An illustration of a man sneaking about in the night

All illustrations by Ario Murti

History Makers: James Lafayette

He risked his life to spy for America during the Revolutionary War. 

As You Read: Identify the main reason why America and Britain were fighting.

The year was 1781. America was fighting a deadly war with Britain. America wanted its freedom from Britain and to be its own nation.

A man named James was also fighting for freedom—for America and for himself. 

The year was 1781. America was fighting a war with Britain. America wanted its freedom from Britain and to be its own nation.

A man named James was also fighting for freedom—for America and for himself.

The Revolutionary War

When the war started in 1775, James was an enslaved man living in Virginia. But later he received permission to join the American army. 

James served under a general named Marquis de Lafayette. The general asked him to go to the British army and spy on it.

When the war started in 1775, James was an enslaved man living in Virginia. But later he got permission to join the American army. 

James served under a general named Marquis de Lafayette. The general asked him to go to the British army and spy on it.

Behind Enemy Lines

To trick the British, James pretended to be an escaped slave. The British believed him and allowed him to stay in their camp. His knowledge of the Virginia terrain would be useful to them.

James would listen in as British leaders talked about secret battle plans. Then James would sneak back and tell Lafayette what he had learned.

Soon James got the British to trust him even more. They asked him to spy on the Americans for them. James was now a double agent.

James only pretended to spy for the British. General Lafayette told him what to pass along. Most of it was lies about the size of the American army meant to confuse the British.

If James were caught by the British for lying, he would be killed. 

“Spying is very dangerous,” says historian Ken Daigler. “James must have been a very brave and smart person.”

Information provided by James helped America win the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. This was the last major battle with the British, and America won the war.

To trick the British, James pretended to be an escaped slave. The British believed him. They let him stay in their camp. His knowledge of the Virginia terrain would be useful to them.

James would listen as British leaders talked about secret battle plans. Then he would sneak back. He would tell Lafayette what he had learned.

Soon James got the British to trust him even more. They asked him to spy on the Americans for them. James was now a double agent.

James only pretended to spy for the British. General Lafayette told him what to pass along. Most of it was lies about the size of the American army. The lies were meant to confuse the British.

If James were caught by the British for lying, he would be killed. 

“Spying is very dangerous,” says historian Ken Daigler. “James must have been a very brave and smart person.”

Information provided by James helped America win the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. It was the last big battle with the British. America won the war.

Free at Last

In 1786, James asked the government for his freedom. He provided a letter from Lafayette, who praised James for his bravery and hard work. 

Thanks to this letter, James was later freed. He took the name Lafayette, in honor of the general. 

In 1786, James asked the government for his freedom. He provided a letter from Lafayette. The general praised James for his bravery and hard work. 

Thanks to this letter, James was later freed. He took the name Lafayette, in honor of the general.

1. How did James Lafayette get information for the American army?

2. What evidence supports the idea that being a double agent was dangerous?

3. What is the section “Free at Last” mostly about?

1. How did James Lafayette get information for the American army?

2. What evidence supports the idea that being a double agent was dangerous?

3. What is the section “Free at Last” mostly about?

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