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James Armistead Lafayette
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Spy
    (December 10, 1760-August 9, 1830)
    Born in New Kent County (Elizabeth City), Virginia
    African American slave
    Owned by William Armistead of Virginia (whose surname he adopted)
    Granted permission by his master to join the Continental Army
    Served the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War as a double agent (1781-2)
    Best known for having served under the Marquis de Lafayette
    Emancipated on January 9, 1787, after approval from the House of Delegates (then adopting the surname of his hero, Lafayette)
    Granted $60 for present relief and a $40 annual pension for his services in the Revolutionary War after applying to the state legislature for financial aid (1818)
    He spent his final days as a wealthy slave-owner.
    He had difficulty obtaining his freedom after the war in exchange for his service, mainly because he served as a spy, not a soldier.
    As is usually the case with ex-slaves, very little is known about his early life.
    His middle/last name, very ironically, sounds like the site of an 1839 slave revolt/mutiny (which led to the landmark 1841 Supreme Court decision).
    He was the subject of at least one crude joke on Good Times ('I can just imagine him now standing in a 1776 Cadillac... Lafayette - we's here!')
    Internet graphic artwork has depicted him as having homosexual relations with Lafayette (unlikely).
    He usually posed as a runaway slave to gain information from British officials.
    He laid the groundwork for future African-American spies, including Harriet Tubman.
    His 'owner,' William Armistead, was a liberal-minded member of the House of Delegates who supported his bid for freedom after the war.
    His acts of espionage were credited with saving the Marquis de Lafayette from being captured by the British.
    He infiltrated the battlements of traitor Benedict Arnold, posing as a spy for the British.
    He deceived Gen. Arnold so well that he even used Armistead to guide British troops through local roads (karma's a bitch, ain't it?)
    He repeated this ploy in the camp of General Cornwallis, playing a crucial role in the victory against the British in the Battle of Yorktown.
    British troops more likely than not thought he was illiterate and/or dense, thereby feeling free to speak openly about their plans without risk (of course, the whole time he was documenting reports and sending them to the Americans).
    It is strongly believed that he was the driving factor in influencing the Marquis de Lafayette's support for abolition and by proxy his influence over Washington on the subject (the Marquis wrote him an 1784 testimonial advocating for his freedom).
    When the Marquis de Lafayette made his celebrated, much-publicized visit to the United States in 1824, he abruptly ordered his carriage to halt while traveling in Virginia, after catching sight of Armistead in the crowd, rushing to openly embrace his comrade in full sight of the slave-owning public.

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair


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