businessmen in Northwestern Pennsylvania. He speculated in wholesale butter distribution and cattle sales, creating markets throughout Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Lowry paid the borrowed note off within six months to the day he received it.
As a merchant in Crawford, he met an obscure farmer, John Brown (the abolitionist), who ran underground-railroad “depots” in the county, aiding fugitive slaves with transportation to Canada. Lowry followed Brown’s example, responsible for helping hundreds of runaway slaves to freedom. Described as an early Democratic-Abolitionist, Lowry abandoned the party after the Dred Scott decision and Buchanan‘s election as president. A member of the state House in 1841 and 1842, he supported the Erie Canal Extension Bill, wrote a the bill for the Relief of Domestic Creditors, and steered a bill to passage, dissolving the Nicholson court – action prompting the final settlement of encumbered land claims in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
In November 1859, Lowry received permission from Gov. Weiss of Virginia to visit his old acquaintance from Crawford County, John Brown, jailed in Charles Town, Va. (W.Va.) and condemned to hang that December. Surrounded by an army escort, Lowry bid farewell. He attended the 1860 Republican National Convention, casting for Lincoln, and in April 1861, he served as Gov. Curtin and Simon Cameron’s spy in Maryland during the early Confederate Baltimore uprising. He financed the formation of Erie’s 83rd Regt. and mustered in on Aug. 27, 1861, as a private, donating $2,000 to care for wounded and indigent soldiers from the regiment. He mustered out as a corporal by Presidential Order, Nov. 11, 1861, after winning the October state Senate election. Throughout the war, he contributed considerable money to the cause of emancipation and support of the Soldiers and Orphans Home bill.
Lowry was the moral conscience of the state Senate for nine years – an ardent foe of slavery, admirer of Lincoln, and from 1862 to 1870, one of the Commonwealth’s well-known speakers. Senator Morrow B. Lowry suffered a paralytic stroke in his final year of senate service. While he retired to manage his business interests, he also spent time in Kirkbride’s Asylum (Phil) convalescing, until he was committed fulltime. He died there on January 19, 1885; interred in Erie Cemetery.
Philadelphia Inquirer January 20, 1885.