The twenty-one year old slave developed the plan and then risked his life to get strategic intelligence reports to the armed forces which resulted in the newly formed United States winning the war against all odds and establishing her independence for Great Britain.
Who was this accomplished spy?
There is controversy now in recognizing only one month in twelve as Black History Month. At the time that Dr. Carter G.Goodson, a black historian, began Negro History Week in 1926 his goal was to educate the American people about African- American history focusing on cultural backgrounds and achievements. So little was known by the general public about African-Americans of the past that it was necessary to make a concerted effort to set aside time to delve into the past to learn about those great men and women who had gone before.
After 33 years of Black History Month, one would think that the general history textbooks of today would contain many references to the accomplishments of African-Americans woven throughout.
America’s textbooks have been published under the misapplication of the phrase “separation of church and state.” This has been construed to mean that we are not to tell the truth to our children about the history of our nation when many of those who shaped the nation were Christians.
I am amazed that people do not know about such people as Harry and Andrew, two black men who ran a school in Charleston, South Carolina in 1743 for training missionaries to African-Americans. The school was in operation for 20 years training hundreds of blacks to preach the Gospel, and also had a night school for general adult education.
Also around this time, two black Methodist preachers and their wives did much for the church, both black and white, and to help run-away slaves and others new to the city of Philadelphia. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, founded the Free African Society. Allen went on to start the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and Jones the African Episcopal Church in 1794.
More intriguing still is the story of the double-spy, James Armistead Lafayette. Born a slave in 1760, James volunteered in 1781, at the age of 21, to assist the Americans by spying on the British. This he did with great skill convincing General Benedict Arnold (who had defected from the ranks of the Americans) and General Cornwallis that he was a run-away slave. As he served at table, the high ranking military men discussed all their plans for the hapless Americans. Little did they know that James was writing intelligence reports and sending them to General Washington through an American spy network.
Soon Cornwallis wanted James to be a spy for Britain. He agreed, but continued to give correct information to the Americans about the deployment of British troops and the number of arms, and faulty information to the British exaggerating the strength of the American forces and misleading them as to deployment. James was a major reason for the British loss at Yorktown that led to the end of the War for Independence.
As a result of his service, and with the help of his owner, James was granted his freedom by the Virginia Legislature. He took the middle name of Armistead in honor of his former master, and the last name Lafayette in honor of the Marque de Lafayette who did so much to aid General Washington against the British.
Lafayette wrote the following about James:
This is to certify that the bearer by the name of James has done essential services to me while I had the honour to command in this state. His intelligences from the enemy’s camp were industriously collected and 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.
Done under my hand, Richmond, November 21st, 1784. Lafayette
There are many exciting stories of the accomplishments and exploits of African-Americans that have been forgotten. More next post about these heroes.