The spy photo that fooled us: Historian unravels mystery over picture said to be of an elusive slave turned Union spy during civil war
by Jessica Jerreat
For years a blurry picture of a woman posing with a parasol was believed to be Mary Bowser, the slave turned Union spy during the civil war.
But after several years of researching the elusive spy, who worked undercover as a slave in the Confederate White House, a historian and novelist has revealed the truth behind the picture.
As Lois Leveen researched her historical novel The Secrets of Mary Bowser, she was intrigued by the only image said to be of the Union spy.
Few details are known about the African American woman, who was freed by the Van Lew family in Richmond, Virginia, who sent her to the North to be educated.
The Civil War era diary of the Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew recalls how an African American named Mary had been a vital source of information.
About 50 years after the war, which ran between 1861 and 1865, Van Lew’s niece identified the woman as Bowser. [Continue reading.]