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David W. Bishop

James Armistead had been the slave of William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia, before being granted permission by his master in March 1781 to serve with General Lafayette, a French statesman who was fighting on the side of the colonists. By July 7, 1781, Armistead was able to infiltrate the headquarters of British general Charles Cornwallis, ostensibly as a servant hired to spy on the Americans but in reality a patriot who spied on the British. Although his birth and early childhood remain in obscurity, he is remembered for his written intelligence reports relating to the Yorktown campaign that ended the Revolutionary War. In the spring of 1781 Cornwallis had moved his British forces from the Carolinas into Virginia quartering near Portsmouth and practically controlled Virginia Lafayette quartered near Richmond at New Kent County Court House and Williamsburg with American forces half the size of ...

Article

Billy  

William Seraile

The treason case of Billy is more significant for what it says about the ambivalence toward slavery of Thomas Jefferson and other Virginians than for the light it sheds on the life of Billy, or Will. Ironically, in 1710 another slave named Will had a brief flirtation with history. This earlier Will was freed for “his fidelity … in discovering a conspiracy of diverse negros … for levying war” in Virginia.

The Will, or Billy, of the treason case was the slave of Colonel John Tayloe, a resident of Richmond County, Virginia. Billy and others were arrested and convicted of seizing an armed vessel on 2 April 1781 in order to wage war against Virginia. He was condemned to death by the court of Oyer and Terminer in Prince William County on 8 May. Henry Lee and William Carr dissenting justices noted that he was not a citizen ...

Article

Billy  

William Seraile

a mixed race slave, also known as Will or William, was the subject of an alleged treason case during the American Revolution. Nothing is known about Billy's birth, family, or childhood.

The Billy, or Will, of the treason case was the slave of Colonel John Tayloe, a resident of Richmond County, Virginia. Billy and others were arrested and convicted of seizing an armed vessel on 2 April 1781 to wage war against Virginia. He was condemned to death by the court of Oyer and Terminer in Prince William County on 8 May. Henry Lee and William Carr, dissenting justices, noted that he was not a citizen and owed no allegiance to Virginia. Furthermore, Billy argued that others had forced him onto the vessel, and there was no evidence that he had gone aboard voluntarily.

Only Governor Thomas Jefferson could grant Billy a reprieve Jefferson was profoundly ambivalent ...

Article

Balthazar Becker

and entrepreneur, is presumed to have been born in New York in 1736. Most of what is known of Blue’s biography we owe to an 1823 petition, in which he details his participation in both the Seven Years’ War and in the American Revolution, and through his testimony in a court case in 1832. Earlier scholars had discredited these accounts as Blue’s fabrication and had speculated that Blue was born around 1767 in Jamaica. Yet, recent archival research by Ian Duffield and Cassandra Pybus has vindicated the key dates and locales of Blue’s autobiographical accounts, which encompass pivotal eras in the histories of North America, Europe, and Australia. This scholarship has established Blue as a central figure among the black founders of modern Australia.

In all probability William Billy Blue was born in colonial New York It is now assumed that Blue was recruited as a seaman for ...

Article

Lyde Cullen Sizer

Union spy during the Civil War, was born a slave on the Richmond, Virginia, plantation of John Van Lew, a wealthy hardware merchant. Very little is known about her early life. Upon Van Lew's death in 1843 or 1851, his wife and daughter, Elizabeth, manumitted his slaves and bought and freed a number of their family members, Mary among them. Like most of their former slaves, Mary remained a servant in the Van Lew household, staying with the family until the late 1850s. Noting her intellectual talent, Elizabeth, a staunch abolitionist and Quaker, sent Mary to the Quaker School for Negroes in Philadelphia to be educated.

Mary returned from Philadelphia after graduating to marry Wilson Bowser, a free black man. The ceremony was held on 16 April 1861 just days after the Civil War began What made the ceremony so unusual was that the parishioners of ...

Article

Jane Poyner

British colonel turned revolutionary, and African‐Caribbean wife (also described as African‐American in origin). In 1790, when Colonel Despard arrived in London after nearly twenty years of British military service in the Caribbean, he brought with him his wife, Catherine, and their young son James. Catherine's background remains unclear: by some accounts she was the daughter of a Jamaican preacher, by others an educated Spanish Creole. The couple had married some time between 1786 and 1789, while Edward was Superintendent of the newly created British enclave of Belize. The Despards' mixed‐race marriage was perhaps the only such example in Britain at the time.

In London the Despards, turning their backs on respectable society, threw themselves into radical politics, Catherine focusing her energies on abolitionism and prisoners' rights. Edward's political views fell under government suspicion and Catherine took an increasingly public role in defending him against charges of ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

intelligence agent, was born on 16 June 1922 in Concord, New Hampshire, in the United States. The son of an army colonel, Devlin grew up in San Diego, California, and served in the US military in World War II, reached the rank of captain by the end of that conflict. Devlin earned an undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 1947, before beginning a master's degree in international relations at Harvard University, where the US Central Intelligence Agency recruited him to join as an agent. Little is known of his activities in the CIA prior to 1959, when he learned he was to be stationed in the Congo. Devlin had closely observed in Brussels the Round Table discussions in January and February 1960, in which Congolese politicians and Belgian officials negotiated a rapid path to independence in June 1960.

Devlin finally arrived in the ...

Article

Bill Nasson

Cape Coloured rural artisan and British collaborator in the Anglo-Boer or South African War of 1899–1902, was born on 12 September 1864 near Carnarvon in the northern Cape Colony He was the only son of Adam Esau and Martha April who lived and worked as itinerant field laborers and house servants on several farms in the interior of the northwestern Cape He received some elementary schooling in English at a Wesleyan mission station outside Prieska This period of education had a significant formative influence that was deepened through his adolescence In the 1870s the Esau family had a lengthy period of service on the farm of a paternalist English speaking farmer with a local reputation for seeing to the needs of laboring families The Esau household developed a distinctly Anglicized cultural sensibility and became differentiated socially from surrounding rural Dutch Afrikaans speaking working class people Growing up in a ...

Article

John Howard Smith

tavern owner and innkeeper in New York City and Philadelphia, was probably born in the French West Indies. There seems to be some controversy regarding his race, as his nickname, “Black Sam,” would indicate an African American identity, while some primary sources imply that he was either white or a Mulatto. Historians are generally agreed, however, that Fraunces was African American. Much of what is known about him comes from his 1785 petition for compensation from Congress for services rendered during the American War of Independence, letters from George Washington, and an obituary in the 13 October 1795 issue of the Gazette of the United States. He owned an inn in New York City in 1755 and the following year obtained a license to operate an ordinary which was a tavern serving meals as well as the usual ales and spirits At this time he was married ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

fugitive slave, abolitionist, Union spy, and state senator, was born in Smithville (now Southport), Brunswick County, North Carolina, the son of Hester Hankins, a slave, and John Wesley Galloway, the son of a white planter who later became a ship's captain. In 1846 Hester Hankins married Amos Galloway, one of John Wesley Galloway's slaves. Abraham Galloway later recalled that his biological father “recognized me as his son and protected me as far as he was allowed so to do” (Still, 150), but John Wesley Galloway did not own Abraham. Abraham's owner was Marsden Milton Hankins a wealthy railroad mechanic from nearby Wilmington who may also have owned Hester Hankins Abraham considered Marsden Hankins a fair master but he was less forgiving of Hankins s wife who was overly fond of the whip Abraham apprenticed as a brick mason and as was common ...

Article

Patrick G. Williams

Lafayette, James (1748–09 August 1830), patriot spy, also known to history as James Armistead, was born in slavery; little is recorded of his parentage or early life except that he belonged to William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. In the summer of 1781 James was attending his master while Armistead worked as a commissary in Richmond, supplying patriot forces under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette’s men had been sent south to counter British units under Charles Cornwallis then operating in eastern Virginia. When it became known that Lafayette was recruiting spies to keep better track of Cornwallis’s intentions, James (with his master’s consent) volunteered, believing such service might win him his freedom.

By late July James had crossed into the British camp at Portsmouth and apparently was employed as a forager His work enabled him in the course of gathering food to ...

Article

Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf

slave and Revolutionary War spy, was born James Armistead, a slave belonging to the planter William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. Nothing is known of his parents, but it is reasonable to assume that William Armistead also held, at least at some point, James's mother and possibly his father as slaves. James Armistead was a skilled worker whom William Armistead employed in his Richmond offices apparently in a clerical capacity. During the Revolutionary War, William Armistead served as a military supply officer, with James Armistead accompanying him as a body servant. Later William Armistead was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

James Armistead accompanied William Armistead to Richmond in the summer of 1781 while William was fulfilling his duties as the commissary of military supplies to the Continental army. American forces, led by the French Marquis de Lafayette, and British troops led by Lord Cornwallis ...

Article

Julie Walters

Civil War Union spy, was born in Virginia and married Michael Louveste around 1840. Nothing is known of her parentage or early life. Both she and her husband were Union sympathizers living in Norfolk at the time of the Civil War. Though some commentaries have described her as a slave during the time of her espionage for the Union, the 1860 U.S. Census lists her and her husband as free inhabitants of the area who could both read and write. The census also records Michael Louveste as a barkeeper possessing a personal estate valued at $1,000.

Mary Louveste's location near the southern coast of Virginia placed her at the heart of Confederate naval operations. She was further well-situated for Union espionage through her employment in Portsmouth, Virginia, at the Gosport Naval Shipyard (renamed the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1862 Three days following Virginia s vote to secede ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

the name bequeathed to history and literature of a trusted agent of the Pinkerton intelligence network during the Civil War. According to Allan Pinkerton's own memoirs, this agent was born into slavery on the Mississippi plantation of James MacFarland Scobell, and taken by his then-master, a soldier in the 2nd Mississippi infantry regiment, to Manassas Junction, Virginia.

The 2nd Mississippi was assigned to the third brigade, Army of Northern Virginia. However, none of the rosters that have been compiled, listing the officers and enlisted men serving in the 2nd Mississippi, include a James McFarland Scobell. Nor do census records from Mississippi in 1860, 1850, or 1840. In fact, there is no such person in any roster of any unit of the confederate army. There was a W. J. S. Scobell originally from New Orleans who published a newspaper for the confederate settlement in British ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

politician and businessman, was born on 21 July 1943 in the Yakoma sector, Nord Ubangi district, Equateur Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. He belonged to the small Ngbandi ethnic community that lived in the far northwest part of the country, although his father was a Polish judge. Because Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was also Ngbandi, this connection was later very valuable for Yale's career. He attended primary and secondary school at Catholic mission schools at Molegbe. He then became a student at Lovanium University in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.

Yale became a very active figure in university politics, and he joined the Association Générale des Étudiants de Lovanium (AGEL). In 1967 his fellow AGEL members elected Yale president of the organization. The university was a center of opposition to Mobutu Sese Seko, who took control over the Congolese government in a military coup on 24 November 1965 ...