Mary Elizabeth Bowser (born c. 1839, date of death unknown) was an American freed slave who worked in connection with Elizabeth Van Lew as a Union spy during the Civil War. Mary Elizabeth Bowser was born as a slave in Richmond, Virginia, to John Van Lew, wealthy hardware merchant. Upon Van Lew's death in 1843, his wife and daughter freed his slaves. They also bought everyone in the slave's family in order to set them free as well. However, like most former slaves, Mary remained a free woman and servant in the Van Lew household. She stayed with the family until the late 1850's. The matriarch of the family, Elizabeth Van Lew, became increasingly aware that Mary Elizabeth had exceptional intelligence. Being a staunch abolitionist and Quaker, she sent Mary to the Quaker School for Negroes in Philadelphia to be educated. Mary Elizabeth returned from Philadelphia after graduating so that she could marry Wilson Bowser, a free black man. The ceremony was held on April 16, 1861, just days before the Civil War began. Even though it was a marriage between two former slaves, most of the wedding party and parishioners of the church were white. The couple lived outside of Richmond, Virginia.
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