From the Richmond Times, 8/3/1902, p. 4, c. 6

Miss Elizabeth L. Van Lew
HER MEMORIAL STONE.
By A CONFEDERATE.

Miss Van Lew’s friends in Boston have written, in granite, the following: “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.”

As a friend of Miss Van Lew, as one who knew and appreciated her merits, enjoyed her confidence, and notwithstanding the widest divergence of political views and feelings, maintained social intercourse with her, during the war as well as before it and after it, I, with all due respect to her memory and to the sentiments of her distant admiring friends, dissent from these statements.

As to “friends”: Her father, a man of business, who stood well in the commercial class and socially, came from the North. He prospered, and by the patronage of a slave-holding people, to whom, is his hardware store, he sold thousands of implements for slaves to work with. He built a comfortable home, handsomely furnished and surrounded by grounds which were generously beautiful. Before the war the family was enabled, by the profits derived from patrons who lived upon the products of slave labor, to entertain handsomely their Northern and their Sothern friends. Intelligent and refined people found congenial society at their home, and distinguished strangers from foreign lands were, with commendable public spirit, invited to partake of the attractive hospitality there dispensed, without regard to their scruples about enjoying bounties derived from the toil of those who were held in bondage. The family had friends and relatives among the people of Richmond. But their friends and relatives at the North were numerous and their associations very intimate, and there Miss Elizabeth spent much of her time. Therefore her pronounced opinions, when the war began, while they deprived her of Southern friends, drew her Northern ones more closely to her.

As to risk of “fortune”: These opinions procured for her the favor of the United States Government, which brought to her pecuniary advantages far exceeding any that she lost, besides the emoluments of the Richmond post-office, which she held for so many years after the war, it is probable that others came to her.

As to “comfort, health, life itself,” she was never molested in her home; she had never threatened; her property was not confiscated, as was the property of a minister of the gospel, in her vicinity, who went away, while she remained and defied the Southern Confederacy and denounced it on the streets and [illegible] its enemies in her house, and secretly furnished information to the commander of the invading army. Her inflammatory speeches were made known to the provost marshal by one or more witnesses, whom he summoned, and her secret proceedings were suspected, but he took no steps for her arrest, and it was general believed that the commanding general of the city, out of respect to her sex and her Southern associations, protected her. She did and said what she pleased. She was allowed to visit the prisons, where officers and privates of the Northern army were confined, and the most that I ever heard her complain of was the indifferent politeness of the Southern officers in charge, which was very natural, and their diligence in searching the interior of a chafing-dish, on which she had sent some delicacy to Federal officers, to see if communications for General Grant or President Lincoln, rather than hot water, were not hidden in the secret place, which watchfulness on the part of these functionaries was very commendable.

I claim that by the protection received from the Confederate Government, Miss Elizabeth was bound to withhold “aid and comfort” from its enemies. I dare say she was conscientious, because I think she was fanatical. But I place in contrast the behavior of a Southern merchant, who, on account of his business and his family, was compelled to remain in New York city during the war. He was known to be in full sympathy with the South, but his prudence and sense of honor were so well known and so trusted that he was permitted to visit Southern prisoners in Northern prisons, and, with other Southerners, to minister to their wants. One night there came to his house a young Southern soldier, who had escaped from prison, and asked for protection and for assistance to return home. Such an appeal to sympathy and patriotism naturally touched the heart of the merchant, but he candidly told the young Confederate that he was bound in honor not to abuse the privileges that he had received, and therefore could not do as he desired.

As further illustrates the forbearance of the Confederate Government towards the Van Lew family. I may remark that so far as I know there was no confiscation of the property of Miss Elizabeth’s brother when he went away through the lines during the war.

It may be argued that the use of the word “risked” in the epitaph, implies direful consequences that would have ensued to Miss Elizabeth if the Southern Confederacy had been victorious. But if so active and zealous and enemy was not molested during the war, it is safe to say that she would never have been disturbed after it had ended in our favor.
She lived to the age of eighty-two; a long life for a martyr, but she had a good constitution and a vivacious temperament, and was very kindly defended by the two governments under which she resided.

Many regretted the loss to the social circle in which she moved before the war, but social separation was inevitable. Yet while criticizing her public character, the writer and others may claim to have never failed in sympathy for her in the personal sorrows of life of which she had her share. The illusion of the epitaph will carry to posterity some great mistakes.

Some in Richmond may remember a commodore of the United States navy, who was detained within our lines on his parole of honor, and who for a for a considerable part of the four years of the war, was a member of the Van Lew family. He walked our streets, mingled with our people, but never by act or word excited the least suspicion of any participation in any proceedings injurious to the Southern Confederacy.

Go to top