Sunday, September 20, 2020

Daring Double Agent: A Spy Called James by Anne Rockwell

When American soldiers arrived in Europe to help free France from its German invaders in both World War I and World War II, their battle cry was "LaFayette, we are here!"

And well they should, since America owes much to the French general Marquis de LaFayette, whose money and army helped win our War of Independence at the Battle of Yorktown. It was LaFayette's secret plan to lure the English general Cornwallis into allowing his entire army to be surrounded on a peninsula in Virginia, forcing the British to sue for the peace and allowing a new nation to be born.

But there was someone else who was essential in winning that final battle--a slave named James, loaned to LaFayette as a servant by a wealthy tobacco farmer in Virginia, John Armistead. James' intelligence and loyalty did not go unnoticed by the French general, and by degrees James became that most daring of spies--a double agent.

On orders from LaFayette, James dressed himself in tatters and presented himself as a runaway slave to Cornwallis and the American turncoat, Benedict Arnold. James foraged for food for the British troops, but no one paid him much attention.

That was a big mistake!

As James worked around their camp, Benedict Arnold openly discussed battle plans and left strategic maps lying around in sight of their servant. But James was smart enough to know that what he was hearing and seeing was very valuable to the American cause.
The British had so much faith in James that they even asked him to spy on the Americans for them. James carried information to LaFayette from the British and gave the British misleading information about American plans.

Being a double agent is doubly dangerous, but in 1783 the Revolutionary War ended with freedom for the former colonies, and soon James' freedom was granted by the state of Virginia, at which time he took for his surname the name of the French hero of our Revolutionary War.

In Anne Rockwell's A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent (Carolrhoda Books), a new patriot hero is introduced to middle readers, a man whose life-threatening midnight rides between rival camps outdo those of Paul Revere. The almost photographic oil paintings of the illustrious illustrator Floyd Cooper add verve to this historic account, especially in the scene in which Cornwallis visits the camp of the Marquis de LaFayette after the battle, spots the same ragged servant he ignored, and realizes that he's been led to lose the thirteen colonies by a mere servant.

With more information to be had in the Author's Note and Bibliography, this is a great book to introduce readers to a little-known hero of American history. "A profoundly successful work!" says School Library Journal.

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