James Armistead, an American Spy

James Armistead Lafayette.jpg
Born James Armistead
December 10, 1760
New Kent County, Virginia, or Elizabeth City
Died August 9, 1830 (aged 69)
New Kent County, Virginia
Nationality American
Occupation Spy

After getting the consent of his master, Armistead volunteered in 1781 to join the army under Lafayette, who utilized him as a spy. Posing as a runaway slave, he joined the camp of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, the turncoat who was leading some British forces in the area. Pretending to be a spy for the British, Armistead gained Arnold’s confidence to the extent that Arnold used him to guide British troops through local roads. “The ex-slave, who later renamed himself James Armistead Lafayette in the general’s honor, served as a double agent against the British under the avowedly antislavery Lafayette.[1]

After Arnold departed north in the spring of 1781, James went to the camp of Lord Charles Cornwallis and repeated his successful pose there. He moved frequently between British camps, where the officers would speak openly about their strategies in front of him. Armistead documented this information in written reports, which he then delivered to other American spies. In this way he relayed much information about the British plans for troop deployment and about their arms. The intelligence reports from his espionage were instrumental in helping to defeat the British during the Battle of Yorktown.

Armistead continued to live in New Kent County with his new wife, one son and several other children. He became a rich farmer and at one point owned three slaves.[5][6] By 1818 he applied to the state legislature for financial aid. He was granted $60 for present relief and a $40 annual pension for his services in the Revolutionary War.


Prejudice is a nasty thing.  Note the occupation is noted as a spy.  The occupation should note that James was a successful farmer and yet it is not noted.

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