Among the many Southerners who were determined to help the North win the US Civil War, was a woman called Elizabeth Van Lew. Called “Crazy Bet,” she resided in Richmond, and not only aided Union POWs at the local prison; she helped many escape and also managed to get valuable information across enemy lines to aid the Union Army. Much of this information came from the desk and conversations of Jefferson Davis himself, with the help of a serving maid named Mary Bowser. Not much is known about this brave woman, but Lois Leveen manages to take what is known and turn it into an amazing work of historical fiction.
We do know that Mary Bowser was born into slavery to the Van Lew family. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth Van Lew, was a spinster who supported the abolition movement. It was Elizabeth who secured freedom for Mary and sent her north to Philadelphia to be educated. Posing as a slave, Mary eventually came back to Richmond, determined to help end slavery by working as a spy for the Union Army.
I can’t praise this book enough. Leveen takes the scant knowledge we have about Mary Bowser and turns it into a gem of historical fiction. This book is a must-read!
5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
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