James Armistead 

A Wild Scheme

La Belle Gabrielle

A Lifetime Passion

Farewell Tour

Frances Wright
and Nashoba

Skillman Library
Lafayette College

Web exhibit drawn from
the Spring 2001 
Special Collections &
College Archives exhibit "Lafayette and Slavery"

Curated by 
Diane Windham Shaw

Web design by 
Emelie M. George

  James Armistead Lafayette

A personal reason for Lafayette’s interest in emancipation may have been his association with the slave, James Armistead, during the Revolutionary War.  With the permission of his master, Armistead volunteered for service with Lafayette during the siege of Richmond in 1781.  Before long, he was performing important espionage service behind enemy lines, masquerading as an escaped slave while he obtained information about the plans and movements of the British.  He continued his spying as a servant in Cornwallis’s camp during the Yorktown Campaign and relayed intelligence to Lafayette that helped bring about the American victory at Yorktown.  When Lafayette returned to America in 1784, he wrote a special testimonial about Armistead’s service and was instrumental in helping the slave win his freedom from the Virginia General Assembly in 1787.  In tribute to Lafayette, James Armistead adopted the surname Lafayette, which he used for the rest of his life.  When Lafayette again returned to America in 1824, he visited Richmond and recognized his old associate in the crowd.  According to a local newspaper account, Lafayette called him by name and took him into his embrace. 
James Armistead Lafayette
Engraving made from 
the Le Paon 
painting of Lafayette

Le Paon
Marquis de Lafayette's
testimonial to
James Armistead

Le Paon
Lafayette at Yorktown
Painted by Jean-Baptiste Le Paon about 1783

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Skillman & Kirby Libraries · Lafayette College · Easton, PA 18042
Last updated 9 August 2002