Lt Colonel John Laurens
The American Revolutionary War Hero that met his end along the Combahee River.
John Laurens was an American soldier and statesman. Born on October 28, 1754, Laurens was the son of Henry Laurens, a plantation owner from Charleston. After studying law in England, Laurens returned to America to join George Washington’s staff during the Revolutionary War in August of 1777. He joined an elite group of aides and secretaries that surrounded the commander in chief. He was very close friends with Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette. Laurens was present in all George Washington’s battles, from Brandywine to Yorktown.
Laurens was quickly known for his thoughts criticizing slavery. As the son of a wealthy slave owner from Charleston, Laurens grew up around slavery and developed very strong feelings against the practice. During the American Revolution, Laurens left Washington’s staff to return to the south and push for legislature to recruit a regiment of black soldiers that would earn their freedom by fighting in the war.
Laurens was a very brave and courageous soldier. He was wounded during the Battle of Germantown (Philadelphia 1777) and again at Coosawhatchie (SC Lowcountry 1779). When General Charles Lee spoke against George Washington’s character in 1778, Laurens wounded him in a duel. Alexander Hamilton acted as his second and ended the duel before a second shot could be fired.
Laurens went on to distinguish himself in Savannah and at the siege of Charleston. Charleston, Laurens was captured by the British during the British victory at Charleston in 1780. He was exchanged and returned to Washington’s staff. Then he was sent to France as a special envoy to appeal to their king for supplies and support. This successful mission led to Cornwallis’s defeat at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Laurens was designated to aid in the terms of his surrender.
After Yorktown, Laurens travelled back to South Carolina. During a skirmish on the Combahee River, Laurens was killed while leading 50 men and one cannon to reinforce a position in the British rear to cut off their retreat. The British caught wind of Laurens’ movements and ambushed his troops along the route. Laurens was fatally wounded on August 27, 1782. He was only 29 years old.
George Washington was very saddened by the death of one of his most trustworthy aids. In a eulogy to the young soldier, he said, “The Death of Colo Laurens I consider as a very heavy misfortune, not only as it affects the public at large; but particularly to his Family, and all his private Friends and Connections, to whom his amiable and useful Character had rendered him peculiarly dear.” Laurens’ comrade Alexander Hamilton sent a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette: “Poor Laurens; he has fallen a sacrifice to his ardor in a trifling skirmish in South Carolina. You know how truly I loved him and will judge how much I regret him.”
Major General Nathaniel Greene wrote, “Poor Laurens has fallen in a paltry little skirmish. You knew his temper, and I predicted his fate. The love of military glory made him seek it upon occasions unworthy his rank. The state will feel his loss.”
Henry Laurens was buried at Mepkin Abbey, in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.