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Why Did Rose O’Neal Greenhow Go to Jail?

When the Civil War started, there were strict gender roles for women. But this also worked well for those who worked as confederate spies. Authorities caught on when women started behaving unladylike. It became more difficult for women to cross state lines without being searched, which eventually led to several arrests. Women spies were rarely executed. They would either be imprisoned or exiled to the South or Canada. Some famous female confederate spies include Bell Boyed, Antonia Ford, Charlotte, Virginia Moon, Mary Surratt, and Rose O’Neal Greenhow.

Rose O’Neal was a confederate spy. She was caught for espionage and placed under house arrest, but she continued her illegal activities despite this. On her way back from Europe, a Yankee war vessel grounded the ship she was on, and in fear of being imprisoned again, she fled on a rowboat. A wave capsized her boat, and she drowned when she was weighed down by $2,000

The Early Life of Rose O’Neal Greenhow

Maria Rosetta O’Neal was born in 1813 on a plantation in Montgomery County, Maryland. She was the third of five children. Her father, John, was a planter and slaveholder. He died in 1817 after his valet had murdered him. This meant his widow, Eliza, would need to raise and support their children by herself.

Greenhow and her sister, Ellen, were invited to live with their aunt in Washington by 1830. Their aunt, Maria Ann Hill, ran a boarding house in the Old Capito Building. There, the girls met several influential people in the Washington area.

By the 1830s, she met Robert Greenhow Jr., was a prominent doctor, lawyer, and linguist from Virginia. The Washington society well accepted their relationship. By 1835 they got married with the blessing of the society matron, Dolley Madison. (Source: History)

How Did Rose O’Neal Greenhow Become A Confederate Spy?

In 1854, Robert Greenhow Jr. passed in an accident in San Francisco. After losing him, Greenhow became sympathetic towards the Confederate’s cause. She advocated for secession and preserving the Southern way of living, including slavery. Her loyalty to the Confederacy was heavily influenced by her friendship with US Senatore John Calhoun. She was eventually recruited as a spy. A US Army captain, Thomas Jordan, set up a pro-South spy network in the capital. He provided her with a 26-symbol cipher for encoding messages.

Greenhow passed several secret messages containing information about the Union military movements to Confederate General PGT Beauregard. She was thanked for her service after the First Battle of Bull Run. (Source: History)

When Was Rose O’Neal Greenhow Captured?

Greenhow knew that the authorities were on to her. She feared for her daughters’ safety and sent them to family in Ohio. At the time, Allan Pinkerton was appointed the head of the Secret Service. His first assignment was to place Greenhow on surveillance. Due to her activities, Pinkerton caught her and put her under house arrest on August 23, 1861.

Pinkerton also confined other suspected women in Greenhow’s home. She was unfazed. Visitors were still allowed to meet her. People like Senator Henry Wilson would often meet with her, which meant she could continue with her spy tasks. This frustrated Pinkerton, and he finally transferred Greenhow to the Old Capitol Prison for five months.

She was eventually released and exiled to the South in June 1862. (Source: History)

What Happened to Rose O’Neal Greenhow?

Greenhow traveled to Europe to rally support for the Confederacy. While she was abroad, she started writing her memoirs. On her way back to the United States, a Yankee war vessel grounded the ship she was on. She attempted to flee, but unfortunately, a wave overturned the lifeboat she was on, and she drowned by the weight of the gold sewn onto her dress. (Source: History)

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