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Civil War Spies: Mary-Elizabeth Bowser

2011-07-13 | 🔗

After her father died, Elizabeth Van Lew freed the family slaves, including a girl named Mary. When the Civil War began, sources say Mary became an agent in Van Lew's "Richmond Ring." Join Sarah and Deblina to learn more about Civil War spies.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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so every week to give a fan of meat was golf, and all that comes with someone. It's been working weeks on track. We all during the plague right now with the best in the world, listen and follow, get a grip attack. Solomon in shame. get on the ipod, radioactive babble, podcast or every listen applaud guessed right now Welcome to stuff you missed in history, class from Housetop works, dot, com, hello, unwelcome, should apply, cast I'm going to talk about it and I'm stared at him, and we are taking another work in this episode at what is apparently my new favorite topic spies. I thought you and article last week in your pretty thrilled about it. I was an I'm sorry, sir. I M afraid you think I might be obsessed with this are as by which I wish I were a spy, but really I'm not obsessed with this topic. I just think it's really fascinating and there are so many different facets to it that you can look at and we're gonna get off.
it sooner at least move onto something else. Civil war related, but we couldn't do without at least taking a look at this last one other fast that I should say of this civil war espionage, which is african american spies- and it appears this. Though many black Americans took an active role in union espionage during the war, although as See a little later on. In most cases, there are a lot of records around now to tell us exactly what their individual accomplishment were here and there a few reasons for that, its due in part to racial prejudice, but also because Union Sty masters would off destroy any record of their contributions, after the war to protect the african american spies and then most want their identities to become known in the first place, even after the war, because they feared repercussions if confederate sympathise. As ever found out about it. They had taken a big risk: spying in the first place, and didn't want to get caught. After the fact tat, the penalty was death, so it would be
bad if you were found out, but according to the CIA Centre for study of intelligence, intelligence on the confederates provided by African Americans, which was known as black dispatches was the quote most prolific and productive category of intent, since obtained and acted on by union forces throughout the civil war. So former slaves and free blacks alike participated in this and Harriet it is probably the most well known name in a category of spies- although She'S- probably better known for her work with the underground rail road- that's homeless, people now her, I think, but existing records. Books written by other self proclaimed spies. In other words, white spies give us information to stanchion about eight to ten more, including the person gonna talk about this episode, Mary Elizabeth Bouser. Do we don't know that much about Bouser, including whether that was even her real name? Some people still questioned her very existence that she was
eventually inducted into the: U S: Army, intelligence, Hall of Fame, so clearly some people believe in her contribution here, you can't tell her story, without talking about someone whose existence is definitely known, that of her union, Spain Astor Elisabeth fan Lou, who started a ring of spies enrichment and with the help of loose story. We learned the generally accepted version of events concerning bouser to and can explore the mission surrounding her. Who was she really felt Mary Elizabeth Thou? There was born into slavery in about eighteen, thirty, nine and there's some class surrounding her exact name as we mention, but it's likely that in Thursday, as she was known, just as Mary or and lives Mary, because she was the slave of John Van Lou, who, with a wealthy hardware merchant in Richmond Virginia and did you lose
very prominent family there well connected, they were well respected. They had this huge mansion on the highest hill in Richmond. Things started to change, though, for the family after John Van Lewd died and sources differ as to when that was eighteen, forty, three or eighteen, fifty one, but it wasn't the wealth that change the family definitely inherited. All of that, it was some of their sex conventions and beliefs that started to change right so after his death family daughter, Elizabeth family convinced her mother to free all nine of the family slaves, Mary included, and she also supposedly bought the relatives of those slaves and freedom to so. Why did she free these slaves. Well, Elizabeth had always had a sympathy for slaves, but she also been educated by school in Philadelphia that oppose slavery so that just reinforced her beliefs and kind of solidified them. Several slaves chose to stay on
paid servants in the family, household and Mary was one of them. Elizabeth though, after being around Mary for awhile, did recognised for intelligence and ended up sending her up to school at north in the late eighteen fifty's, sure where exactly it was but may have been a Quaker school in Philadelphia married to turn to Richmond, though before the war started and according to a two thousand six article, american history, public record does oh, that she married a free black man named William or perhaps Wilson Bouser in eighteen. Sixty one and Saint John Church, and that's where her last name of bows or comes from, but she seems to have immediately can help with the Van Lou household again. This time, though, it was to do a very different kind of work yeah, because after the war started, Elizabeth Family, I really didn't waste any time contributing to the union. S she got permission to nerves, union soldiers and only present and conditions really pretty bad. She would visit regularly and assist the soul,
in bringing them items like books and stationary and food, and she in this way, at her spy efforts to because she would carry letters and messages in and out of the prison and the way she do. This was pretty clever she'd hide them Books are in the bottom of a food pan, relay those messages to union officers from him? She would just talk to the new prisoner They would tell her where they had seen and other times they tell. What they had overheard from doctors and nurses or guards who were talking in the present. She had a lot of different means of communication going on within the present, but also some cool ways to code or message yes, I was the book she carried out, for example, would have faintly underline letters and numbers that formed a message when you put them together and read them altogether, a little smarter than
I'll Boyd's tactic, assigning bell at the end of her early tactic, at least or the pages of the books would have tiny pinprick on them. That meant something so the books. in that way, but another tactic of Elizabeth, that she would write, letters that had coded messages written an invisible ink between the lines and the ink would turn black if you applied milk to it and Sarah loved this line, because she is to be quite the connoisseur of invisible inquiries. Canada tree house by in my day- and I did have them invisible I think it's which I used to great effect by Elizabeth, would carry the Seifert Code for all of these messages. In the back of her watch, which I thought that was really interesting, tube could who's gonna take apart. This ring
men, socialite watch when she's leaving the present. You know it's a real, clever, final detail for all the year and it said that, the years later, when she died, they actually found that code in the same place. So she kept her. Those years even after them or right. So when it became dangerous to say information through the mail or through the post. Elizabeth set up an elaborate network with five courier relay points between her home and you army officers. Sometimes she tear a message into pieces and have each piece delivered by different agent to keep a hidden yeah again, pretty amazing tactics, of course, others enrichment noticed that this woman had Clear union sympathies, she was visiting the prison and all of that and they didn't improves, though, to offset suspicion. She started up an act. She pretended to be crazy. She were dirty torn clothing. She left her hair An calmed got all matted. She,
the harm, should jerk her head back and forth and carry on patients with herself. While she walked down the street people even started calling her crazy bad though nobody, that much heed to what she was doing. Yeah again to compare hurt. They'll boy, I mean in that episode. We talked about how Bell used I'm an wiles to carry off her, spy out information from from union man yeah exactly and Elizabeth has had to pretend to be crazy and you know use all these secret codes. All these kind of involves tactics because she in her forties when she started spying and was spinster, not necessarily consider that attractive. So she hundreds Perhaps she did and was of fairly effect,
A line of another thing that she did that was different from Bell. To, though, is that she didn't work alone, and probably the best known for is establishing this extensive network of spies in Richmond that the federalists dubbed the Richmond ring, and it consisted of hundreds of spies, managed to work their way into pretty much. Every arm of the confederate establishment, Livy prison. The war, a Navy departments, Richmond businesses, and with the help of every browser into the Confederate executive mansion itself are eight, though we ve got to explain the background behind that. It said that Elizabeth, perhaps through the recommendation of society connections guy Mary, a job as a servant in none other than Jefferson Davis is household under the new Ellen Bond and Mary, of course was said to be intelligent. She had gone to school, but she also put on an act just like Elizabeth and away she didn't. Let others know how smart
really was she pretended to be common dim when a little bit Lou be so no one in the executive mansion with think anything of saying, important things in front of her yeah. Up to that point, slaves in general were underestimated, though, that's to change a little as the war went on. There was one of the things that really blew me away about this. The pod cast to that that you would have to through that transformation of feeling that people would be so confident to speak in front of their slaves at the beginning. In the war at least yeah, it's hard for imagine now, but an eighteen. Sixty three General Robert E Lee made a statement that I think was kind of a revelation of the time it has quote was the chief Sore information to the enemy is through our negroes mean golden even realise that their servants would be listening. Inner would be king in interpreting information that they were so freely giving out yeah so
apparently marries tactic were seen ass. She made herself blend into the background just kind of see young woman who is working in the house. And meanwhile, though, she was listening to everything she heard. While she was serving meals and the presidential dining room, she saved scraps from Davis's wastebasket, while she cleaned up his study, should memorize messages that she read on his desk. While she was dusting- and and in Thomas MC, never who was a scottish baker enrichment at the time, also a union spy and the one who gave us the documented reference to marry the union's by said that she had a phone ethic memory, though she could remember every word of the messages that she saw him in but she got included things like true movements, military strategies, Treasury reports and sometimes time Mary, would meet up with Elizabeth near the Van Lou Mansion to give her reports of what she learned and then Elizabeth would come dressed as a country
men, so that she wouldn't that be recognised basically, and it said that Mcnair then for his part, would sometimes services three or four Mary to when his bakery. Why Part would sometimes serve as a courier for Mary to when his bakery wagon came round to the executive, mansion she'd pass information, long term, and nobody thought anything of it, because it was just the baker covered by her and the servant. Picking up the good thumb, Mary pulled off this act from about eighteen, sixty three to eighteen, sixty five and Elizabeth reported that. At one point, General Lee complained that the enemy receive this directive before they even reached his own lieutenant. So clearly, there was a pretty sophisticated spying says. Going on enrichment yeah. It's also said that David suspected There was a leak in his house, but he never manage surely figure out who was, but Mary must have felt the heat of suspicion, because in eighteen sixty five she just disappeared.
She fled the capital and some even say that she may have tried to burn down the house on her way. the door were not sure if that's actually call attention to your Trinidad way, but no No one knows what happened to her so after them or Van Lou in the federal government destroyed all the records of the Richmond ring to protect the lives of everybody who is involved. But again, that's why summit he tells him marries. Life are still very sketchy. Three mentioned make, never been and how he gave us our only. document at source of Marries spying, but some people even feel that his account can't be trusted because he had this the sea to exaggerate. Nevertheless, story about Mary did start showing up as early as making hundred enrichment newspapers and then niece even revealed her name in an interview in nineteen ten. So clearly, some people knew
This was in and they were talking about her well after the fact right. Browser leave even left a diary behind, and it had reportedly been seen by the wife of her great Great grand nephew as late as nineteen fifty two and would have been a gold mine of information about her life essentially, but it was thrown away- and we mentioned at the beginning that we weren't even exactly sure about what marries real name was because more recent research by scholar, Elizabeth Veron, who wrote a book on families, just that Mary thing was actually Mary, Jane Richards and marriage Richards with a family, slave who was sent to be educated in New Jersey as a child and after the war Richards married this guy. Lasting garden and went on to become an educator and a couple of times interview and in a letter she did admit to working in the secret service during the war as a detective. Even though parts of restoring contradict some other accounts of browsers, like though it's it's hard to say, may be
the same woman, maybe maybe it's different Maybe it does lend some validity. Two browsers story, though: the story that a person like her existed, through the war, Verena Davis, Jefferson Davis, his wife was asked about the espionage work of her former made merry bouser and denied that any of her Richmond servants could have been spies and in nineteen o five letter she even said quote: I had no educate negro in my household and really this flatly denied having hired anyone from Van Lou. So her response is considered kind of question. Though, because she reportedly had a few servants on staff who are very well known and widely known around the area to be educated. So she may have just said this because she did want to admit that she had been duped by someone working in our house wholly our. Maybe she wasn't even aware of what was going on in her household didn't realize her own servants were educated, especially since we know Mary was putting on an act. Presumably others could event you and that's a good point,
provision Lou Grant praised her after the warfare contributions. He said quote: you have sent me the most valuable information received from Richmond during the war, so very high praise and when he became President, he appointed her Richmond postmaster a position that paid forethought, dollars a year, but after he left office she lost that gag She went on to work and the Washington Post Office, but eventually had to leave that to and then couldn't get work yeah and by the time she died on September, twenty fifth nineteen hundred at the age of eighty till she was very porch of his lonely she'd spent Her money offer inheritance on her spy efforts during the war in helping former slaves. After that and in the end, the family of a man. She had helped in Libby prison came through for her. They gave her some in but she still had no friends locally because of that controversial stance. Had taken during the war so
the sad ending to the story of a master spy, the interesting. Nonetheless, she certainly stuck to her principles we can that? For guess, she really did sector principle, she sector guns and she really remain too. She was- and I think, that's a good spot now to move on to listen airmail. We have a mail here from Christa and she writes hello. Ladys I've been a fan of your pike us for a while, but until now I have had a reason beyond think some praise to write, and I feel that you missed one major factor in explaining Australia's collective obsession with an ad Kelly. While most of us are recent emigrants with no conflict heritage, we still appreciate a good, honest criminals, the reasons for them go beyond the Robin Hood syndrome that you mentioned ingrained in our culture as it can for authority, we left seeing someone sticking to the law. We love a joke. Expense of the rich and powerful, and we tend to cheer on the underdog. Perhaps tuna
In this irreverence isn't immediately obvious, but understanding this laconism is a vital part of explaining why we pick such bizarre folk heroes generally uncomfortable with overt patriotism. I don't quite know how to in the concept, but the latter can as a strange figure who rears his sardonic head all through australian cultural history from murders. The strangers to soldiers in world war, one who refuse to obey nonsensical orders from british command. Consider the song Walton Matilda, said to be something: informal national anthem. It is a fairly ridiculous song about stealing sheep or a sheer strike. It's worth checking out simply for an explanation of the old aussi flying. I really liked this letter because I had never heard of electric and before known I've heard I immediately when looked it up and the kind of cool concept I think to have as Canada the national idea. It.
they too, my understanding of their colleagues to assure the other main Emily got about an egg Kelly package was telling us about all of the movie how we should have a viewing hearty one of these days with the ledger movie. There's a Mig Jagger one which had We then pan hands subverting the year. We could have a Netchelli marathon, it been. to do that. So, thanks for the movie suggestions- and thank you for the vocabulary, lesson was often too. You can learn that new concept, if you have any other move, gestures, forests episode, suggestions, anymore spies. You want us to focus on. Even the Sarah may kill me if we keep the laundress fire out much laughter. Eventually, I ventured she's enjoy that, so send us more spies. If you want to wear history, pod cast a half the bricks, dot com or you can look up on twitter, innocent history or on Facebook. Bonus points. If you right ass the chest,
an invisible better get we'd have to have the decoder terror, so yeah we might interpret, could get messy. What's this blank sheet of paper earlier thief to Billina anyway, please finish your suggestion: did the bowl or not, and if you want to learn a little bit more about the underground rail road, we have a great article on it called how the underground rail road worked, and you can find it by searching underground rail road on our homepage, W W W that has the works, dot com be sure check out only new video podcast stuff from the Future Joint House
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