Free to Spy

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June, 1779








South Carolina

My heart… I could feel it heavily pounding in my chest. I was sitting up on my straw bed, thinking, wondering. Would it truly be wise to so such a thing? I would be taking a risk so great; my very own life was at stake. I stared up at the ceiling now rotting and began to bite my lip until I could taste the bitter tang of blood enter my mouth. However, I couldn’t take it anymore. Just thinking wouldn’t get me anywhere. My decision was final. I would be spying for the Marquis de Lafayette and nothing and no one could change that decision.

I quietly crept out of the barn which I called home and took in one final strong inhale of the familiar smell of sweet hay, horses, and sweat. It may be the last time I would ever see it again. The doors to the barn thudded to a close louder than I thought. I sighed wearily and continued to walk towards Master’s door. The candle I was holding was the only source of light, striking an eerie glow at his door. Suddenly the door opened, and I held my breath.

“Who is it?” Master grunted with utter irritation and fatigue. I kept silent for a while. However, he noticed me standing almost immediately, and he suddenly looked very alert, “What is it Prudence?” I hesitated but then with a deep breath, and with all the courage I could muster, I began, “Master, do you believe in freedom?” He looked at me as if the answer was obvious. However, he answered, nonetheless, “There is nothing I believe in more than that, Prudence. I’m a Patriot! I believe in this new country!” I smiled at that and continued, “General Lafayette left here only yesterday. I would like your permission to allow me to spy for him. Then, I’ll come back…” In sudden realization of what might happen, I quickly and with a slight shudder added, “…if I survive,” Master looked at me thoughtfully. Each second’s passing seemed to last for hours. Suddenly, I heard Master clear his throat and I quickly looked up, “All right, Prudence. You may offer your services to the general,” I truly did feel the urge scream in utter delight and joy. However, with all the proper protocol I knew, I curtsied clumsily and courteously added, “Thank you, Master. I am much obliged,” He smiled a worn but gleeful smile at me, and I couldn’t help but smile back.


It had not taken long for me to arrive to the general’s headquarters. As I looked up, I could see sunlight beginning to peek through the once jet-black sky. The marquis would be awaking soon. I sat on top of a hill and somewhat close to the bottom was the camp. I began to run, quicker, quicker. And I could see the camp, fast approaching. However, a thought suddenly hit me, and I froze. Would the marquis even look at a black girl? To him, I was probably an object, something close to a nothing. Not only was I a black slave. I was also a female, someone who apparently depended on others to fulfill her needs. The thought sent a sudden pang of hurt to my heart. How right Mistress was when she had called me a dim- witted animal! That was what I was. How could I have even thought that the marquis would even consider me to spy for him? I gripped the note Master had written and instructed me to give to the Marquis de Lafayette. I began to read it, as I always had a joy of doing so. Everyone believed that I was illiterate. However, with the tutors coming to Master’s household daily to teach the children, through careful listening and watching, it was quite simple for me to learn how to read, write, and do my arithmetic. It was almost like a secret I kept to myself. Though Master is kind, he has a strict policy against his slaves learning to read and write, which I must say, is very unfortunate. As I read the note, I felt my heart begin to melt as it said about all of my good qualities, which, according to the paper, was many. I suddenly did believe that I could somehow manage to get the marquis to allow me to spy for the Continental Army. Master would also most definitely not be content if he finds me to have returned. And to think what he would say if I had told him that I had not even tried to approach the marquis! I knew that I would have to at least try to succeed in helping the Continental Army. I quickly shook my head and began to run into the camp as fast as my legs could move. Walking would give me time to think, and I had no desire to change my mind. My decision may have been rash. However, I did not care. I would not turn back, and not even I would have the ability to change that decision.

I abruptly came to a halt and cautiously entered the camp. All of our country’s brave soldiers were walking past, each eyeing me warily as if they could not stand life much further. They looked quite different from the image I perceived them to be. When I had pictured them, I had pictured them gallant, orderly, strong, and healthy, which was exactly what I had seen when they were passing by Master’s plantations. However, what I saw right then was the absolute opposite of that. They were dressed in rags, hobbling feebly when walking, and severely ill. The sight almost brought a tear to my eye. And I for one was not one to cry. However, the sight of the soldiers was just too much for me to bear. And all of a sudden the tears that I was holding inside instantly spilled out, to my utter humiliation. I wiped my face, though I did have some looks from soldiers pointed at my direction. So, I knew that they had seen my tears, to my dismay. When I had overcome my distress, I suddenly came to the sudden realization that I did not even know how General Lafayette appeared. I quickly approached a soldier and asked him with the uttermost civility, “Good morning, Sir,” He smiled kindly at me, and I smiled back. I had grabbed his attention! “May you coordinate me to General Lafayette’s tent?” I asked. He pointed me to a tent with a rather stout soldier guarding it. “Thank you, sir!” and I curtsied because that is how, according to Mistress, a proper lady acts when helped by a kind gentleman, and he must have been the kindest I had ever met.

I ran over towards the tent. I suppose I had completely forgotten about the portly man that was guarding the door, as when I was about to peer inside, I suddenly heard the words, “HALT!” I turned around, and there stood the guard. I tried to look solemn, serious, and with a purpose. However, the harsh look on his face would not be wiped away. “Good morning, sir,” I said politely. His face remained unyielding, and he snapped at me, “What is someone like you, doing here?” I tried to make my answer simple and to the point, for what did I have to hide? So I told him, “With General Lafayette’s permission, I would like to spy for the Continental Army,” His face still remained solid, and I knew he did not believe me. It did take quite a while for me to have him convinced, and with a loud grunt, he told me that he would ask the general if I could see him. He peeked through the tent flaps, and I could hear him say, “General Lafayette, there is a girl out there that wishes to spy for us with your consent,” I could not catch what General Lafayette had said. However, the guard held the tent flap for me, as a signal for me to enter. There in front of me stood the Marquis de Lafayette. He stood and seemed to look exactly how a general in my imagination was supposed to appear, dutiful, serious,
and dauntless. He cleared his throat and said in a strong and sophisticated voice, “Who are you, my friend?” I replied by saying one word, “Prudence,” and then handing him Master’s note. He then asked me what my last name was. “My master’s last name is Phillips so that is my last name, too,” He scanned the letter carefully and then asked me, “How do you think you can serve our cause Prudence Phillips? What are your skills?” All of a sudden, my mind went blank. What skills did I really have? However, then I realized all I had gone through my life, and I knew exactly what to tell the general. I said with confidence and seriousness, “Sir, I am invisible.”

The marquis looked bewildered, “Prudence, I do not think I understand,” So, I explained to him, “I’m a black woman. Most white folks don’t look at me. They don’t think about me. Neither do they care or fear me. Do you, sir, have any use for an invisible woman?” He pondered for what seemed to be a matter of minutes, and then he told me, “Prudence, we will by no doubt need your help. I see you are a very intelligent and cunning, and this is exactly what we need in a spy.” I smiled.

General Lafayette showed me exactly where to head over, and explained to me what key information I should bring back. After I had taken my fill in food which was not exactly what I’d like to call the best, the marquis wished me the best of luck and I was then on my own. Overtime, I could see the Redcoats’ camp as I crossed a range of hills. This was it.
I must admit, I am not free. Even if our country wins the war, I will be forced to return to Master as a slave. However, knowing that I would be a step closer to freedom, I was greatly comforted. So, I quietly crept over to the camp to help my country get that freedom.





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