Friday, August 3, 2012


Story Description: 

Harpercollins Publishers|May 7, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-06-210790-9 

Based on a remarkable true story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an inspiring tale of one daring woman’s willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to change the course of history. 

All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia.  But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom. 

Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement.  With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father – and to fight for emancipation.  Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command. 

Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost – even freedom. 

My Review: 

This is the true story of Mary Bowser, a freed slave who spied for the Union during the Civil War.  Mary worked for the affluent Van Lew family whose daughter, Bet, had a strong personality.  She decided to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated.  Twelve-year-old, Mary, wasn’t very keen on the idea as she helped her mother, Minerva, take care of her ailing father, however, she had no choice but to go. 

Once in Philadelphia she quickly learned to read, do mathematics and was soon one of the best students in her class.  Mary had a photographic mind which allowed her to reproduce what she read in a book or letter and was also able to reproduce drawings that she saw.  While in Philadelphia she made friends and began a courtship with a fellow named Theodore. 

When the Civil War began, the now well-educated Mary decided to return to Richmond to serve the cause of freedom for coloured slaves.  She got herself a job in the White House, the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davies, as a house maid.  She couldn’t let anyone know that she was educated and could read so played the role of an ignorant slave.  The white occupants of the White House believing she was illiterate gave her access to the President’s office to clean.  There she was able to read documents and peruse drawings she found on his desk.  Mary would memorize everything then return home at the end of her work day and convert what she’d learned to code to be sent up North to the Union bosses.  If Mary was caught she’d be hung for being a spy. 

This was a well-researched book filled with familiar and imagined historical events.  Lois Leveen has written a novel that will grab you in at the beginning and not let you go until the very end.  I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical novels. 

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