From the Hawaiian Star (Honolulu), 8/27/1902, p. 7, c. 3
MEMORIAL FOR A SPY
To Honor Name of Elizabeth Van Lew
Aided Union Forces During Civil War—Took Leaders of Confederacy Into Her Home to Board.
Of Dutch descent, born in the historic Van Lew mansion, on the highest of Richmond’s seven hills, an emancipator of slaves, a friend to Northern prisoners, a spy for the Union during the Civil War—such is a brief record of the dramatic and heroic life of Elizabeth L. Van Lew, whose grave in Richmond, Va., is to be marked in a few days by a memorial given by Massachusetts friends.
The memorial, says the New York Telegram, is a large bowlder of puddingstone taken from the State House grounds on Beacon Hill, Boston. It weighs about two tons and was secured during the recent excavations on the easterly side of that building. Upon it was placed a bronze tablet bearing the following inscription:
“Elizabeth L. Van Lew, 1818-1900. She risked everything that is dear to man—friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself—all for the one-absorbing desire of her heart, that slavery might be abolished and the Union preserved. This Bowlder from the Capitol Hill in Boston is a tribute from Massachusetts friends.”
Although Miss Van Lew was born in her father’s mansion in Richmond, she was a Northerner in sentiment. Before his removal to the South her father was a citizen of New York. She was educated in Philadelphia; from this source and the influences of home she imbibed a passionate love for the Union and an intense hatred for slavery. Indeed, even before the Civil War much of the family fortune had been spent in buying slaves in order to set them free.
Either from necessity or as a part of a well-matured plan, as the war approached, Miss Van Lew took into her home to board a number of persons, among them some of the leaders of the Confederacy. This, continued for a long time, disarmed suspicion of Miss Van Lew, who began to work for the North by visiting the prisons and hospitals. Her work in the prisons and hospitals suggested to her the idea of sending information to the Federal commanders, and thus her active work as a spy began. She used to send her information in cipher, the dispatch being inclosed between the soles of the boots of an old negro.
The key to the cipher she kept to the day of her death, carefully folded up in the case of her watch.
This remarkable woman helped very many Union prisoners to escape from Richmond, hiding some of them in her mansion for months.
In recognition of and in gratitude for her services to the Union, General Grant appointed her postmistress at Richmond. It was by his order that immediately upon the entrance of the Union troops into Richmond a special guard was sent to protect her. On this occasion the Confederates had scarcely left the city before she flung to the breeze from her house an immense American flag, which floated there several hours before the troops raised their standard over the Confederate capital. The imaginative may well believe that the raising of the Stars and Stripes, signifying the realization of her great hopes, gave to this staunch patriot the purest joy of all her eventful life.
Miss Van Lew died September 26, 1900. She was never forgotten by certain prominent Boston people who had espoused enthusiastically the cause of the Union. They agreed to make her last days comfortable.