Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute

James Armistead Lafayette

James Armistead LafayetteIt was the year 1781, a critical point in the Revolutionary war. Benedict Arnold, the American turncoat who was now a general in the British army, needed a spy. And there stood James, a runaway slave. Arnold trusted James. So did Lord Cornwallis. After all, hadn't James guided the British troops over unfamiliar roads? James was so trusted that when he traveled between camps, British officers would speak openly about their strategies in front of him. But what Arnold and Cornwallis didn't know would cost them the war. James was a double agent. Working under General Lafayette, he was actually spying for the Americans and on his "Spy missions" for Arnold and Cornwallis, he relayed information about British plans for troop deployment back to the Continential Army.

James was not a runaway slave as the British believed, he was a slave owned by William Armistead of Virginia, and was loyal to the revolutionary cause. The intelligence reports from his espionage were instrumental in helping to defeat the British during the Battle of Yorktown.

James took the name Armistead, and later Lafayette, in honor of the general under whom he served. After the war, he returned to his master to continue his life as a slave. But thanks to General Lafayette submitting a testimonial to the Virginia legislature on his behalf, James Armistead Lafayette became a free man. He became a farmer, married, raised a family and was granted a pension by the Virginia Legislature --Forty dollars per year.

James Armistead Lafayette died in 1832 at the age of 72 in Virginia.