1760: James is born into slavery in Virginia. He is assigned as manservant to William Armistead, Jr., when both are children. He learns to read and write in English and French.
1775: General Washington forbids African Americans from serving in the Continental Army. He later changes his mind due to manpower shortages.
1781: With his master’s permission, James joins the Continental forces under the Marquis de Lafayette. As a spy, he poses as a runaway slave to intercept British intelligence.
Before the battle of Yorktown, James provides crucial details of British troop movements.
1783: An act of the Virginia Assembly frees certain enslaved men who fought for the American cause. James is not freed because he is considered a spy, not a soldier.
He petitions the legislature for his freedom.
1787: A letter of support from the Marquis de Lafayette helps James secure his liberty. He takes the surname Lafayette in tribute.
1818: As a veteran, James Lafayette begins collecting a pension. He lives on a 40-acre farm in Virginia with his family.
1824: During the Marquis de Lafayette’s tour of America, the Frenchman reportedly recognizes his former spy in a crowd and embraces him.