About Henry Laurens
Henry Laurens (March 6, 1724 [O.S. February 24, 1723] – December 8, 1792) was an American merchant and planter who was the 5th President of the Continental Congress.
Parents: Henry was the child of Jean Samuel Laurens (30 March 1696 - 30 May 1747) and Esther GRASSET (1700 - 3 APril 1742), the daughter of Samuel Grasset and Martha PAUPAIN.
Marriage: On 6 July 1750 at Comingtee Plantation,SC, Henry married Eleanor Delamer BALL (10 April 1731 - 22 May 1770), the daughter of Elias Ball and Mary DELAMERE.
Children: John Laurens (28 October 1754 - 27 August 1782) who was killed in action at the Battle of the Combahee River, and Henry Laurens (25 August 1763 - 27 May 1821).
Laurens was an American merchant and rice planter from South Carolina who became a political leader during the Revolutionary War. A delegate to the Second Continental Congress Laurens succeeded John Hancock as President of the Second Continental Congress. Laurens ran the largest slave trading house in North America. In the 1750s alone, his Charleston firm oversaw the sale of more than 8,000 enslaved Africans. He was for a time Vice-President of South Carolina and a diplomat.
Laurens served in the militia, as did most able-bodied men in his time. He rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the campaigns against the Cherokee Indians in 1757-1761. 1757 also marked the first year he was elected to the colonial assembly. He was elected again every year but one until the revolution replaced the assembly with a state Convention as an interim government. The year he missed was 1773 when he visited England to arrange for his children's education. He was named to the colony's Council in 1764 and 1768, but declined both times. In 1772 he joined the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, and carried on some extensive correspondence with other members.
As the American Revolution neared, Laurens was at first inclined to support reconciliation with the British Crown. But as conditions deteriorated he came to fully support the American position. When Carolina began the creation of a revolutionary government, he was elected to the Provincial Congress which first met on January 9, 1775. He was president of the Committee of Safety, and presiding officer of that congress from June until March of 1776. When South Carolina installed a full independent government, he served as the Vice President of South Carolina from March of 1776 to June 27, 1777.
Henry Laurens was first named a delegate to the Continental Congress on January 10, 1777. He served in the Congress from then until 1780. He was the President of the Continental Congress from November 1, 1777 to December 9, 1778.
In the fall of 1779 the Congress named Laurens their minister to Holland. In early 1780 he took up that post and successfully negotiated Dutch support for the war. But on his return voyage to Amsterdam that fall the British Navy intercepted his ship, the Continental packet Mercury, off the banks of Newfoundland. Although her dispatches were tossed in the water, they were retrieved by the British, who discovered the draft of a possible U.S.-Dutch treaty prepared by William Lee. This prompted Britain to declare war on the Netherlands, the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War.
Laurens was charged with treason, transported to England, and imprisoned in the Tower of London (the only American ever held prisoner in the Tower). This became another issue between the British and Americans. In the field, most captives were regarded as prisoners of war, and while conditions were frequently appalling, prisoner exchanges and mail privileges were accepted practice. During his imprisonment Laurens was assisted by Richard Oswald, his former business partner and the principal owner of Bunce Island. Oswald argued on Laurens' behalf to the British government. Finally, on December 31, 1781 he was released in exchange for General Lord Cornwallis and completed his voyage.
In 1783 Laurens was in Paris as one of the Peace Commissioners for the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris. While he didn't sign the primary treaty, he was instrumental in reaching the secondary accords that resolved issues involving the Netherlands and Spain. Ironically, Richard Oswald, Laurens' old business partner in the slave trade, was the principal negotiator for the British during the Paris peace talks. Laurens generally retired from public life in 1784. He was sought for a return to the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and the state assembly, but he declined all of these jobs. He did serve in the state convention of 1788 where he voted to ratify the United States Constitution.
The British forces from Charleston had burned the main home at Mepkin during the war. When Henry returned in 1784, the family lived in an outbuilding while the manor was rebuilt. He lived there the rest of his life, working to recover the estimated £40,000 that the revolution had cost him (equivalent to about $3,500,000 in 2000 values). He died at Mepkin, and afterward was cremated and his ashes were interred there. The estate at Mepkin passed through several hands, but large portions of the estate still exist, and are now a Trappist abbey.
The city of Laurens, South Carolina and its county are named for him. General Lachlan McIntosh, who worked for Laurens as a clerk and became close friends with him, named Fort Laurens, in Ohio, after him. Laurens County, Georgia is named for his son, who preceded him in death.
Henry Laurens, 5th President of the Continental Congress's Timeline
March 6, 1724
Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina
July 6, 1750
Comingtee Plantation, South Carolina
October 28, 1754
Charleston, SC, USA
August 25, 1763
Mepkin Plantation, South Carolina
December 8, 1792
Berkeley, South Carolina
Moncks Corner, Berkeley, South Carolina