Mar 21, 2024 - Sale 2663

Sale 2663 - Lot 292

Price Realized: $ 12,350
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 1,500 - $ 2,500
(MILITARY--AMERICAN REVOLUTION.) Engraved portrait of James Armistead Lafayette, master spy for the Continental Army. Stipple engraving, 7¼ x 6 inches; mounted on a scrapbook leaf, with pencil presentation inscription on verso. No place, circa 1820s or 1830s?

Additional Details

James Armistead Lafayette (circa 1748-1830) was a literate enslaved man in Virginia. When the British offered freedom to those willing to fight for the King, James joined their ranks as a double agent, feeding inside information from Benedict Arnold's camp to the Patriot side at great personal risk. After the war, when Virginia government offered freedom to those who fought in the Continental Army, James was denied freedom because he had not borne arms. General Lafayette intervened on his behalf with a note of support: "This is to certify that the bearer by the name of James has done essential services to me while I had the honour to command in this state. The intelligence from the ennemy's camps were industriously collected and more faithfully delivered. He perfectly acquitted himself with some important commissions I gave him, and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of. Done under my hand, Richmond, November 21st 1784. Lafayette." James was manumitted by a special act of the Virginia legislature in 1787, and he took Lafayette as his new surname as a tribute. When General Lafayette made his much-publicized tour of the United States in 1824, he spotted James in a Virginia crowd and stopped his carriage to embrace him.

Printed below the portrait is a facsimile of the General's letter of support. We suspect this print dates from not long after General Lafayette's tour, which brought James a new measure of fame. The print was already regarded as "old" when a copy was presented to the Virginia State Library in 1875 (see the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of 8 April 1875). 3 institutional copies found, and none traced at auction.