Special Collections & College Archives Black Heritage Month display explores the identity of James, the spy who provided information to the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington during the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. Born into slavery before 1760, James lived most of his life on a plantation in Virginia and was ultimately able to earn a pension for his services during the American Revolution. On display is the testimonial by the Marquis de Lafayette that assisted James to win his freedom from the Virginia General Assembly in 1787. Other materials presented aim to share James’s historical achievements and demonstrate how the significance of his personal narrative disappeared from histories about the American Revolution even as his persona came into focus. The exhibition allows viewers to better understand James’s identity which the author Ralph Ellison described in 1974 as earned at the repeated risk of life and offered an unshakeable faith in the ideal of democracy.


The exhibit will run from February 3rd to 28th, 2023 in the Special Collections & College Archives Reading Room in Skillman Library.