5th grade 101

Earlier today, Politecs spoke on Frederick Douglass. It reminded me of a workout two years ago…

For my son’s history report, he had to choose someone. He chose James Armistead. The first word outta my mouth was, “who?” He was very excited that this individual was a spy. (A James Bond Armistead, if you will.)

Needless to say, I learned a bit (after editing for him….sheesh!) Here is a 5th grader’s view of a really cool fella, er, spy….



Pie Face

December 17, 2010

During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington had to have spies to know what the British were planning.  One of those spies, James Armistead, proved that his loyalty was with America.  Why did James choose to be a spy for the Americans?  Was it for freedom?  Was it for adventure, or was it a strong belief in a new Republic?

James Armistead was a slave owned by William Armistead.  In 1781, at the age of 21, James asked if he could volunteer in the army.  He was granted permission.  At this time, some states were granting freedom to soldier-slaves as well as the same pay that was paid to white soldiers.  James may have believed freedom would be his.  The British Army was also promising freedom for slaves willing to serve their army.  Unfortunately, many slaves joined the British Army.  Their outcome was not so good.  When the British lost the war, these slaves were sold in the West Indies.  James Armistead must surely have wanted his freedom.

George Washington was a spymaster.  He had to employ spies to compete with the British spy network. During the Revolutionary War, British generals would send spies to taverns, telling them to go; sip.  The word gossip was created.  James Armistead got to hear plenty of gossip. After getting permission to serve in the military, James was assigned to the French general, Marquis De Lafayette.  The French were friends with the Americans and fought alongside them during the Revolutionary War.  Lafayette had James spy on Benedict Arnold.  Benedict was the most well-known turncoat of the time.  When Benedict moved north, James was assigned to spy on General Cornwallis.  This general was very important.  Because of James’ high intelligence, he quickly became a favorite of General Cornwallis.  Cornwallis actually assigned James to spy on the Americans! Being a spy was looked down upon and very dangerous, because if you were caught, you were killed.  Now James was a double agent, but his loyalty proved to be with the Americans.  This was a man with a sense of adventure.

James could have been an agent for Cornwallis, but he only pretended to be.  Time after time, the information Lafayette received from James would prove beneficial to the Americans. The information provided to Lafayette and Washington made sure Lafayette was successful in capturing the British in Hampton, and General Washington was able to set a trap for Cornwallis and his troops in Yorktown, Virginia.  This battle ended the war and Cornwallis signed an official surrender.   James Armistead loved and believed in his country.

Unfortunately, James went back into slavery.  The Act of 1783 that Congress passed allowed freedom to slave-soldiers, but not to slave-spies.  Thankfully, Lafayette came to Virginia in 1784 and was upset that Armistead was still a slave.  He petitioned the Virginia General Assembly who then granted Armistead his freedom.  James added Lafayette to his last name, bought 40 acres of land, started farming, and raised a large family.  In 1818 James petitioned the state for veteran’s pension and was granted $40.00 a year by the Virginia Legislature.  James Armistead was a slave, a hero, an adventurer, and a true patriot.


Murray, Stewart A. P. The American Revolution. Irvington NY:  HarperCollins, 2006.

Sanders, Nancy I. America’s Black Founders:  Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders. Chicago:  Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2010.

Ellison, Ralph.  “James Armistead Lafayette.”  The American Revolution Homepage.  2004. <http://americanrevwar.homestead.com/files/JAMES.HTM>.

Salo, Jessica Jina. “Lafayette, James Armistead.”  The Black Past:  Remembered and Reclaimed.  2007 – 2009.  <http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/lafayette-james-armistead-1760-1832>.



  1. Opening
  2. Freedom
  3. Adventure
  4. Belief in a new Republic
  5. Closing

8 thoughts on “5th grade 101

    • My sweet little pumpKen, don’t forget mumsy. Actually, I’m kind of depressed that I didn’t save his take on the circumstances. It was very dramatic (I don’t know where he gets it from,) but probably wouldn’t have gone over so well with the teacher.

  1. From the south pacific I must say I really enjoyed the read. Congratulations to you and your son on telling a great story. Inspirational stuff!!!

    Sean – Melbourne, Australia

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