Henry Laurens (1724-1792), one of South Carolina's leading figures during the Revolution, was a member of the First and Second Provincial Congresses, President of the Council of Safety, and President of the Continental Congress. Born in Charleston, Laurens received his early education there, and was later sent to London to be trained as a merchant. Upon his return, he became one of the state's leading merchants and landowners. After serving several terms on the colony's Commons House of Assembly, he was elected to South Carolina's First Provincial Congress, and by June 1775, he had become President of the Congress. Later that month he was chosen to be President of the Council of Safety, the patriot faction which had taken over after royal authority had collapsed. When South Carolina's Second Provincial Congress met, Laurens played a major role in drafting a temporary constitution under which John Rutledge was chosen President and Laurens, Vice President. In 1777, Laurens became involved with the Revolution on a national level, when he was elected to the Continental Congress. He later replaced John Hancock as its president. While on a diplomatic mission to Holland in 1780, Laurens' ship was captured by the British, and after being charged with high treason, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for over a year. Finally, he was released in exchange for Lord Cornwallis, a prisoner of war in America. After several years of serving as unofficial minister to England, Laurens returned to Charleston, where he remained until his death in 1792. Portrait of Laurens at the Tower of London.
Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library.