James Lafayette, Slave Spy

Lesson Plan

Slave Spy Youth Edit Script (grades 4 – 6); Slave Spy Script (grades 7 – 12)


VS.4, VS.5, US1.5, US1.6, VUS.4, VUS.5

Determining Cause and Effect; Making Connections; Exercising Civic Responsibility; Using Information Sources; Questioning and Critical Thinking Skills

This lesson also meets national standards of learning for social studies and language arts


This lesson encourages students to take on the role of James Lafayette and contemplate the decisions he made for liberty and freedom.

Essential Question:

Individual freedom or liberty for all?


Slave Spy Script (grades 7 – 12)

Slave Spy Script Youth edit (grades 4 – 6)

Dunmore’s Proclamation

Primary Source Analysis Tool

Great Expecations Graphic Organizer

James Lafayette Biography


Review with students the timeline of events

Timeline of the American Revolution – a chronology of significant events of the American Revolution.

Pre-activity document analysis (optional):

Students will gain a better understanding of the story by taking a closer look at the historical context. To establish that context have students analyze Dunmore’s Proclamation.

On November 7, 1775, on board His Majesty King George’s ship, William, Lord Dunmore, Governor of the rebellious colony of Virginia, declared martial law. Colonists who continued to oppose the laws of the King would be traitors. It was Dunmore’s desire to raise an army of those loyal to the King so that right order could be restored to the King’s colony. He thereby issued the following order:

“…I do hereby further declare all indented servants, Negroes or others, …free, that are able to and willing to bear arms, they joining His Majesty’s Troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing the Colony to a proper sense of their duty, to His Majesty’s crown and dignity.”

Great Expecations Graphic Organizer

Assign roles:

There are a total of 7 possible roles in the play, allowing for students with varying ranges of ability to be able to participate in the action. For the best results, the teacher should make role assignments that closely match the content and students’ abilities. In the Youth Edit version of the play the monologues for James have been broken up to provide further opportunities for participation. The same can be done with the original script.


After assigning roles, have student skim the play to identify their lines and review them. The teacher should point out that the meaning and use of some words have changed over time, and that students should be mindful of that as they read the script. The teacher should lead a discussion of the flow of the play, including what is being debated in the different acts, the arguments being made by the characters, and the particular characteristics of the speakers and how they interact with other speakers. If the students have any questions about their lines, or any words that are in their section, now is the time to address them.

Find the perspective:

Students will provide a written overview of how their assigned character felt with regards to liberty and freedom. This perspective should be supported with evidence from the play. one or two of the major issues raised by their assigned character.

  1. NOTE FOR EDUCATORS: The Slave Spy script contains dialect, which provides more detail about the characters and context, but remind students to be careful. For one thing, it can be confusing – readers have to figure out what’s being said. More importantly, performing in dialect can come across as very offensive. For example, imagine a racist depiction of an African American talking in a silly dialect. Such images were often used in the past to demean black people, and that racism still has echoes today.

    Consider who you and your students may want to involve as an audience for the performance. This could involve parents and family members, other classes or grades within the school, and/or interested community partners. Consider filming each performance and sharing it through the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation “In the Name of Liberty” initiative on HistoryPin.

    And Action!:

Option 1: Conduct a “performance” of the script in class. This can range from a simple read-though with students sitting at their desks, to standing reading that follow the stage directions. Simple props can be used to bring the characters and the situation to life. At a good pace, the reading/performance should take sixty minutes.

Option 2: Assign role analysis as homework. If you don’t have time during your class period to allow student to perform the script, have them take the script home and analyze it as homework.


Taking Informed Action:


Brainstorm instances of historical figures taking action in the name of liberty, freedom, or independence. Choose one of these figures and research their story. The individual can be of family, local, or national significance.


Examine the reasons that this individual or group had for taking action. How are these reasons similar and/or different to the reasons of those involved in the American Revolution?


Write an editorial for the school or local newspaper, create a visual art piece, or record a video commentary sharing this history, and expressing your feelings on the actions taken in the name of liberty, and the consequences of those actions.

Share these action pieces in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation digital collection “In the Name of Liberty” on Historypin.