Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

The pain that a human being can inflict on their fellow being is mind boggling. Can you imagine giving birth and then having that child sold to another person for a life of cruelty and hard work? I can't get my mind around that. Such is the story that author Leveen tells us. Mary Van Lew Bowser, born a slave to the rich Van Lew family of Richmond, was able to stay and work with her mother, Minerva, at the Van Lew mansion.  Her father, Lewis, was owned by another Richmond slave owner, so she saw him only on Sundays. She had more of a "family" life than most slaves. Bet Van Lew was the abolishionist daughter of the Van Lew family, and so bought the slaves from her mother and freed them. Which created a dilemma for the parents of Mary Van Lew. Freed slaves had to leave Virginia within one year of their freedom,they could never return. Bet Van Lew sent Mary to Philadelphia for an education, supplied her with living expenses and spending money. Her mother Minerva, stayed behind and kept secret her freedom so she could stay with her husband. 
When Mary learns that her mother has passed and that a war will break out between the north & south over slavery, she heads back to Richmond and life as a "slave". She has to keep her freedom secret. She ends up working in a mansion, the Southern White House,  for Jefferson Davis and his wife and she ends up working with her former owner, Bet Van Lew, as a spy for the Union Army. 
Leveen has created a rare look into the world of slavery, the Civil War and the toll it took on human life. Real people, in a true story of bravery. This book is well written, and well worth your time.

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