Isabelle (Belle) Boyd, actress and Confederate spy, was born on May 9, 1844, in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), to Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. Her varied career brought her to Texas at least twice—first to perform in Houston and Galveston theaters, and later to settle temporarily in Dallas. She graduated from Mount Washington Female College at the age of sixteen in 1860. The following year, after shooting a Union soldier who broke into her home and gleaning information from the sentries who temporarily guarded her, she began smuggling notes to Confederate officers. Later she served as a courier for generals Pierre G. T. Beauregard and Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson and their subordinates. Belle was apprehended aboard ship in May 1864, while carrying dispatches to Confederate agents in England, and banished to Canada. But she subsequently reached England, where, in August of the same year, she married Samuel Wylde Hardinge, the Union naval ensign assigned to guard her after her capture. In 1865 she published an account of her wartime activities, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison.
Soon widowed and left with a small daughter, she went on stage in England in 1866. That same year she made her United States debut in St. Louis and soon afterward adopted the stage name Nina Benjamin. In fall 1868 she performed in several plays in Houston, having contracted with Maurice and Henry Greenwall to appear at their stock houses in Houston and Galveston. However, a disagreement between Henry Greenwall and members of the acting company led to cancellation of the bookings. With new manager Thomas P. Ochiltree, Belle proceeded to Austin, where she gave a series of dramatic readings. When the new year arrived, she left the state.
On March 17, 1869, she retired from the stage to marry John Swainston Hammond. They moved to California, where she suffered a mental collapse and gave birth to a son in a Stockton insane asylum. At Mount Hope, near Baltimore, she was treated, recovered, and was discharged in 1870. She had three more children with Hammond, a traveling salesman, and the family moved to various cities around the country before settling in 1883 in Dallas.
The marriage was dissolved on November 1, 1884. Two months later Belle married twenty-four-year-old Nathaniel Rue High of Toledo, Ohio, a stock-company actor, and in order to support her family she returned to the stage with High as her business manager. She debuted in Toledo on February 22, 1886, with a dramatic narrative of her own exploits as a Confederate spy. Until her death she toured the country, performing her show in a Confederate uniform and cavalry-style hat. Belle Boyd died at the Hile House in Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells), Wisconsin, on June 11, 1900, and was buried there at Spring Grove Cemetery. Her fashionable house on Pocahontas Street in Dallas, which she sold on July 29, 1887, was razed in 1963.
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Dictionary of American Biography. Ruth Scarborough, Belle Boyd: Siren of the South (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1983). Louis A. Sigaud, Belle Boyd (Richmond, Virginia: Dietz, 1944). Webster's American Military Biographies (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1978).
Spies and Scouts
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Joan J. Perez,
“Boyd, Isabelle [Belle],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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