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Henry Laurens


Henry Laurens (1724-1792) was an American statesman from South Carolina who played a significant role in the American Revolution and the early years of the United States. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and became a successful merchant and planter.

Laurens was a staunch supporter of American independence and General George Washington, serving in the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1780. In November 1777, he was elected president of the Continental Congress, succeeding John Hancock. As president, he presided over some of the most critical years of the Revolutionary War.

One of Laurens’ most significant contributions was negotiating a loan from the Dutch Republic to fund the American war effort. He traveled to the Netherlands in 1780 as an official envoy of the Continental Congress and succeeded in securing a loan of five million guilders.

Laurens’ trip to the Netherlands was cut short when his ship was intercepted by the British navy, and he was taken prisoner. He spent more than a year in the Tower of London, where he was held incommunicado and subjected to harsh treatment. He was eventually exchanged for the British general Cornwallis in late 1781.

After the war, Laurens served as a diplomat, helping to negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783 that ended the American Revolution. He also served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, although he ultimately refused to sign the Constitution because he felt it did not do enough to protect the rights of the states.

Primary Sources

Laurens, Henry, Philip May Hamer, George C. Rogers, and David R. Chesnutt. The Papers of Henry Laurens. Vol. 12: Nov. 1, 1777 – March 15, 1778. 1. ed. Vol. XII. Columbia, S.C: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1990.


Wallack, David Duncan. The Life of Henry Laurens with a Sketch of the Life of Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967.

Portrait of Laurens by John Singleton Copley in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
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