This woman on the grounds of the Van Lew mansion, Church Hill, Richmond, may be Eliza Van Lew, not Elizabeth but her mother. Southern Unionist Elizabeth, famous and still celebrated- or disdained- spy. Eliza live until 1875. Both were forever effectively shunned by Richmond for refusing to acknowledge citizenship in any country other than The United States of America. They could not find enough pall bearers for Eliza's funeral.
" I do not know how they can call me a spy serving my own country within its recognized borders…. [for] my loyalty am I now to be branded as a spy—by my own country, for which I was willing to lay down my life? Is that honorable or honest? God knows”
Elizabeth Van Lew
Elizabeth Van Lew, famously a spy and probably the best known Southern Unionist remains unpopular. Because she was a spy, living exactly where she grew up, part of the Richmond elite, from a slave holding family she ranks probably barely second with poor Mary Lincoln- Southern women whose apparent defection still rankles. Why, I have no idea. The whole ' long memories ' argument doesn't work. We're one country or are supposed to be. History is wayyy back there, over 150 years of yesterdays.
Came across the letter below in an 1876 newspaper. Made me awfully sad. In fact, she either writes with a prophet's pen or we've been single-mindedly steering a course right past all the History to which we're supposedly committed.
1876. Post-war, the woman Grant states was the reason he took Richmond had been postmistress. By 1877 that job, through a series of convoluted events, vanished.
Spy, fierce Unionist, raised the first American flag inside Richmond greeting Union troops as they marched into the city she was also a raging humanitarian. We’re so enthralled with ‘ spy ‘ that part is neglected. My grgrgrandfather’s brother, Calvin Huson, JPK’s brother, died in her home, the Van Lew mansion. She’d spotted him on a visit to Union prisoners at Liggon’s, a middle aged politician scooped up at Bull Run now dying of typhoid. She took him home, nursed him- in her writings she states he was well, then suddenly died. He’s still in the Van Lew plot in Hollywood, unmarked. Elizabeth had him buried there.
Post-war book on Richmond,and barely post war, the Van Lew mansion illustrated as a landmark, home to an illustrious family. The American flag is an odd touch- inside that house two women paid dearly for defending it. It's a baffling illustration, really. After her death, house was a school, a private club- finally razed.
She paid for all of it. Here's the widely published letter written " To Northern Democrats ". Our parties looked a little different.
Oct. 29 1876
“ To Northern Democrats
I hope you will pardon me for addressing you but I am impressed with the idea of your patriotic idea for the well being of the country, and that many of you have also the nobel impulse of sympathy for those whom you consider suffering the misfortunes of war. Believing you entirely misunderstand the disposition of the South-at any rate the state and community in which I live-I desire to give you the facts as they really are.
A cultivated and enlightened people are always a liberal people. Prejudice and ignorance never reason, and are always intolerant. A people brave and intelligent would value those who for principle dared for years to brave obloquy, danger, and death as we loyal people of the South did, who never rendered evil for evil, who have shown no vindictiveness nor malice, unwavering, unswerving in kindness, but slavery was a jealous idol and never permitted a word or doubt of her divine origin. “ The man who says slavery is wrong shall be hung for murder “ said a member of the Virginia legislator to me shortly before the war broke out. This spirit still lives and rules, and is a crushing power.
The person who would differ from the South, and thinks the South was wrong in the late struggle, who took part with the North has never forgiveness, the idea of the Southern mind is that the United States Government and ts supporters have need of forgiveness and the word is used with this charming reversion, Witness an article in The Dispatch, a leading journal of this city, after the Ohio and Indiana elections, it speaks of Mr. Harrison who was the Republican candidate for Governor of Indiana, as a man of Southern origin and held him up for excoriation and said he should be held as a social and political renegade etc. etc..
The proscription of Republicans here is something of which no idea can be formed. From a transient visit to the South you can know nothing.-you can only have a parlor view. Having been since the close of the war looked upon as a representative person – a representative of loyalty to the Government- I feel it my solemn duty to make this statement to you. I was born and brought up in the city, I was ever faithful to The United States Government, and did all that I could to serve it, thought I never compromised myself by any betrayal of trust or honor. I live and have lived for years so entirely distinct from the citizens as if I were plague stricken.
Rarely, very rarely is our doorbell rung by any other person except a pauper, or those desiring my service. In this city are two nephews of my mother- one and Episcopal minister, the other a prominent member of the Young Men’s Christian Association- who gave her up entirely, never noticing her or visiting her. Their “ principles “ would not allow them. “ You do not know me “ mother remarked to an old friend. “ I know you well enough” said the friend as she turned her head. My mother and I have been refused board in the summer season as a result of our Republican principles and told to apply to a “ northern gentleman “ –insulted at summer resorts and forced to go North.
September 1875 my mother was taken from me by death. We had not friends enough to be pall bearers “ Mr G is a radical “ said one lady to another, “ Oh no “ was the reply, “ why do you say so? “ “ Because he went to Mrs. Van Lew’s funeral and was one of the pall bearers and none but a radical would have gone ‘.This solemn occasion was ridiculed and called a n***** funeral.
In your kindness you are misled. Talk not of bayonet rule There is nothing so terrible as united public prescription and I am qualified to speak on the subject for I have felt it under Confederate rule God only knows how terrible and now, under this rebel rule is the guise of Democracy I have felt the full blast of the power. When the people all speak and think one way you may be sure there is not much liberty among them.
Here the people are a unit. Many a man has told me he dare not differ, for bread and butter for his family rely on his silence. An avowed Republican can get not business situation and Republicans stand not chance in our courts of justice. Let me give you and extract from the Raleigh Sentinel, and see how the great God of Heaven and Earth is spoken of,. After an account of a concert given at White Sulphur Springs, in which Blaque Bey sung a tenor it says “ The concert was a grand success and put $800 dollars in the pocket of the church, beneath whose humble roof the great Virginian regularly and reverently bowed his gray head in homage to the God who had defeated him and and overthrown the cause he loved and fought for-the God who in his case seemed for once at least to permit might to triumph over right . “
As far as we are concerned the colored people have made no innovation, not the slightest, into our parlors or into our social circles and are, with rare exceptions, humble and respectful. The manner in which they are hurried, crowded in the penitentiary, for small offences committed in their great necessity, would arouse your indignation. Here the lash is used even upon the women.
The negro is the practical tobacconist of the South, and by the sweat of his brow and his cultivated, educated fingers, you own the luxury you so much enjoy. The wealth that comes from its manufacture never finds itself into his pocket and should he deny himself, save a penny, and go into business for himself, he is not permitted by the white man to enter the Tobacco Exchange and of course stand no chance of success. Labor is cheaper to the tobacconist than it was before the war. Most factories close during the winter, and men and women are not admitted into the almshouse if able to work. Without money, without work and pressed by hunger, cold and starving children they may yield to temptation and steal, and for small offences the penitentiary receives them and a voter is lost, and your party has gained in purity and strength and it goes on; but God keeps the record.
There is a proposition now before the people to amend the Constitution so that the theft of a chicken shall disqualify a man forever as a voter. It is easy to see at whom this is aimed, and we have ballot box breakers and a class of men who are willing to swear anything about a Republican, black and white. I am not exaggerating. A man ( a conservative ) told me we might have the vote-the majority-but that we could never carry the election here; that it was so arranged and it would be so. This man has been prominent in our elections. I told one of the city judges what he said.
I write this to you in all truth and honesty. I know not political bane. There are other political matters of which I could speak, but will leave them to abler pens. It is with much pain and awkwardness that I write of myself. I will not tell you of gross and repeated personal insults, they have long since ceased to move me, there is no one in the community to whom I would not render a service, if in my
power, no social or political act for which I blush, others before me have passed through the furnace, and I have found consolation in Matthew v. 10th, 11th and 12th, Luke vi, 22nd and 23rd, which the whole world can neither gainsay nor take away from me.
Most respectfully and earnestly do I beg you to reflect upon the consequences before you unite with a “ Solid South “ – the Democrats of the South. As a woman I have no power but through your vote. A vote is a tremendous power. You not only protect yourselves with it but provide for the wants and miseries or add to the wretchedness of your fellow human beings. Remember the ballot is the moral lever by which you put in place and power your officials.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Elizabeth L. Van Lew
Richmond, Virginia, October 27th, 1876