James Armistead Lafayette Biography

James Armistead Lafayette was an African-American slave who worked for the ‘American Continental Army’ during the Revolutionary War of America as a spy. This biography profiles his childhood, life, career & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 10, 1760

Nationality: American

Famous: Spies American Men

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Died At Age: 69

Born in: New Kent County, Virginia, or Elizabeth City

Famous as: Spy

Died on: August 9, 1830

City, States, Provinces & Districts: Virginia

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James Armistead Lafayette was an African-American slave who worked for the ‘American Continental Army’ during the American Revolutionary War as a spy. After James volunteered himself in the ‘American Continental Army’ and upon approval of his master William Armistead, he was assigned to serve the allied French forces commander Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette designated him as a spy. He was first assigned the task to report movements of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold who was initially with the ‘American Continental Army’ but later pulled out to join the British Army. He was highly successful in his pretentious mode of a British spy, so much so that he was assigned by Arnold to guide the British armed forces through the local roads. During the ‘Siege of Yorktown’ he served as a spy under Lafayette and posed to be a fugitive slave and gained confidence of the British lord and Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. While moving between British camps, he could easily extract information as the British officers un-hesitantly discussed their moves in his presence. He would prepare written reports with detailed information and pass them on to other American spies. Through his espionage he played an instrumental role in enabling the American forces to dominate the ‘Battle of Yorktown’.

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James Armistead Lafayette
Childhood & Early Life
  • James Armistead Lafayette was born a slave to owner William Armistead. While some sources indicate that he was born on December 10, 1748 at the New Kent County farm of William Armistead in Virginia, others point out his birth took place on December 10, 1760 in the Elizabeth City of Virginia.
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Career
  • In 1781 after obtaining his owner’s consent, James Armistead Lafayette volunteered himself in the ‘American Continental Army’ during the Revolutionary War of America.
  • He was assigned to serve the allied French forces commander Marquis de Lafayette who inducted him as a spy to acquire strategic information of movements of the opponents.
  • He was first assigned the task to report movements of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, a defector who initially served the ‘American Continental Army’ but later pulled out to join the British Army. After joining the camp of Arnold he faked to be a British spy and earned trust of Arnold so much so that he was assigned by Arnold to guide the British armed forces through the local roads.
  • Thereafter during the ‘Siege of Yorktown’ that lasted from September 28, 1781 to October 19, 1781, he again served as a spy under Lafayette. He posed to be a fugitive slave and gained confidence of the British lord and Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis.
  • While moving between British camps, he could easily extract information as the British officers un-hesitantly discussed their moves in his presence. He would prepare written reports with detailed information and pass them on to other American spies.
  • This way he transferred much important strategic information that aided the American forces to dominate the ‘Battle of Yorktown’.
  • In 1782 an emancipation act was passed in Virginia that allowed slaves, who had served as a soldier in the army as substitutes of their masters, to be free. Even though he played a substantial role during the war, he could not claim his freedom as he was considered a slave-spy and not a slave-soldier. Thus he continued to be owned by William Armistead.
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  • In 1784 Marquis de Lafayette helped him by giving a written testimonial of his services during the war. With the testimonial and advocacy of his owner William Armistead, who by that time became a ‘House of Delegates’ member, James Armistead Lafayette made a petition at the ‘Virginia Assembly’ seeking his independence.
  • His petition was granted by the ‘Virginia Assembly’ on January 9, 1787. To show his gratitude towards Marquis de Lafayette, he added Lafayette’s surname to his name and from then on came to be known as James Armistead Lafayette.
  • Thereafter he lived in New Kent County and started farming in forty acres of land he had purchased.
  • Following his application for financial support to the state assembly around 1818, he was given an amount of $60 as present relief. The Virginia legislature also granted him an annual pension of $40 for rendering his services at the time of the ‘American Revolution’.
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Major Works
  • His espionage including detailed report enabled Marquis de Lafayette and General George Washington to impede the British army from sending reinforcements of ten thousand army men to Yorktown. The British forces were taken aback by the barrier put up by the French and American troops that resulted in victory of Marquis de Lafayette and General George Washington in Yorktown and led to the surrender of the British on October 19, 1781.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • Following his freedom he got married and had a large family. He died on August 9, 1830.
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Trivia
  • When Marquis de Lafayette came to the United States in 1824 accepting an invitation from James Monroe, the then President of the United States, he was welcomed as a hero by the crowds in every state he visited. On one such visit in Virginia he spotted James Armistead Lafayette in the crowed and leaped from his carriage to hold James in his hand.
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How To Cite

Article Title
- James Armistead Lafayette Biography
Author
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
Website
- TheFamousPeople.com
URL
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/james-armistead-lafayette-6924.php
Last Updated
- November 07, 2017

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James Armistead Lafayette