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The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]) 1901-1902, June 29, 1902, Magazine Features, Image 28

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Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062245/1902-06-29/ed-1/seq-28/

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spot In Richmond at present
THE frequented by strangers Is
the old Van Lew house lately
owned and occupied by Miss
Elizabeth Van Lew the famous Union
spy who rendered more assistance to
the Federal Government during the civil
war than any woman within tho con
fines of the Confederacy and carriages
filled with tourists empty themselves
dally before Its entrance
The place purchased since her death
eighteen months ago by an organization
and con verted into a clubhouse for men
has been renewed without fccing es
sentially altered and here may still be
seen the hollow ornamental columns on
either side of the parlor mantel In
which were concealed communications
from General Grant and the authorities
at Washington the attic where fugitives
from Llbby prison awaited an opportun
ity of escape through the lines the se
cret chamber beneath the eaves Into
which thcr crawled when discovery
threatened the outlet through the roof
for sudden flight when detection was
Imminent and the strange figure on the
basement wall of the mistress of the
mansion herself which darted out upon
the application of some renovating
chemical like writing with sensitized
Ink when exposed to Are
In the Olden Style
The house built In 1799 by Dr John
Adams for many years mayor of Rich
mond and the son of Col Richard
Adams a member of tho House of Bur
gesses fronts upon Grace Street Its
stuccoed Calls with trimmings of Scotch
sandstone brought over a3 ballast In
pre Rciolutlonary ships rising three
and a half stories high and enclosing
halls and rooms of stately proportions
of the States spoakng with enthusiasm
of her sojourn there
jScHj i I 5L Mr Van Lew had established himself ffR I SflffiRiSffl
vmiHfffttftia twffl successfully In Richmond as a hardware AEE ttSattittMBia
i merchant and possessing roflned tastes rrrT t IL
The Van Lew Mt nsion
Throughout the War She Carried on a System of Intricues
Which Displayed Marvelous Astuteness and Adaptation of
Means to an End Tireless Energy Sleepless Vigilance
and Daring Intrepidity jt jt jt
It Is approached by twin semicircular
stairways with cared Iron balustrades
leading up on cither side to a massive
stone porch and ascending them and
passing through to the rear one steps
out upon a broad piazza commanding an
extensive and exquisite view In the
distance with graceful curve and musi
cal cadence flows the historic James
while at ones feet stretches a fragrant
terraced garden shaded with magnolia
walnut and elm trees tho homes of
squirrels and song birds nestling In
trunks and branches Gravel walks
hedged high with boxwood twlnd every
where leading out to summer house and
rustic scat3 and down to a moss-covered
spring which bubbles below
John Van Lew Owner
During Dr Adams occupancy tradi
tion tells of such visitors as Chief Jus
tice Marshall and his distinguished con
temporaries while General Lafayette
was his house guest during his stay In
Richmond in After his death too
when In 1834 John Van Lew a native of
New York and the descendant of an old
Knickerbocker family purchased the
property and brought his young family
there to live It was still the center of a
cultured circle Fcdrlka Bremer the
Swedish authoress who made the tour
with the means to gratify them sued
the beautiful house with rare books and
pictures delicate china rich mahogany
and Chippendale furniture and all the
rest of the accessories of wealth and
culture and his luxurious coach drawn
by four white horses In which the fam
ily went every summer to fashionable
resorts is still remembered by the older
citizens Ills wife was a daughter of
Hon Hillary Baker once mayor of
Philadelphia a circumstance which led
to her own daughter destined to be
come ro famous being educated there
and this In turn to her adoption of the
anti slavery sentiments which shaped
her course during tho war Her in
timacy with Miss Bremer too a pro
nounced Abolitionist tended to empha
size her views and during her Mslt to
her tho two drove to tho slave selling
houses and negro jails In Richmond
Miss Van Lew whom the authoress de
scribes ns a pale pleasing Monde
weeping over the sufferings of the la
mates and winning her heart by her
Interest in them
Her Success as a Spy
Had her father lived according to
one who knew thcsuboth this interest
would have found a different outlet He
died In 1660 however and at the break
ing out of hostilities a year later his
daughter Inaugurated a system of In
trigues which whether we decry or ap
plaud It according to our viewpoint
must still be admitted to evince not
only marvelous astuteness and adapta
tion of means to an end hut tireless
energy sleepless IgIIance and daring
During the years whcn the Federal
armv thundered at the gates of Rich
mond she was in constant communica
tion with It and when Grant hovered
in its vicinity she kept In such closo
touch with him that flowers cu from
her garden In the morning adorned his
table at the evening meal Shd spied
upon the Confederacy and all of Its
cgents both civil and mllltarj contriv
ing to Install her deputies in the house
hold of President Davis as servants and
through them to acquaint herself with
the result of his conferences with his
cabinet Thu Information thus obtained
was put In cipher and concealed be
tween an outer and dinner sole cf his
shoe was smuggled through tho lines by
a negro employed en her farm below
the city his humble station enabling
him to pass in and out unmolested by
tho guards
She -was aso in touch with the In
mates of Llbb7 prison ingeniously sup
plying them with implements with which
to work thlr way out and harboring
them until an opportunity to elude the
Confederate pickets presented Itself and
was the abettor of Colonel Strelght the
noted raider who tunneled an under-
Door in Panel Leading to Secret Chamber
Her Old Home in the Virginia Capital Which Once Sheltered
Hundreds of Union Soldiers Now Converted Into a Club
House for Men and Is the Mecca for Thousands of Tour
ists No Stone Marks Her Last Resting Place J j
ground passage and with lS0O prison
ers made his escape
Her services in the cause of the
Union were not positively and fully
known however cntll after her death
when ex Federal officers vho had been
concealed Ja her house one of whom
row occupies a Government position in
Washington visited the place and dis
closed the secret chamber and the mov
able step Icadins out through the roof
That her services were recognized by
General Grant Is evinced by the fact
that upon hearing of the evacuation of
Richmond he dispatched his aide-de-camp
Colonel Parke to see that she
was properly cared for and when his
army entered tho city paid long visits
to her at her home One of bis first
acts too after he become President
was to make her postmistress of Rich
mond a position which she held for
eight years and her receipts from which
amounted to 30000 She later had a
Government position in Washington
which she retained until Cleveland cama
Into power when she resigned Her
mother died in 1ST0 after which her
home was shared by her brother and his
two daughters One by one they passed
away however leaving her at the last
aim- n the old house haunted by the
memories of more than a century Her
course during the war and her sana
tion with negroes after It alienated ths
people of Richmond who withdrew
from all association with her Only one
or two close friends continued to cling
to her and her pathetic plaint when
sickness and old age had overtaken her
was Im so lonely nobody loves me
No stone marks the green mound be
neath which sho sleeps In Shockol Hill
Cemetery but a strange tolncidenco
identifies It The space reserved for her
In the family lot was Insufficient to ad
mit of her grave being dug in the usual
way and it lies north and South as did
those of the Federal soldiers buried in
Confederate cemeteries as did that of
Ulrlch Dahlgrcn
T THEN Hon Federico Degetau
came to Washington and was
V V presented to President lc
Klnley a year and a half ago
the President signified his pleasure n
greeting the first resident conrnisiioncr
sent by the people of Porto lco and
Mr Degetau expressed the hopf that
tna next representative elected by the
people of the Island would be a Dele
And I too hope so rjoied the
President McKInloys desiro Is about
to be fulfilled Mr Degetau is shortly
to be accorded a scat In the House of
Representatives as a Delegate from- the
beautiful little island which cams o us
through the war with Spain
At present the resident commissioner
from Porto Rico is forced to transact
his business with this Government
through the State Department much the
same as would a diplomat from a for
eign country Such a method naturally
is not productive of the most satisfac
tory results
A bill has been prepared and already
favorably reported to the Housa oy a
unanimous vote allowing Porto Rico a
Delegate In tho House of llepresenlu
tives who shall be entitled to all the
rights and privileges accorded tc tho
Delegates from- the Territories of Okla
homa New Mexico and Arizona In fait
nil the rights of members of the Houk
eavc and alone the right of otlng The
bill Is so drawn as to permit Mr Jige
tau to tako his seat as rojn is It in
passed and approved by the President
Mr Degetau will not only be the flrit
representative in Congress from Porto
Rico but the flrit former s bject of
Spain to sit in that body an 1 the first
man from any of the Insular posses
sions derived from Spain o partlcipntj
In our national hglslatlon
Aside from those facts Mr Degetau is
Interesting perse nally His father was
tho son of a Gorman from Altoona and
an English woman whose maiden name
was Wood Thu name of Degetau Is It
self Trench the family having originally
emanated from the province of Alsace-
The father of the present commission
er was a man it ho had traveled a great
deal and spoke several languages Be
cause of his literary tastes his father
established htm ct the bead of a publish
ing house at Havre He preferred to
read books hjwever rather than to
print them aid abandoned the publish
ing business iind went to Porto Rico as
the head of a banking house in Ponce
He was a man of artistic Instincts and
erected the first American house on the
Island He had all of Its parts made and
fitted In New York and transported them
to Ponce Tien he engaged American
carpenters and joiners to go there and
put It togcthtr
The site wat In the midst of a trop
ical Porto Mean garden and close by a
river A shoit distance In the rear of
the place nu a bathhouse where the
fashionable joung scnorltas of Ponce
used to repair daily for their ablutions
One day tho elder Degetau was walk
ing through bis garden when a carriage
in which thcrt were several young Tor
to RIcan ladles on their way to the baths
drove by He was Just making arrange
ments for a houso party preparatory to
taking up hlt abode in tho new resi
dence which lie had erected and which
was considered one of the most beautl
ful villas oi Ponce When the senorl
tas returned he had his servants bring
them out somn fruits and confections
As they drove away again he said to
the old Belgian gardener whom he had
brought over to be lis servant
Hans you saw the youngest of those
senorltas She will be the mistress of
the new housn
It was even so for six months from
that time the young German banker
was married to Senorita Gonzales one of
the recognize belles of Ponce A little
less than tw o years later their son
Federico the present resident commis
sioner from Porto Rico was born In the
first American house built on the Island
The elder Degetau died when the pres
ent commissioner was but eight
months old and his entire training and
education wro left in the hands of his
Sho was a woman of high refinement
and literary tastes and to her Influence
Mr Degetau attributes all his success
In life She devoted her entire time and
attention and a large part of her for
tune to the education of her son
Under her tutelage he acquired a
highly cultivsted literary taste espe
cially for tbo English classics of which
Mrs Degetau was very fond Mr Dege
taus early elucatlon was received at
the schools of the island and at the In
stitute de Secunda Ensenanza In San
Juan which was closed by tho govern
ment in 1874 After that his mother
took him to Spain where he continued
Ills studies In the Central University at
Madrid and also at the universities of
Salamanca and Granada
Whil a young man ho was elected by
the Academy of Anthropological
Sciences at Madrid to the presidency of
the department of moral and political
sciences His mother died In Madrid
twelve jears aao
Mr Degetau Is a lawyer by profes
sion but has devoted a great deal of
his time toward the Improvement of
political conditions In Porto Rico nni
ever since ho entered the arena of Porto
Rlcan politics he has been recognized
as a leader and i no of the foremost
men cf tbo island He espoused the
cause of a republican form of govern
ment and In 1896 Mas one of the four
commissioners sent by Porto Rico to
Spain In the interests of autonomy In
the convention which selected the dele
gates one of his colleagues on the Com
mission who was a monarchist In an
swer to Mr Degetau s argument In
favor of making Spiln a republic de
clared that such a change would not be
accomplished In an hundred years To
this Mr Degetau replied that either
Spain would be a republic within two
years or the civilized world will Inter
fere in her affairs and she would be
shorn of her much iherished Insular
possessions The recent hlBtory of tho
world Is n fulfillment of Mr Degetaus
prophecy She was not made a repub
lic hut within two jears sho did sign a
treaty withdrawing from Cuba ceding
fbf - A fawMm wmammft fH
IftV Pml i Xl tZy MHIUHHk 7
JC 7MrXAl Ol m PxHSfeU
Porto Rico to the United States and re
linquishing sovereignty over the Philip
pines In 1S9S Mr Degiitau was elected
a deputy to the Cortez In Madrid Then
lame the American oicupancy of the
Island When General Henry was made
governor of the Island ho appointed Mr
Degetnu as secretary of interior for thi
Islard and his administration of the af
fairs of the onlco was such as to call
forth an expression of the highest praise
from the American commander when Mr
Degetau resigned
While the Peace Commission was ne
gotiating In Paris Mr Degetau went
there and materially assisted In ths
preparation of the treaty In so far as
It related to the Island of Porto Rico
He ndvocated an arbitration clause and
obtained the agreement for the free
entry of English and Spanish books Into
tho Island
In 1900 Mr Degetau was a candldato
of the Republican party of Porto Rico
for the office of commissioner to the
United States Tho term republican
does not signify In Porto Rico what It
docs In the United States He was ac
corded the nomination and was elected
almcst unanimously receiving 5S367
votes against less than 200 for his op
ponent When he takes his seat In
Congress as a Delegate he will represent
the largest constituency of any man In
the IIolso of Representatives He will
represent nearly lCCO000 people a num
ber four tlras as laise as that of any
man in the Hoise In the Spanish
Cortez Porto lllco was accorded four
icnators aid sixteen representatives
members of the Chamber of Deputies
I Mr Degetau Is the author of numerous
books essays novels and short stories
treating upon political educational and
sociological subjects That to which he
has given the title Que Quljote
What a Quixote is a protest against
the indifference of modern society to
ward the permanent laws of human
solidarity The Redemption of a Con
script deals with the question of phil
anthropy He has written two others
treating of the social slavery of chil
dren one a circus boy and the other a
little negro attached to a Porto RIcan
sugar plantation Cuentos Para el
Viage Tales for the Voyage Is a
collection of short stories more or less
concerned with problems of environment
and education Juventled Truth
his last novel contains a series of pic
tures In the life of younjc men whose
fundamental aspiration Is the abolition
of capital punishment The latter work
is said to be somewhat autobiographical
and is reflective In a vivid war of the
authors experiences while studying la
Mr Degetau was married last March
in Omaha to the daughter of the Count
of Santa Lucia a beautiful and accom
plished young woman who shares all of
her husbands aspirations and ambitions
She is of that type of beauty for which
the Spanish senorltas are famed Their
courtship had In It more than ths aver
age tinge of romance They met In Mad
rid during Mr Degetaus residence in
the Spanish capital Ho was an ardent
republican and she the daughter of a
stanch monarchist of whose loyalty to
the crown there never was a question
but barriers which the gad of war can
not override are leveled with ease by
the magic wand of the god of love Ed
ucated to the belief of the divine right
of kings and hereditary rule rather than
popular sovereignty the young Spanish
woman of noble birth after her
tance with the Porto RIcan statesman
became the most ardent of republicans
A little moro than a year ago she cam
to America and until last March when
she was married to Mr Degetau she re
sided In Omaha where she has frlerid3
She Is now enthusiastically American
with broad and liberal Ideas fond of this
country Its institutions and proud of
the fact that she Is now a Porto Rlcan
American Mrs Degetaus sister Senora
Hernandez is the wife of one of the su
preme tu tices of Spain and her uncle
Senor Capdepon was a member of ths
Itberal cabinet of Sagasta m
Mrs Degetau is a fluent writer
speaks several languages including Eng
lish as well as an American and 13 en
artist of marked ability When she left
Madrid she brought with her tcrier fu
ture husband some of her own copies of
the great masters in the National Gal
lery In that city She is also an accom
plished musician
Mrs Degetau shares with her husband
his Interest in philanthropic work They
have a cozy little home on P Street
which Is filled with the handiwork of its
Mrs Degejau expects to make rtz first
visit to her adopted hdme la Porto 3Ico
probably this svmmer wicn Mr Dege
tau returns there He will a tit1
date for re eIction his fall ar his
service has been very satisfactory both
to the people of Porto Rico and the offi
cials In Washington In whose regard he
stands high There is little or no doubt
of his rc elcctlon

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