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HENRY LAURENS (1724–1792)

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Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 284 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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HENRY LAURENS (1724–1792), American statesman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on the 24th of February 1724, of Huguenot ancestry. When sixteen he became a clerk in a counting-house in London, and later engaged in commercial pursuits with great success at Charleston until 1771, when he retired from active business. He spent the next three years travelling in Europe and superintending the education of his sons in England. In spite of his strong attachment to England, and although he had defended the Stamp Act, in 1774, in the hope of averting war, he united with thirty-seven other Americans in a petition to parliament against the passing of the Boston Port Bill. Becoming convinced that a peaceful settlement was impracticable, he returned to Charleston at the close of 1774, and there allied himself with the conservative element of the Whig party. He was soon made president of the South Carolina council of safety, and in 1776 vice-president of the state; in the same year he was sent as a delegate from South Carolina to the general continental congress at Philadelphia, of which body he was president from November 1777 until December 1778. In August 178o he started on a mission to negotiate on behalf of congress a loan of ten million dollars in Holland; but he was captured on the 3rd of September off the Banks of Newfoundland by the British frigate " Vestal," taken to London and closely imprisoned in the Tower. His papers were found to contain a sketch of a treaty between the United States and Holland projected by William Lee, in the service of Congress, and Jan de Neufville, acting on behalf of Mynheer Van Berckel, pensionary of Amsterdam, and this discovery eventually led to war between Great Britain and the United Provinces. During his imprisonment his healfh became greatly impaired. On the 31st of December 1781 he was released on parole, and he was finally exchanged for Cornwallis. In June 1782 he was appointed one of the American commissioners for negotiating peace with Great Britain, but he did not reach Paris until the 28th of November 1782, only two days before the preliminaries of peace were signed by himself, John Adams, Franklin and Jay. On the day of signing, however, he procured the insertion of a clause prohibiting the British from " carrying away any negroes or other property of American inhabitants "; and this subsequently led to considerable friction between the British and American governments. On account of failing health he did not remain for the signing of the definitive treaty, but returned to Charleston, where he died on the 8th of December 1792. His son, JoxN LAURENS (1754-1782), American revolutionary officer, was born at Charleston, South Carolina, on the 28th of October 1754. He was educated in England, and on his return to America in 1777, in the height of the revolutionary struggle, he joined Washington's staff. He soon gained his commander's confidence, which he reciprocated with the most devoted attachment, and was entrusted with the delicate duties of a confidential secretary, which he performed with much tact and skill. He was present in all Washington's battles, from Brandywine to Yorktown, and his gallantry on every occasion has gained him the title of " the Bayard of the Revolution." Laurens displayed bravery even to rashness in the storming of the Chew mansion at Germantown; at Monmouth, where he saved Washington's life, and was himself severely wounded; and at Coosahatchie, where, with a handful of men, he defended a pass against a large English force under General Augustine Prevost, and was again wounded. He fought a duel against General Charles Lee, and wounded him, on account of that officer's disrespectful conduct towards Washington. Laurens distinguished himself further at Savannah, and at the siege of Charleston in 1780. After the capture of Charleston by the English, he rejoined Washington, and was selected by him as a special envoy to appeal to the king of France for supplies for the relief of the American armies, which had been brought by prolonged service and scanty pay to the verge of dissolution. The more active co-operation of the French fleets with the land forces in Virginia, which was one result of his mission, brought about the disaster of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Laurens lost no time in rejoining the army, and at Yorktown was at the head of an American storming party which captured an advanced redoubt. Laurens was designated with the vicomte de Noailles to arrange the terms of the surrender, which virtually ended the war, although desultory skirmishing, especially in the South, attended the months of delay before peace was formally concluded. In one of these trifling affairs on the 27th of August 1782, on the Combahee river, Laurens exposed himself needlessly and was killed. Washington lamented deeply the death of Laurens, saying of him, " He had not a fault that I could discover, unless it were intrepidity bordering upon rashness." The most valuable of Henry Laurens's papers and pamphlets including the important " Narrative of the Capture of Henry Laurens, of his Confinement in the Tower of London, &c., 178o, 1781, 1782," in vol. i. (Charleston, 1857) of the Society's Collections, have been published by the South Carolina Historical Society. John Laurens's military correspondence, with a brief memoir by W. G. Simms, was privately printed by the Bradford Club, New York, in 1867.
End of Article: HENRY LAURENS (1724–1792)

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