June 27, 1777 ~ Henry Laurens and the Tower of London

What do Anne Boleyn, Guy Fawkes, Nazi Deputy Fuehrer Rudolph Hess, and South Carolinian Henry Laurens have in common? They were all imprisoned in the Tower of London. Today in 1777, Henry Laurens stepped down as the only Vice-president of an Independent South Carolina. He would serve as 3rd President of the Continental Congress and spend time in the Tower of London for treason to the British Crown.

Henry Laurens of Charleston, South Carolina was an American merchant, slave trader, and rice planter who became a political leader during the Revolutionary War and the only American to ever be sent to the Tower of London.

Henry Lauren’s was born to a Huguenot family in Charleston in 1724. He would study in England before returning to South Carolina to seek his fortune

Laurens earned great wealth as a planter and was a partners in the largest slave-trading house in North America, Austin & Laurens.

Lauren’s also 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, and during the French and Indian War.

When South Carolina began to create a revolutionary government, Laurens was elected to the Provincial Congress, which first met in Charles Towne on January 9, 1775.

He was elected President of the Committee of Safety, and presiding officer of that congress from June until March 1776.

When South Carolina installed a fully independent government, he served as the first Vice-President through June 27, 1777.

Henry Laurens was named a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1777 and succeeded John Hancock as the 3rd President of the Continental Congress through 1778.

In 1779, the Continental Congress named Laurens their minister to the Netherlands. In this capacity he successfully negotiated Dutch support for the war.

But on his return voyage, the British intercepted his ship off the banks of Newfoundland. Although his dispatches were tossed in the water, they were retrieved by the British, who discovered the draft of a possible U.S.-Dutch treaty. This prompted Britain to declare war on the Dutch Republic. They arrested Laurens, charged him with treason, transported him to England, and imprisoned him in the Tower of London.

By this time, the Tower of London was famous for being a political prison. The 2nd Wife of Henry the VIII, Anne Boleyn was sent to the tower until her divorce was finalized with an AX.

During WW2, the Deputy Führer, Rudolph Hess also spent time in the tower.

But, the most famous resident of the tower was the Gunpowder Plot architect, Guy Fawkes.

In 1605 Fawkes had plotted to blow up parliament. The conspiracy was uncovered. He was taken to the Tower of London and tortured upon the special order of King James

Fawkes and his surviving co-conspirators were all found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death.

Unlike Anne Boleyn who was beheaded and Fawkes who was hanged, drawn and quartered, Laurens’ stay was a little more gentile.

While his communications were limited, Laurens wasn’t tortured/ Then with the help of a former business associate he was released in exchange for General Lord Cornwallis, who had been captured by General Washington at Yorktown.

Henry Laurens is the only American to have been held prisoner in the Tower.

As the war moved to South Carolina, the fledgling republic was in desperate need of troops to counter the Britsh advance. Laurens’ son , Colonel John Laurens argued to his father that Many Slaves … share in the dangers and glory of the efforts made by US, and should be freed to fight alongside the militia. Colonel Laurens hoped to prove to Americans that slaves merited freedom and citizenship while helping to rebuild the army. Henry Laurens agreed with his son and his views on slavery began to shift. Unfortunately the slaves were not freed to fight and COL Laurens would die late in the war.

In 1783 Laurens was sent to Paris as one of the Peace Commissioners for the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris. While he was not a signatory of the primary treaty, he was instrumental helping conclude the conflict and the recognition of the United States as an independent nation.

Henry Laurens retired from public life in 1784 and would return to South Carolina where died in December of 1792.  Laurens last directive was to free freed his slave George.


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