Van Lew was born into a wealthy plantation owning family. She was educated in a quaker school in Philadelphia. There, she became a strong abolitionist and when she returned home she had convinced her mother to free the slaves after her father past away. Once the Civil war began she openly supported the Union by bring them food and clothing. She also passed information to General Grant. She may have also helped prisoners escape from Libby Prison. She took up the name "Crazy bet" to cover her actions as a spy. One of her freed slaves would become one of the most vital and important slaves the Union army had.
During the Civil War, Van Lew would bring medicine to prisoners in Libby Prison. During these trips she would help some prisoners escape and also received valuable information from the Union prisoners who had heard vital information on their trips to the prison. They also gave her information on how big and how strong the Confederate army was. The Confederate prison guards did not think too much of Van Lew or what they knew her as, "Crazy Bet". A lot of information was carelessly conveyed to Van Lew through some of the Confederate guards. This information was soon transported back to General Grant.
Simple and Effective Plans
With the help of one of her families former slaves, Mary Bowser, Van Lew managed to penetrate Confederate President, Jefferson Davis', home. The work that Bowser did in the home of Jefferson Davis was sent to Van Lew and Van Lew sent the information to Union General Grant. As she continued with her work, it became more sophisticated. She devised codes with a series of words and letters that prisoners would underline in books that she let them use. Another one of her discrete plans was sending former slaves of hers with baskets of produce to transport information to General Grant and Benjamin Butler directly. In each basket there were eggs and these eggs contained encoded messages instead of it original insides.
After the War
After the Civil War ended, general Grant awards elizabeth Van Lew a job as a postmistress in Richmond, Virginia. She maintained this job from 1866 to 1877. Because of her affiliation with the North, people did not take kindly to her. Van Lew once noted, "No one will walk with us on the street, no one will go with us anywhere; and it grows worse and worse as the years roll on." No one knew that she was a spy for that was kept secret by many of the spies during the Civil War. It was the simple fact that she revered with the North during the war. After a failed reappointment to postmistress under Rutherford B. Hayes, she lived with the family of a Union soldier whom she had helped escape from Libby Prison. She past away some time around 1900.