Henry Laurens


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Laurens, HENRY, statesman; born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1724; was of Huguenot descent, and was educated in London for mercantile business, in which he acquired a large fortune. He opposed British aggressions with speech and in writing, and pamphlets which he published displayed remarkable legal ability. He was engaged in a military campaign against the Cherokees. In 1770 he retired from business, and went to Europe the next year to superintend the education of his sons; and in England he did what he could to persuade the government to be just towards the Americans. On his arrival at Charleston, late in 1774, he was chosen president of the Provincial Congress and of the council of safety. In 1776 he was sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and was president of that body for a little more than a year from November 1, 1777.

Receiving the appointment of minister to Holland in 1779, he sailed in the Congress packet Mercury, and on September 3, 1780, she was captured by the frigate Vesta, off the banks of Newfoundland. Laurens cast his papers overboard, but they were recovered by a sailor, and the minister was taken to London. After an examination before the privy council Laurens was committed to the Tower on a charge of high treason, where he was kept in close confinement more than a year. He was cruelly deprived of pen, ink, and paper, and the converse of friends. Twice he was approached with offers of pardon and liberty if he would serve the ministry, and each time the offer was indignantly rejected by him. He was finally released, and at the request of Lord Henry LaurensShelburne he went to France, to assist in negotiations then making for peace. Among his papers recovered from the sea was a plan for a treaty with Holland; also several letters which disclosed the existing friendship of the States-General for the Americans. The British ministry were irritated by these documents and the subsequent refusal of Holland to disclaim the act of Van Berkel, and Great Britain declared war against that republic. In December, 1781, Laurens was appointed one of the commissioners to negotiate for peace with Great Britain. In November, 1782, he signed a preliminary treaty at Paris, with Franklin and John Jay, when he returned home, and passed the remainder of his life in agricultural pursuits. He died in Charleston, December 8, 1792, and, in accordance with an injunction in his will, his body was wrapped in cloths and burned—the first act of cremation in the United States.




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