Mary Louvestre, a slave turned spy, is next on our list of extraordinary women who contributed to the history of Greenpoint.
To understand Louvestre’s place in Greenpoint’s history, you must first remember the USS Monitor, an ironclad warship built for the Union during the Civil War. This ship is a big deal in Greenpoint. It was constructed by Continental Iron Works in 1862 right here in the neighborhood.
And none of this would exist without the help of Mary Louvestre, a seamstress slave turned Civil War spy. Not a ton is known about this woman, however, a 2012 novel called The Treason of Mary Louvestre highlighted a bit about her life and the courageous act that led to the USS Monitor.
The book’s author, My Haley, writes that Louvestre was a slave in the Confederate town of Norfolk, Virginia, and when her owner gets involved with the Confederate Army’s ironclad warship CSS Virginia, “Mary copies the plans and sets out to commit treason against the South.” The book’s description says “Facing certain death as a spy if caught, she treks two hundred miles during the bitter winter of 1862 to reach the office of Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, where she hands over the plans.”
The Civil War Monitor explains that Louvestre “stole the ship’s plans and fled to Washington, DC,” walking the whole way there from Portsmouth, Virginia. “Upon arriving in Washington, DC, she gained an audience with the Department of the Navy and was able to reveal the plans to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. With this new intelligence, the Union Navy sped up the construction of its own ironclad: the USS Monitor.”
An article reviewing Haley’s book says, “This true-life act was simultaneously heroic, in the eyes of the north, and treasonous for the majority of southerners at the time.” However viewed at the time, Louvestre’s courage undoubtedly helped build the USS Monitor and its place in Greenpoint history.