Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900 was a Richmond, Virginia abolitionist and philanthropist who built and operated an extensive spy ring for the United States during the American Civil War. She was born October 12, 1818, Richmond, Virginia to John Van Lew and Eliza Baker, whose grandfather was mayor of Philadelphia in the late 1700’s. Her father owned a prosperous hardware business and several slaves. Her family sent her to Philadelphia for her education at a Quaker school, which reinforced her abolitionist sentiments. When her father died in 1843, Van Lew and her mother freed all the families slaves They also bought some of their former slaves relatives and freed them. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War Van Lew began working on behalf of the Union with her mother, caring for the Union Soldiers. When Libby Prison was opened in Richmond, Van Lew was allowed to bring food, clothing, writing paper and
other things to the Union soldiers imprisoned there. She aided prisoners to escape, passing them information of safe houses and getting a Union sympathizer appointed on the prison staff. Recently captured prisoners gave Van Lew information on Confederate troop levels and movements, which she was able to pass on to Union commanders, she even helped hide escaped Union prisoners in her own mansion. At the end of the Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant appointed her Postmaster General of Richmond for the next eight years because of the merit of her work. She died 25 September, 1900 at the age of 81 in Richmond, Virginia.
From Jauflione Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution