West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture & History

History Alive! character Belle Boyd to visit West Virginia Independence Hall March 17


Belle Boyd, the Cleopatra of the Confederacy, will make a special appearance at West Virginia Independence Hall (WVIH) in downtown Wheeling at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 17. The West Virginia Humanities Council’s History Alive! character, portrayed by Patty Cooper of Parkersburg, will discuss her numerous arrests, imprisonment and exile from the United States during the program, timed to celebrate Women’s History Month. There will be a reception following the presentation. Admission is free and the public is invited to attend.

Boyd was one of the most famous Confederate spies during the American Civil, repeatedly and under dangerous circumstances, managing to relay information on Union troop strengths and movements to Confederate commanders in the field. According to Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the intelligence she provided helped him to win victories in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. Authorities suspected her of being a spy almost from the start, and the Union imprisoned her many times, but she was a master of manipulation. Her ability to exploit a soldier’s sense of chivalry and the Victorian male’s natural deference to “ladies” became legendary and may help explain why so many of that war’s best spies were women.

Born in what is now Martinsburg, W.Va., in 1844, Boyd’s first arrest occurred July 4, 1861, when she shot and killed a Union soldier whom she claimed insulted her mother. After an inquiry into the incident, her actions were deemed justified and she was cleared of any wrongdoing. She was arrested again in 1862 and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., where the superintendent is said to have fallen in love with her. She was released in a prisoner exchange only to be arrested twice more in 1863. In 1864 she went to Canada and later England. While there, she wrote a two-volume memoir, Belle Boyd in Camp and in Prison, and she also began to act. She returned to the United States and toured and lectured on her wartime experiences until her death in 1900 of a heart attack in Wisconsin.

The History Alive! program brings historical characters to life through portrayals by presenters who have conducted scholarly research on their character. The presentations consist of three parts, beginning with a monologue in which the character introduces the historical, social and political issues of the era, followed by the character initiating a discussion with the audience, allowing time for questions, debate and disagreements with the character. The program wraps up with the presenter breaking character to answer questions as a researcher.

The West Virginia Humanities Council program is being hosted by WVIH. The Humanities Council is a private, not-for-profit organization that has provided educational programs in the humanities for all West Virginians for more than 30 years.

For more information, contact Travis Henline, site manager at WVIH, at (304) 238-1300 or email him at travis.l.henline@wv.gov.

West Virginia Independence Hall, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is maintained and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the exception of major holidays. The museum is located on the corner of 16th and Market streets in Wheeling.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts with Kay Goodwin, Cabinet Secretary. The Division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the Division’s programs, events and sites, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.



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