Elizabeth's father came to Richmond in at the age of 16 and, within twenty years, had built up a prosperous hardware business and owned several slaves. She aided prisoners in escape attempts, passing them information about safe houses and getting a Union sympathizer appointed to the prison staff. Grant fresh flowers from her garden and a copy of the Richmond newspaper.
Her middle initial possibly stood for Louise, like her mother. Her father was a prosperous hardware merchant until his death in She attended a local academy before being sent to Philadelphia to complete her education. The family lived in a mansion in Richmond's elegant Church Hill neighborhood, attended historic Saint John's Episcopal Church, and made every effort to assimilate fully into southern society, acquiring as many as twenty-one enslaved laborers by At the same time, Van Lew and her mother privately lamented the evils of slavery and hoped that through individual acts of manumission they could contribute to the gradual erosion of slavery.
They supported African colonization, the controversial movement to deport blacks to Liberia. Van Lew secretly freed some of her slaves or allowed them to live as if free, but her family had de jure ownership of at least a half dozen people well into the Civil War.
By the eve of the Civil War, she had concluded that slavery had made Southern whites anti-democratic, coercive, and arrogant. She embraced abolition after secession dashed her hope that the white South might reform itself. Van Lew chose to stay in Richmond during the war, even though she could have easily gone to relatives in the North.
She believed that she had a responsibility to her fellow Virginians, particularly African Americans in her orbit.
Van Lew did not see herself as someone who betrayed the South; rather she believed that secessionists and Confederates were the traitors to Virginia's heritage of political moderation.
During the first two years of the war, Van Lew aided Union officers in nearby Libby Prison, helping them to survive and to escape by claiming that her ministrations to the soldiers were acts of charity in keeping with the female imperative of benevolence. She relied on her family's wealth to bribe Confederate prison guards and officials, as well as her family's social standing, which she parlayed into numerous favors from influential Confederates, including the provost marshal.
After Jefferson Davis imposed martial law on Richmond on 1 March —a measure that led to the arrests of dozens of suspected Unionists—Van Lew could no longer visit Union prisoners. The Richmond Underground Under Van Lew's leadership, the clandestine interracial spy network, referred to as the Richmond underground, managed to evade scrutiny and step up its efforts on behalf of Union prisoners, as well as to help civilians flee the Confederacy and find refuge in the North.
Richmond Unionists worked with Van Lew to provide escapees with safe houses, with passes and disguises, and with guides and contacts to take them to Union lines.
Her family mansion proved a safe way station for fugitives on the perilous journey beyond Confederate lines.
|Appomattox - Elizabeth R Varon - Bok () | Bokus||Recensioner i media Civil War History An accomplished and engaging biography of a remarkably resourceful and determined woman, whose story shed considerable light on the role of southern Unionism in undermining the Confederate war effort, military and otherwise, and on the women who embodied and actively sustained that cause.|
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Rumors began circulating after Van Lew's death that during the war she had planted an African American servant named Mary Bowser as a spy in the Confederate White House. Mary Bowser was an alias for Mary Jane Richards, whom the Van Lews had sent north to be educated, then to Liberia, before having her brought back to Richmond on the eve of the war.
Richards used a series of aliases to avoid detection by the authorities. The most revealing piece of evidence on Richards's wartime exploits is a newspaper article covering a speech she gave in September at New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Published in the New York Anglo-African under the title "Richmonia Richards," the article credits Richards with having gone "into President Davis's house while he was absent, seeking for washing," and making her way into a "private office" where she "opened the drawers of a cabinet and scrutinized the papers.
Butler enlisted her and her fellow Unionists into Federal service. The Van Lew mansion became the nerve-center of the Richmond underground network, reaching beyond the city and into the neighboring counties.
Best described as a spy-master, Van Lew oversaw and deployed a devoted group of operatives who practiced a primitive but effective spy tradecraft, using code names and invisible ink and carrying messages hidden in their shoes and clothing.The true story of Mary Bowser, a former slave-turned-spy who delivered key intelligence secrets during the Civil War, now in paperback.
Readers uncover secrets using codes hidden in the book and spycraft materials included. In Southern Lady, Yankee Spy, historian Elizabeth Varon provides a gripping, richly researched account of the woman who led what one historian called "the most productive espionage operation of the Civil War."4/5(3).
Elizabeth Varon author of "Southern Lady. Yankee Spy" says, “This is a great story of a forgotten woman.
When she is Elizabeth Van Lew in public she pretends to be a loyal Confederate. A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of "Crazy Bet" Van Lew. Varon, Elizabeth R. Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy Zeinert, Karen.
Elizabeth Van Lew: Southern Belle, Union Spy. Ages The Coming of the American Civil War, ; We Mean to be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia; and Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy, which was named one of.
Elizabeth R. Varon Speaking on: Southern Lady, Yankee Spy won three book awards and was named one of the “Five round out the picture of Civil War Louisiana. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for more information.
“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing.