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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - March 18, 2004

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again! "My" house is continuing to just get better with each passing day. Keith has been here laying more and more bricks on the sidewalks and courtyard. It really looks neat! The old millwork has been primed and the other day I saw Jeff measuring for the additional millwork that is needed. The shutters and mantels are primed and ready for the final painting. The mantels are primed in the color they will be painted. Ol' Henry is hoping to keep the colors a surprise so you will be sure and come see "my" house when they are finished. Chuck, Sid, George and Jim, the volunteer painters, are making all kinds of future plans for Stephenson House activities. You should be a mouse and hear all their talk, stories, plans and laughter - and they work at the same time! And, people even bring them cookies!!

Now, on to some more history: Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy, remember her? Henry here has just been dying to tell you about Belle! Belle was born Maria Isabella Boyd. She was Maria and John Boyd's great-granddaughter and Col. Ben's grandniece. This little gal, born in Martinsburg, Virginia in 1844, was strong willed as the story goes. As a young girl she rode her horse inside the house after her father told her she could not attend a dinner party he planned for that evening. Do you believe the stunt changed her daddy's decision? Henry does not think so.

Ol' Henry is sure the Boyds wanted their daughter Belle to be a refined Southern lady. She attended Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore for four years. Upon her graduation in 1860 at age 16 she was formally presented to Washington, D.C. society.

Soon after the start of the Civil War in 1861 Belle was organizing parties to visit the Confederate troops. At that time she also shot and killed a Union soldier who had pushed her mother. That soldier sure picked the wrong mother to push around! Belle was lucky and was acquitted of the crime. Early in the war Belle became a courier for Generals Beauregard and Stonewall Jackson, carrying information, delivering medical supplies and confiscating weapons.

Belle was described by her cousin Sue as rather homely with a figure that was perfect, an excellent dancer and magnificent horsewoman. Belle made heroic rides through battlefields in order to get her "reports" across the line to the South. On one occasion she rode 15 miles into the night to deliver intelligence to the Confederates that she had gained by eavesdropping on General James Shield. Belle was reckless, loved the night rides, and by age twenty-one she had been reported 30 times by the Union, arrested six or seven times and imprisoned twice. Henry here has always said the Stephenson women were a strong bunch, but Belle was something else!

Belle was imprisoned twice, but prison didn't slow her down much. She continued to gather and forward information to the Confederates. In 1862, while imprisoned in Washington at the Old Capitol Prison, she put messages in India rubber balls and threw them out the window to an accomplice. Belle enjoyed confrontation! She hung a picture of Jefferson Davis in her room and a prison official told her to take it down. She refused and that resulted in her being locked up behind the large wooden door to her room for several weeks. She grew very ill and finally they opened the door so she could get some clean air. What a woman! After a months stay in prison, Belle became very ill with typhoid and was released. You would think she'd never get jailed again.

But, by golly, Henry learned that Belle was back in prison a year later - this time at Carroll Prison in Washington, D.C.! During this prison stay she escaped boredom by tormenting her jailers. As an example, she hung a Confederate flag from her window. The guard would bellow "Take in that…flag, or I'll blow your…brains out". The guard would fire at her and Belle would step back from the window to avoid the shot. She'd give the guard time to reload and then she would move to the window and casually look around. The guard would fire again. This game continued for some time and Belle survived. Henry thinks that was a very dangerous game Belle was playing!

After a months stay at Carroll Prison, Belle thought she was to be released. Instead, she was sentenced to Fitchburg Jail to do hard labor during the Civil War. Upon hearing this sentence, Belle fainted. You know, there is a limit of courage for anyone! Her father succeeded in getting the sentence changed and Belle was "banished to the South…never to return North again during the war."

Don't think for one minute that Belle was going to go home and be a Southern lady! Belle's behavior scandalized well-bred Confederate ladies. Not even her staunch patriotism and her popularity as a spy could make up for her behavior. Belle Boyd preferred to travel alone, liked to strike up acquaintances with soldiers (from both sides) and visited officers in their tents. This, of course, left her open to criticism. Well…..
Guess where Belle was in 1864, just one year later? She went to England carrying information for the Confederates! The blockade-runner she was attempting to return on was captured and she fell in love with the Union prize master, Samuel Hardinge. Not too good for Sam. He was dismissed from service for neglect of duty when he allowed Belle to go to Canada and then to London. Believe it or not, Hardinge and Belle married in London. There Belle developed a career on the stage and wrote a book "Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison". This woman never stopped! Hardinge died in 1865 leaving Belle and infant daughter, Grace. In 1866 Belle returned to the United States with Grace, and made her first stage appearance in her own country at Ben de Bar's Theatre in St. Louis, Mo. She was wildly popular in both the North and the South; people loved "La Belle Rebelle".

In 1868 Belle married John Hammond. They had four children. Hammond and Belle were divorced in 1884 after 16 years of an apparent happy marriage. In 1885 Belle, stage name Nina Benjamin, married Nathaniel Rue High and they had a son.

Belle's last fourteen years of life were spent as an actress. She gave recitals describing her adventures during the war and graphically describing events such as Gettysburg. Belle actively taught the need for national unity and would end each performance with these words said in a dramatic and intense voice: " One God, One Flag, One People, Forever".

Belle died of a heart attack after she had addressed a Grand Army of the Republic gathering in Portage Wisconsin on June 11, 1900, penniless but undaunted. She was buried at Kilbourn, Wisconsin.
This is just a glimpse of the life of Belle Boyd. If you would like to learn more, Henry knows of a book by Louis A. Sigaud that tells an interesting, well-documented story of Belle's life and family. Belle Boyd was something else!!!

Spring is just around the corner and I heard Carol and Jim talking about a garden and that means seeds and good things to eat - all right!!! The sunshine is great, the air feels so good and I am out for a scamper and to check around for food!!!!


See ya' later,
Henry





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