Henry Laurens

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Henry Laurens (March 6, 1724 [O.S. February 24, 1723] – December 8, 1792) 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.[1] He was for a time Vice-President of South Carolina and a diplomat.


Political career

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.

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