A Biography of Rosatta Maria O'Neale Greenhow 1814-1864

"I employed every capacity with which God has endowed me,
and the result was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect."

There are many volumes written about "Rebel Rose" O'Neale Greenhow, Confederate Spy, between the years 1860 and 1864. The years of her life between her birth and 1860 are pretty vague and sometimes quite erroneous.

One source said she was born with a silver spoon in the mouth, while yet another said she was a social climber from a poverty stricken background, who pretty much slept her way into Washington society. Because of the disparity in the various reports I decided to do some research and try to present a more factual version of her early life and ancestry.

Her lineage

G-G-Grandfather, Joseph OWNEILL was born ABT. 1670 and died 1747 in St. Mary's Co. MD.
He married Unknown LEMAIRE ABT. 1689 in Calvert Co. MD.

G-Grandfather, William O'NEALE was born ABT. 1695 in Frederick Co. MD, and died DEC 1759 in Fredrick Co. MD.
He married Eleanor BALL ABT. 1718 in Fredrick Co. MD.

Grandfather, Laurence O'NEALE was born ABT. 1733 in Fredrick Co. MD.
He married Henrietta NEILL.

Father, John O' NEALE was born ABT. 1770, and died 8 OCT 1814 in St. Paul's parish, Prince
George's parish, MD.
He married Eliza Henrietta HAMILTON.

As you can see above, Rose's Father, John O'Neale was the son of Laurence O'Neale, a wealthy land speculator, who at the time of his death, owned 18 slaves and over 3,000 acres of land in Maryland. John was born about 1770 in Frederick County, Maryland and married Eliza Henrietta Hamilton on January 1st, 1810. They settled into a plantation house on John's extensive lands at Port Tobacco and began to raise a family.

John, it was said, was quite a character, a "great fascinator of women," who indulged in all the lusty pleasures of his day, including fox hunting, horse racing, cockfighting and the lavish hospitality of the manorial region.

Rosatta Maria O'Neale was the middle or third child born to John and Eliza in 1814. When Rose was 3 years old her father was killed by his negro man servant, Jacob, who was subsequently hanged for the foul deed. Afterwards the estate was broken up and Eliza and her six children moved to Poolesville, Maryland.

As was often the case in those bygone days, when tradgedy struck a family, relatives were there to help out and as a result Rose and her sister Ellen were sent to live with Eliza's sister, Mary Hamilton and her husband, Mr. H. V. Hill.

Mary Hill ran the fashionable Capitol Hill Boardinghouse in Washinton, D.C. This building, now on the site occupied by the Supreme Court, was constructed as a temporary home for Congress after the original Capitol was burned during the War of 1812.

As a boardinghouse, it was a social gathering place for the political elite, and any politician and/or visiting statesman worth his salt would visit the boardinghouse for dining and entertainment. Mrs. Hill kept her nieces busy, but on display. They attended classes. They were schooled in social graces. They went to parties, carefully chaperoned. She steered them through all the mud and excitement of the Jackson Pre Civil War era. During her stay here Rose met and developed strong friendships with many a notable statesman of the time, including John Calhoun, Andrew Jackson and James Madison. Her schooling, taught at home by her mother and aunt was strict and disciplined and judging by her later accomplishments in life,  quite effective.

Years later, after the Old Capitol was converted to a prison during the Civil War, Rose would reside there again--this time as one of the Union's more celebrated captives.

Ellen Elizabeth O'Neale married James Madison Cutts in 1833. They honeymooned in Montpelier. Ellen was known as "My Pet" to First Lady Dolly Madison. Dolly also called Ellen's son "Little Madison" and was seen with him at many functions of state and receptions around Washington DC.

In 1834 Dolly Madison and Ellen introduced Rose to Robert Greenhow, a prominent and promising young politico and encouraged them to marry. Robert was a grandson of John Greenhow, an English Settler, who was Mayor of Williamsburg in 1805 and Mayor of Richmond in 1813.

Robert and Rose were married in 1835.

With her charm, intellect and ambition, as well as through her husband, Robert, by now a State Department official, Rose came to know virtually everyone of importance in Washington. Daniel Webster and President James Buchanan were among her many friends and intimates. No one was closer, however, than John C. Calhoun, the powerful statesman from South Carolina who variously served as senator, secretary of state and vice president. As one of the great intellectual progenitors of the Southern Confederacy, he won Rose's eternal admiration and devotion.

As an adult Rose boasted of having Revolutionary blood in her veins. To prove it she traced her Family tree back to a Roman Catholic Colonist who landed on the Western Shore in 1634. (Joseph's Father or Grandfather?) On Debby O'Neal's web page, Debby shows that a Joseph O'Neale was granted a patent to Smith Island, Maryland in 1636. This may well turn out to be the ancestor Rose was speaking about.

The family name was spelled O'Neale at the time of Rose's birth, but the family dropped the e in her early years. (Our research on other O'Neale lines confirms this. Our John O'Neale, born in 1715-1719 had 12 children who also dropped the e, although a generation earlier.) (Wonder why?)

Rose & Robert went to Mexico City in 1850. Robert was in ill health.

In 1851 they had moved to San Fransisco, California. Robert's Law Office was on 145 Montgomery Street. Their home was on 8 & 9 Montgomery Block. This was during the gold rush. There were lots of '49'ers there.

In Feb; 1854 Rose had gone back to Wash. for a visit and to deliver Rose. Robert remained in San Francisco and was walking down the street on a plank sidewalk. He slipped off a plank and fell six feet down an embankment to the street below, hurting his leg. Within days his leg became paralyzed and six weeks after the fall he died. He did not tell Rose about his injury because he did not want her making the trip to back to San Francisco so soon after childbirth, and because he didn't think his injury was that serious. His obit is in the Daily Alta California. At this time Rose was a baby, Leila a schoolgirl, Gertrude deep in the teen years and Florence a young belle.

Gertrude died in Mid March, 1861.

1862 Florence and husband Moore moved from California to Utah.

Right after the Battle of Bull Run, Rose sent Leila to Utah to live with sister, Florence on her promise that she be given a quality education.

Aug 24, 1863 Florence was in London. She met Rose there and took Little Rose to the Sacred Hearts Convent and enrolled her. Rose developed into a handsome girl at the convent and left it at the age of 17. American friends took her home to America and the Moores. There Rose fell in love with and married a young West Pointer, Lieutenant William Penn Duvall. Duvall would enjoy a distinguished military career, serving in the Spanish-American War, in the Philippines and the First World War, summing up his illustrious career as a General with many decorations and honors.

On the down side he was a severe disciplinarian, both in and out of the army and as a result he and Rose ultimately divorced after much marital discord. After the divorce Rose appeared on the stage for a time, following which she returned to France, became deeply religious and retired from public view.

In the acknowledgments in the beginning of the book, Ishbel lists her sources, some of whom are direct descendents of Rose as follows:

a) Rose's great grandson, Colonel L.E. Marie, Jr. and his wife, of Edgewater, Maryland.
b) Mrs. Mary Greenhow Johnston of Richmond, Virginia.
c) Miss Cora D. Powell of Baltimore, Maryland.

CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers)
12299: Robert Wallace, Jesse Leach, and John J. Harding vs. Susanna Henrietta Peter, Mary Ann O'Neale, John Eliza O'Neale, Jell Cutts, Eleanor Cutts, Robert Greenough, and Mary Rosetta Greenough. AL. Estate of John O'Neal - Irons Mistake, Irons Mistake Amended, Rich Bottom, Sugar Bottom, Yankee Hall, Yankee Run, Big Spring, Prospect, Potomac Bottom, Great Sugar Camp, Maryland Right, White Oak Plains, Fertile Meadows, Little Expected, Timber Ridge, Gleanings, Other Yankees.
Accession No: 17,898-12299. MSA S512-12106  1/39/4/