John Laurens : biography
John Laurens (October 28, 1754August 27, 1782) was an American soldier and statesman from South Carolina during the American Revolutionary War, best known for his efforts to help recruit slaves to fight for their freedom as soldiers, in addition to his critical views against slavery, which set Laurens apart from many of his fellow compatriots of the time.
Although Laurens gained approval from the Continental Congress in 1779 to recruit a brigade of 3,000 slaves by promising them freedom in return for fighting, he was killed in the Battle of the Combahee River in August 1782.
Laurens was killed in battle on August 27, 1782, at the age of 27, only a few weeks before the British finally withdrew from Charleston. He was buried on the Stock plantation. After his father Henry Laurens returned from his own imprisonment in London, he had his son's remains moved to his plantation, called Mepkin, near Moncks Corner. During the mid 20th century Mepkin Plantation was owned by Henry Luce and Clare Boothe Luce. It was later adapted as a Trappist monastery, Mepkin Abbey.
George Washington, in particular, was saddened upon learning of the death of Laurens, stating fondly:
In his general orders, Nathanael Greene, in announcing the death of Laurens, said:
Alexander Hamilton, a friend of Laurens, said of his death:
Laurens joined the Continental Army and following the Battle of Brandywine, was made officially an aide-de-camp to General Washington with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He served with the Baron von Steuben, doing reconnaissance at the outset of the Battle of Monmouth.
He became close friends with his fellow aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton and the General Marquis de Lafayette. He showed reckless courage at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown in which he was wounded, and Monmouth, where his horse was shot out from under him. After the battle of Brandywine, Lafayette observed that, "It was not his fault that he was not killed or wounded ... he did every thing that was necessary to procure one or the other."
As the British stepped up operations in the South, Laurens promoted the idea of arming slaves and granting them freedom in return for their service. He had said, "We Americans at least in the Southern Colonies, cannot contend with a good Grace, for Liberty, until we shall have enfranchised our Slaves." In early 1778 he proposed to his father to use the 40 slaves he stood to inherit as part of a brigade. Henry, now President of the Continental Congress, granted his wish, but his reservations made John postpone the project.
In March 1779 Congress approved the concept, commissioned John Laurens as Lieutenant Colonel, and sent him south to recruit a regiment of 3000 blacks. He won election to the South Carolina House of Representatives, and introduced his black regiment plan in 1779 and 1780 (and again in 1782), meeting overwhelming rejection each time. Governor Rutledge and Christopher Gadsden opposed him. Laurens' belief that blacks shared a similar nature with whites and could aspire to freedom in a republican society set Laurens apart from other leaders in revolutionary South Carolina.
In 1779, when the British threatened Charleston, Governor Rutledge proposed to surrender the city with the condition that Carolina become neutral in the war. Laurens strongly opposed the idea, and Continental forces repulsed the British. That fall he commanded an infantry regiment in General Benjamin Lincoln's failed assault on Savannah, Georgia. John Laurens became a prisoner in May 1780 after the fall of Charleston and was shipped to Philadelphia. As he was on "parole", he was able to see his father before the elder embarked for the Netherlands in search of loans. (Henry Laurens' ship was seized by the British and he was imprisoned at the Tower of London.) Exchanged in November, John Laurens was appointed by Congress in December as a special minister to France.
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