I have been on a historical fiction kick lately and The Secrets of Mary Bowser was a pleasure to read. Written by Lois Leveen is a fictional account of Mary Bowser, as slave who was freed and educated in Philadelphia. On the cusp of the Civil War, Mary returns as a slave to her hometown of Richmond, VA in order to spy upon the Confederate army.
Like most slaves, there are very few records of Mary Bowser. During her research, Leveen was able to find a baptismal record and a record of Mary Bowser’s marriage. Most of the events in Mary Bowser’s life were imagined by the author including how she obtained her freedom to her education to her secret spying.
Whether the details of Mary’s life is real or imagined, what she did was very inspiring. Her character gives readers a different view from the typical master and slave dynamic. Mary was a house slave, not the half naked, often whipped slaves that her Philadelphia friends imagined. Though her situation was not as dire as the field slaves, the chains of slavery still chafed.
Written in first person narrative, Mary’s vocabulary and distinct voice allowed me to see life in her shoes. I appreciate that the author took the time and research to write the way people in that time period might have spoke.
I’ve never been fascinated with the details of Civil War battles, but The Secrets of Mary Bowser made me want to read more about life pre-Civil War. I highly recommend it.