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Group celebrates a spy of old

May 18, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Tricia Strader, 33, said she has always been interested in her family's history and the Civil War. On Saturday, she wrapped the two together when she portrayed one of her ancestors, Belle Boyd, who spied for the Confederate army.

As part of the Berkeley County Historical Society's celebration of Boyd's 160th birthday, Strader and other members dressed in mid-1800s costume, gave tours of Boyd's girlhood home in Martinsburg, and talked about Boyd's and Berkeley County's history.

"I came here as a tourist some years ago because I was a Civil War buff and a history buff," Strader said. "Somehow, it worked into my portraying Belle."

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Strader said she can trace her roots to Boyd as well as to Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

In addition to tracing her family roots to Civil War heroes, she said she's researched their lives as well.

Boyd lived at 126 E. Race St. in Martinsburg for only a few years. The Historical Society has renovated the house and uses it as a museum and for office space.

Strader said Boyd was a difficult child but remains a good role model more than 150 years later.

Boyd was kicked out of a local school and sent to finish her schooling in Baltimore. She moved back to Martinsburg but to a different house.

On July 4, 1861, Boyd's home was raided by Union soldiers, Strader said.

The soldiers were led by one particular man, and Boyd "pulled out a pistol and shot him," Strader said.

Boyd was cleared of wrongdoing, but she was watched closely by Union forces. Thus began her career as a spy, Strader said.

Boyd used her wits to tip off Confederate generals about Union plots, Strader said.

"Some people call her an early women's libber. I call her a quite spirited lady," Strader said.

Rick Niland, 45, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., said he collects Civil War memorabilia as a hobby. He and his family came to the birthday celebration Saturday to learn more.

"Just being right here in the middle of all that history; it's just kind of neat seeing what it's all about," he said.

Don Wood, president of the Historical Society, said this was one of the society's main events throughout the year for the 750-member group, and it was a successful one.

"We're having a very good turnout today," Wood said.

Strader said her portrayal of Boyd helped her have a better grasp of her surroundings.

"I kind of feel a connection," she said. "You can't move forward until you know who went before you."

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