James Armistead Lafayette - African American Trailblazers

Uploaded by LibraryofVa on 10.03.2009

By now you know the names by heart:
Adams, Lafayette.
The stars of the American Revolution.
The men who figured it all out:
how to create a new government,
how to beat down the world's greatest power,
how to demand freedom,
and then get it.
But I'll bet there's a name you don't know--
vital to the cause of freedom.
His name
was James.
Over time, he was James Armistead Lafayette.
James sure did fool the red coats.
He got 'em thinking that he was a waiter,
and they just talked up all their grand plans about how they were going to send old
George Washington to his grave.
James pocketed that information, then delivered it directly to the
Marquis de Lafayette--
the French hero of the Revolutionary War.
That's why James as an American treasure.
That's why it's only fitting he changed his name after he won his own freedom:
James Armistead
If you take a hard look at the middle
of the Revolutionary War,
it's almost impossible to believe the Americans actually won.
For most of the war, the
Colonials were outmanned by the British Army,
which at the time, was the world's greatest.
They were often outmaneuvered and outsmarted. They lost battle after battle.
The United States of America was nearly destroyed, before it was ever created.
To win this war the Americans needed perseverance,
a sense of cunning, and a powerful desire for freedom.
They also needed help to discover the battle plans of the British Army.
The best way was to find a way to spy on the British and gather that information.
The Americans had such a man.
He was known, at that time, as James-- a man in slavery.
During the Revolutionary War,
many enslaved Africans worked for the British with promises of freedom at
war's end
but James asked his owner for permission to work instead for French
general Marquis de Lafayette,
who came to America to help the young country defeat the British. Naturally,
when you think about what's happening in the English colonies, the American colonies,
at that point in time,
one naturally with think that since the Americans were not offering the promise
of freedom that everyone would take off in willingly support the British. So to
find someone like James who was
not working for them would be quite surprising and would have probably never
occurred to the British generals that he ends up spying. The British general
Cornwallace had marched his soldiers from the Carolinas to Virginia.
They had taken over Portsmith and set
fire to Richmond.
Cornwallace put
hundreds of slaves into play,
using them in support roles--
digging, hauling, cooking,
and serving food to British soldiers.
When Lafayette set up headquarters in New Kent, Virginia
he decided to do the same thing. The American forces
led by General Lafayette in Virginia
were stumped because they could not get good information about what was going on
behind the British lines. Here you you have an enslaved person who's coming into contact
with them in in New Kent County,
and asked his master to go and serve with this man. The first success came in a battle against
former patriot and now traitor, Benedict Arnold.
With the information relayed by their valuable new spy,
the Americans ambushed Arnold's British camp
and came close to capturing Arnold himself.
In July of 1781,
James then found a way to infiltrate the military camp of General Cornwallace.
Passing himself off as a waiter, he gathered significant information that
included the number of ships and boats in and around the Hampton Roads area
including Yorktown. Using James's information,
American and French forces positioned the French Navy on the Chesapeake Bay,
bottling up the York River.
Washington and his troops the marched south to Williamsburg to join Lafayette,
where they routed the British by land and sea.
The brilliant and a heoric efforts of James Lafayette won him litte reward
at first.
Even though he helped to win freedom for the people of America,
those very same people refused to give James his own freedom, even after five
years of trying.
If he had fought
for the British, then he would've won his freedom. But because he sided with the
Americans and and because of the role that he played as a spy,
and he's not going to automatically be awarded his freedom. It's going to take a
petition some years down the road--a special petition especially for him to
the Virginia Legislature in order for him to apply for and eventually
win his freedom. The Marquis de Lafayette, considered great hero of the war,
personally recommended James be considered a
free man in America.
In 1784 the great French general wrote to the Virginia
General Assembly:
"His intelligence from the enemy's camp were industriously collected and more
faithfully delivered.
He perfectly acquitted himself with some important commissions I gave him,
and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of."
On January 9th,
James finally gained his freedom.
One of his first acts was to add to his name that of the general who inspired him
and pleaded for his freedom.
James the slave
became James Lafayette--
an American hero of the
Revolutionary War.