Famous Spies: James Armistead

Famous Spies: James Armistead

James Armistead was born into a world and among a people that didn’t think much of him.  He was a slave in 18th-century Virginia, with little in the way of rights.  Still, when the time of the American Revolution came, he volunteered, risking his own life to help fight against the British.  Instead of putting a gun in his hands and marching him in ranks, however, his commanders thought to best use him as a spy.  As it turns out, that was the best decision they could have ever made. Without James Armistead doing what he did, the American Revolution might have been for nothing.

He was first assigned to work under the commander of the French allied forces.  His duties consisted of acting as if he were a runaway slave and infiltrating the British army.  The British decided that they liked the idea of making him a spy as well, so Armistead became a double-agent.  He worked under British commander Cornwallis, being sent on recon missions against the American and French forces.  In reality, he was collecting information on the British and feeding them lies.

He managed to relay sensitive information regarding British troop strength, equipment and supplies and even the strategies that they intended to use in upcoming battles.  They thought little of Armistead as he walked among their camps and so freely spoke of their plans while he was around to overhear them.

It was thanks to Armistead that the American and French forces were able to trap the British at Hampton.  He also fed crucial information about British reinforcements in Yorktown.  Decisions based on what he provided allowed General Washington to strike at the right time and end the war in a victory for America.

In the end, Armistead was returned to the one who owned him.  A provision in the laws that freed African-Americans who fought in the revolution did not apply to him since he acted as a spy.  Eventually, thanks to the efforts of his commanding officers, James Armistead was given his freedom.  He ended his days in 1830, a farmer in Virginia and owner of his own land.