In Honor of Mary Touvestre

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This block honors Mary Touvestre, a freed slave who risked her life to protect the Union army from a disastrous naval attack. This block includes an image of the plans for the Confederate ship The Merrimack, plans that were once stolen by Mary Touvestre, a housekeeper for a Confederate engineer in Norfolk. After hearing the engineer speak about the importance of the ship, Touvestre recognized the danger it imposed upon the Union’s naval forces who were blockading Norfolk’s supplies from Europe, imploring her to steal the plans for the ship and embark on a 195 mile trip through enemy lines to inform the Department of the Navy in Washington of the impending danger. In this block, the danger posed by the ship is highlighted by nails embedded around the head of the warship. The tangling string that weaves through the block depicts the length of the journey, and the risk shouldered by a black woman traveling on foot through Confederate lands. Touvestre report urged officials to speed up plans for constructing an ironclad ship for the Union army, saving them from an ugly attack for which they would not have been prepared. If Touvestre had never provided the intelligence, the USS Merrimac would have been given several more unchallenged weeks to quite possibly disrupt the Union’s blockade of Norfolk. The purpose of this block is to celebrate and honor the countless slaves and freed blacks living within Confederate regions who risked their lives to serve the Union army. In this piece, we also recognize the wider sacrifices made by black people to support a country that has continued to deny them humanity and safety.