The European Dairy and Address Book
of Rose O'Neale Greenhow

 In 2005 I learned of Rose's European Diary. I attempted to contact the owner to no avail. Desperately wanting to read the diary of my ancestor, I decided that I should attempt to get copies of the original and to transcribe it myself.

My cousin, Bev Crowe
, in Gibson City, Illinois offered to help with the transcription, so in October of 2005, I drove to Raleigh, North Carolina and obtained photo copies of the diary pages from The North Carolina State Archives.

I photographed each page of the 128 page diary
 at high resolution, using a Canon EOS Digital Rebel camera and a Canon Flat Field 2X macro lens. I mailed the Xerox copies and digital images to Bev and we began the long process of transcription.

It took us almost 2 long years to trancribe and annotate the diary and address book and here they are at long last...

Click the image to the right to download the file --->
The European Diary and Adress Book of Rose O'Neale Greenhow

Each page of the diary is reproduced below...

When Rose drowned in 1864 her diary was nearly lost forever.


According to Cornelia Phillips Spencer, who published “The Last Ninety Days Of The War” in 1866,… “found among the effects of Mrs. Rosa Greenhow, which floated ashore from the wreck in which she perished. Among such of her books as were recovered, much damaged and stained with sea-water, was her narrative of her imprisonment in Washington, just published in London, and the MS. of her private journal kept during her visit to London and Paris.”


We learned about the existence of Rose’s European Diary through Washington author Ann Blackman in her book, Wild Rose, Civil War Spy, A True Story, published by Random House in June 2005. According to what we read there, this is a brief history of the diary:


“The diary ended up in the hands of David L. Swain, a North Carolina State Supreme Court Judge, Governor of North Carolina, and President of the University of North Carolina, who died in 1868, four years after Rose. Upon Mr. Swain’s death the diary sat among his voluminous collection of papers.


One hundred and one years later, Dr. H. G. Jones, former state archivist and curator emeritus of the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was going through Mr. Swain’s papers and cataloging them when he came across a diary. It was unsigned and untitled. But the woman's bold, black script made an impression on the archivist.

"I read the first page and saw that it was a woman leaving Wilmington," Jones said. "It was 1863, and I thought it was odd that a woman would be leaving Wilmington in the middle of the Civil War."

One night Jones awoke, certain he had seen the handwriting in a published work. He went to his bookcase, retrieved his copy of Ishbel Ross's "Rebel Rose" and turned to a photograph of a page from Greenhow's address book. He compared the two scripts and recorded the following entry in his journal on Nov. 17, 1965: "I found the diary of Rebel Spy Rose O'Neil Greenhow in the archives unidentified. Apparently never used."

In the academic world of history, it was a good find -- one Jones planned to keep to himself for a while. "It was my secret because I wanted to publish it," Jones said.

But to publish the Greenhow diary would take a lot of work.

Not only would Jones have to go through the laborious process of transcribing the barely legible entries, he would need to do a lot of research for annotations that put into context her comings and goings through the palaces of Great Britain and France. Unknowingly, the last year of her life -- from the time she slipped past Union blockade runners at the height of the Civil War until her drowning at sea in 1864 off the Wilmington shore.

At a manual typewriter, Jones deciphered the European journey of Greenhow and her daughter "Little Rose,” and then Jones decided to share his secret with one other person -- Haskell Monroe, a Civil War specialist who agreed to provide the annotations for a jointly edited publication. In March 1972, 6 1/2 years after the discovery, Monroe wrote Jones, saying his work would be done by summer's end…”


……But the annotations never arrived and today, some 40 years later, the diary remains unpublished.


Hoping to read the long lost diary of my ancestor, I decided that I should attempt to transcribe it myself. My cousin, Bev Crowe, in Gibson City, Illinois offered to help with the transcription, so in October of 2005, I drove to Raleigh, North Carolina and obtained photo copies of the diary pages from The North Carolina State Archives. I photographed each page of the 128 page diary at high resolution, using a Canon EOS Digital Rebel camera and a Canon Flat Field 2X macro lens. I mailed the Xerox copies and digital images to Bev and we began the long process of transcription.


The first thing that we noticed was that Dr. Jones was correct when he said there was no handwriting he had ever seen like this. The diary was indeed quite difficult to read. We’ve transcribed  letters of Rose’s in the past, including those housed at Duke University, but the handwriting in the diary seemed much more difficult to decipher than most of her writings; And upon reflection this makes perfect sense. The letters Rose sent to others needed to be intelligible, so she wrote them neatly. The diary, on the other hand, was meant for no eyes other than her own. The purpose of the diary was to log daily events while in Europe and act as a mnemonic device for her personal use at a later date.


When I’m writing, I do the same thing. When I write a letter to someone, I use my very best “Sunday go to meeting” script. It’s time consuming, but pretty, and gets my point across. When I write articles and/or notes for myself, I hurriedly scrawl cryptic looking lines of text, which my wife says appear to be written in Greek, but serve my purposes. If one or two words in a sentence are legible upon my rereading the notes, the rest of the thought just seems to jump back into my mind and I can sit and type from my notes as if they were perfectly clear. While even I may not be able to read every letter or word in my notes, I am able to use my notes to recall the thought that prompted the scrawling on the paper. And I believe that’s what Rose did here.


Author Ann Blackman said that she took copies of the diary to two handwriting analysis experts and they told her that it was indecipherable. They said that the diary was probably written in some kind of code. And they were partially right. While the diary is not written in code, the handwriting is very singular to the writer and to the period of time it was written in.


After working on the diary for awhile, I noticed that I was actually beginning to learn a new alphabet. In Rose’s handwriting style a “t” often looks like an upside down v; See the word “wait” at the left. More often than not, Rose didn’t bother to cross the letter “t”.


The letters I – J & G all look exactly alike, with the j being in line with the line it is on, the I being superscripted and the g being subscripted.

For example, “I” looks like this: G  “J” looks like this: G : and “G” looks like this: G   

Some words even have little nuances too. The words this, that and thus all look identical.  Also the letters u, a and d all look the same, because Rose did not close the “a” at the top, or the “d.” And she rarely put the upright staff on the d.


Notice in the word “board” to the right. The “a” and “d” are identical.  “U” also looks like this.


The word “to” looks like a heart turned upside down. Notice how Rose used the “o” to cross the “t”.



Another thing that made the diary difficult was that the paper was thin and the ink bled through. Once we realized that Rose’s writing leaned to the right, we realized that anything that seemed to lean to the left was probably bleed through and could be ignored.


In actuality, transcribing the diary was less of a job of transcription and more of a job of assembling a puzzle. Once we learned that the word “to” looked like an upside down heart, we could go through and find them all and write them in. When we learned that a & u & d all looked the same, we could look at words like “board,” illustrated above. Then we could substitute letters and try the word and see if it fit the context of the sentence.


Then there are other nuances we noticed. When Rose’s pen was freshly inked, she used long quick strokes, probably to keep the ink from accumulating in any one spot and bleeding through the page. When the pen was going dry she would write more concisely, yet lighter, as if she were afraid of ripping the page with the sharp end of the pen.


Likewise, her mood affected her style of writing. When discussing Yankees and oppression or something she felt similarly strongly about, she seemed to write in more of a script style font, with long, bold graceful strokes of the pen, and I felt as if I could literally see the venom escaping her pen.


Probably the most difficult sections of the diary to read were written when Rose was in a hurry. I can imagine her sitting down after a long day of negotiations, being dead tired, but feeling obligated to mention the events of the day. At times like this she just sort of drug the pen across the paper, barely lifting it between words, sometimes making an entire line in the diary look like a long line of waves across the page.

I’d like to say that as we went along the transcription got easier. It did to a certain extent, but there are some words and letters in the diary that are just plain illegible. Some are slurred beyond recognition, and some have ink blots obscuring them. Sometimes little cryptic symbols seem to crop up out of the blue.


We have striven for accuracy in the transcription. We combed over the diary using every digital and optical magnification and enhancement device we could find, and wracked our brains endlessly for months trying to make sure everything was written as Rose intended it to be written. If errors are found in our transcription, believe me, it is not for a lack of trying.


The last hurdle to overcome in the transcription was Rose’s apparent disregard for the use of punctuation and capitalization. She would often write entire paragraphs without the use of either, and sometimes she used hyphens “-“ to separate sentences. I point this out not to discredit Rose or belittle her intelligence or education. Actually punctuation and spelling was not standardized then, as they are today. Rules of writing differed dramatically by geographic location and even religious bent. Spelling was often phonetic and left to the discretion of the individual writer.


To allow the reader to enjoy Rose’s diary more thoroughly we have added punctuation to the transcription. We have also taken the liberty of spelling her words correctly. We considered using Rose’s exact spellings until we realized that we could actually introduce more errors into the transcription by not reading every single letter correctly. Rose also dated her entries, but did not use a consistent format, Sometimes she just wrote the date.; i.e. 21 or Tuesday. Sometimes, she wrote the month & day, i.e. Jun 21. To make the dating more consistent to the reader we have added date info where needed. This will give the reader a better understanding of the flow of time in the diary entries. (At the very least, it helped us in the transcription process!)


Rose studied French for many years and she uses it frequently in the diary.  Thanks to Mrs. Madeleine Sandford of Loda, Illinois, we’ve included translations in brackets.


When you see brackets used ( ) they were placed there by Rose. In some instances Rose left out a word. I’m sure she thought the word, but obviously forgot to write it. For instance, one sentence reads, “The Capt. was off on his duty and I went below to put Rose to bed, who was by this nearly asleep”


…who was by this nearly asleep... doesn’t make sense, something is missing. Now, try the same sentence with {time} inserted.


“The Capt. was off on his duty and I went below to put Rose to bed, who was by this {time} nearly asleep”


This seems more like Rose intended the sentence to read. By using these { } brackets the reader will know that I inserted the word or comment, not Rose.


Below is a list of each page of Rose's European diary as xerox copied copied from the original copy, then photographed with a Canon 30d and saved as a large jpg file.
If you'd like to try your hand at transciption, or would like to check our transcriptions, you can open a page and enlarge it to whatever size best suits your eyesight and monitor.