Mary Bowser, Confederate White House Spy

Even now, it’s hard to get a clear description of Mary Bowser, who greatly aided the North by spying on the Confederate White House during the Civil War. Maybe that’s because she wanted it that way.

Here is the closest we can come to facts about her life. Mary Bowser (AKA Richards) was born a slave to the Van Lew family in Richmond, VA, and later freed by Elizabeth Van Lew, heiress to the family fortune. Van Lew sent Bowser to school in the North and later as a missionary to Liberia, a nation of free blacks. Upon her return to the U.S., she lived in Van Lew’s household as a servant and was eventually hired out to work in the Confederate White House.

Successful Spy Network

Van Lew disguised her activities by presenting herself as mentally ill—“Crazy Bet,” they called her. She had a very successful spy network of a dozen men and women who were both white and black. Even though Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina knew that there was a spy in their midst, they never suspected Bowser, who appeared as an illiterate, dumb servant. After all, very few black men in the South could read and write, even less likely a woman.

Van Lew said, “Most generally our reliable news is gathered from negroes, and they certainly show wisdom, discretion, and prudence which is wonderful.”

Teacher of Former Slaves

After the Civil War, Mary Bowser quickly went to work educating formerly enslaved people for the Freedmen’s Bureau; her only known correspondence was from this period of her life. During this time, she single-handedly taught a hundred Sunday school pupils as well as 70 day students and 12 adult night students. Two years later, after meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, she disappeared entirely from the historical record.

Here is a link to a historical novel about Bowser.

Here is a link to a historical novel about Van Lew.

New Underground Railroad Exhibit at Niagara Falls

A whole new source of information on the Underground Railroad is opening next weekend in Niagara Falls, starting May 4. I’m excited because it will offer more in-depth background for my historical novels in The Dauntless Series, featuring abolitionists Daniel Read Anthony and his sister Susan.

Here’s the scoop on the new museum:

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

825 Depot Avenue W.
Niagara Falls, NY 14305

Why is this new museum important?

States bordering Canada, particularly in the East, were the last frontier for enslaved people seeking freedom before the Civil War. Niagara Falls, NY, just across the river from Canada, admitted many freedom seekers traveling through New York State. I am familiar with many such stories that took place near my home in Rochester, and always wondered what happened to those travelers after they left here.

Gala Opening

The opening weekend includes a gala on Friday, a dinner on Saturday, and community day (for the general public) on Sunday. Thereafter it will assume a regular schedule. Read all about it here.

Their website offers some intriguing and detailed stories about an organized group of African-American waiters who risked their lives and businesses to help enslaved people to cross the border. Visit “Underground Railroad Sites” to read about these individuals and some of the places where those escapes occurred.

For those of us who love the grandeur of the falls at Niagara, it’s just one more reason to visit this well-known northern city. Hope to see you there!

The Anthony Connection

Daniel and Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, about 60 miles from the famous falls at Niagara. Each of them, but especially Daniel, lent a hand to escaping fugitives. It would not have been unusual for either of them to visit Niagara Falls, since it was already a well-known tourist attraction during their time. Already my mind is conjuring up images of them speaking to a waiter and setting foot on one of the paths that led to river crossings.

Nov. 26, 1862 Death of Susan B. Anthony’s father

One day in early November 1862, Susan B. Anthony and her father Daniel were reading and discussing antislavery newspapers when he suddenly began suffering acute pain in Continue reading

All for Suffrage, part 2

Susan B. Anthony and siblings

Susan B. Anthony’s siblings, like her parents, were all for suffrage. They supported the right of every American citizen to vote, regardless of sex or race. (See my previous post about her parents.)

Continue reading

“Impressively Crafted” Novel Now on Kindle

It’s so rewarding when a professional book reviewer “gets” the book that you’ve worked on for several years. That happened recently when Midwest Book Review praised The Truth About Daniel. And to celebrate, we made the book available on Kindle! Click here to get a copy on your own device. And PLEASE review it. Reviews convince Amazon that it’s worth publicizing.

Here’s what Midwest had to say:

Synopsis:

Jeanne Gehret became acquainted with Susan B. Anthony’s family in 1992 when she docented at the reformer’s house museum. After writing Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All in 1994, she curated an exhibit at the Rochester, NY museum and began portraying Susan in costume. She blogs at http://SusanBAnthonyFamily.com

In “The Truth About Daniel” she turns her talents to writing the first volume of what promises to be an impressively entertaining new series of historical novels called ‘The Dauntless”.

Annie Osborn was fascinated by everything about Daniel Read Anthony including his service as a Civil War colonel who battled slavery; his courage and endurance settling the wild West; and his family ties to Susan B. Anthony, Annie’s own heroine. Nevertheless, she has doubts about his suitability as a husband. Did he risk his life for unselfish reasons or because he enjoyed danger?

From the fiery conflict of Kansas to the prim parlors of Martha’s Vineyard, “The Truth About Daniel” portrays lovers who forge new bonds through their willingness to take chances as author Jeanne Gehret deftly weaves historical strands about D.R. Anthony to delve into his improbable choice of a bride, a socialite half his age from the whaling capital of Martha’s Vineyard.

Critique:

As a novelist, Jeanne Gehret has a genuine flair for deftly creating memorable characters and embedding them into an original and consistently entertaining story. The descriptive writing brings a bygone era in American History to vivid life. An impressively crafted and consistently entertaining read from beginning to end, “The Truth About Daniel” is unreservedly recommended, especially for community library Historical Romance collections and the personal reading list of the dedicated Antebellum romance fan.

Emancipation Proclamation-What Sort of Freedom

On January 1, 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in areas under rebellion.

Daniel Anthony had finished his military career by this point, but he would have grasped the mixed message that Lincoln was sending. In effect, the president was freeing people whom he did not even control because they were behind enemy lines. However, this may have encouraged African-Americans pressed into Confederate assistance to abandon their posts if they could reach the safety of Union lines, thus weakening the rebel cause. Fewer Southern whites would have been available to fight if they had to do the jobs that black men were forced to do.

Many Northerners, especially Susan B. Anthony, considered this document to have no teeth and pressed for an amendment to the Constitution to permanently outlaw slavery. That went into effect with the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in December 1865 after the close of the Civil War and the death of Abraham Lincoln.

D.R.’s Pugnacious Temperament

I love the term “pugnacious,” which describes someone just itching for a fight. That seems a fair representation of Daniel Read Anthony of Leavenworth, who was descended from the same stock as Susan B. Anthony. While this brother and sister were both devoted to the abolition of slavery, she fought with words, attempting to change legislation, while he wrote fiery articles and backed them up with bullets. (Besides being a Union colonel and Kansas Jayhawker, he founded a newspaper dynasty whose owners were all named Daniel Read Anthony.)

Here’s an excerpt from a colorful account of several Kansas editors whose combative natures emphasized their verbal onslaughts:

Dan Anthony I of Leavenworth deserves top billing among the pistol-packing pencil pushers. He fought a duel, was shot at numerous times, was seriously wounded once and killed a rival editor in his own home town. All of these incidents occurred during the territorial or early statehood days, and he carried two big horse pistols for many years and to his dying day these lethal weapons, ready to go, laid on or in the top drawer of his desk. During the later period of forty years he never had occasion to use this armament, but it was well known that “Ole Dan” was always ready. He mellowed a good deal as he grew older and while his likes and dislikes were just as sharply drawn and aggressively supported or opposed he learned to temper his violence materially.

Another significant difference between them is that D.R. married and settled in Leavenworth, KS while Susan remained single and became a citizen of the world. Many years she logged 100 speeches–think of that, two a day–many of them in different towns.

The photo of D.R. above depicts one of his quieter moments. Despite his warlike nature, he died of natural causes at the age of 80. Read about his most deadly encounter in The Truth About Daniel, coming in January.

Unexpected Civil War Loss

Model of a whaling ship seen at Martha's Vineyard. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Model of a whaling ship seen at Martha’s Vineyard. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

In my last post I mentioned that Captain Abraham Osborn owned several whaling ships. One of these, the Ocmulgee, came to an untimely end early in the Civil War. Since the Ocmulgee was not a Navy ship, this was most unexpected. Continue reading