The Slave that Saved America!

James Armistead Lafayette
James Armistead Lafayette

The Unpaid Labor Project has focused on the collective contribution of African Americans from 1607 to 1865. It’s the untold story of those who were the key to the United States becoming the most successful nation in modern history. But there are individuals in that stream of history who shine so brightly that they demand our attention. James Armistead Lafayette is such an individual.

James Armistead was a slave. He was born into slavery in Virginia in 1748. Some say he was born around 1760. He was born before the Revolutionary War. That war was fought by the American colonies of the British Empire to gain their independence. That war gave birth to the country we know today as the United States of America. Without winning that war the United States of America would not exist. Without James Armistead it is likely that the war would not have been won.

You see it was James Armistead who served the Continental Army as a spy under the Marquis de Lafayette. He would pose as a runaway slave. He would move freely from British military camp to military camp. He was so bright that the British made him a spy for them. He would pass on false information to the British about what the Americans were doing. He would pass on true information to the Americans about what the British were doing. He was so effective that he supplied the crucial information to General George Washington that allowed him to win the Siege of Yorktown. That was the decisive battle of the war. By gaining the confidence of the top leaders of the British war effort in America he helped to win the war that made America.

He would go on to change his name in honor of the general he served, the Marquis de Lafayette. The Marquis would go on to become one of the most important people in early American history. Years later his testimony would help Armistead to gain his freedom. Years later he would say "I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America if I had known that thereby I would be founding a land of slavery."

Like the Unpaid Laborers whose contribution to America is indispensable, James Armistead Lafayette deserves the honor of our nation. He is the slave who saved America!