Henry Laurens
(Introductory note and edited document contributed by Dr. Mary Gallagher)

Henry Laurens was a wealthy merchant and planter of great political stature in his community.  Although he had strong ties to Britain, he became an important leader in South Carolina’s movement toward independence and held many important positions in South Carolina government after 1775.  In 1777, he was elected one of the state’s delegates to Congress, and soon afterwards Congress elected him as its president.

Common folk who would ordinarily have deferred to a man of his rank did not, however, hesitate to investigate a charge that he had agreed to distribute stamped paper.  Their behavior, while still respectful of Laurens, indicates an enhanced awareness of their own dignity and political power, and a disciplined determination to achieve their objective.  Members of the political elite commonly assumed, as Laurens does here, that lower class men would not dare to challenge their political hegemony unless they had enhanced their courage with liquor.  

Henry Laurens to Joseph Brown
[Charles Town] 28th October 1765

Dear Sir,

         Inclosed with this you will receive what I wrote to you the 22d Inst. since which I find that Capt. Blythe is gone out of Town therefore I request you to pay him his demand for bringing my Schooner round & add my thanks to the Money.

I had intended to have set out upon my journey on Friday last but an unlucky circumstance that occur'd on Wednesday night the 23d has so affected Mrs. Laurens's bodily health as well as her Spirits that my presence & attention at home are become absolutely necessary.

As you will no doubt hear of the affair that I allude to in a very imperfect manner & will at the same time be glad to know the truth, give me leave to relate it to you in substance, & to defer minute circumstances until we meet, if ever we are to meet again.

At Midnight of the said Wednesday I heard a most violent thumping &  confus'd Noise at my Western door & Chamber Win­dow, & soon distinguished the sounds of Liberty, Liberty & Stamp'd Paper, Open your doors &  let us Search your House & Cellars. I open'd the Window, saw a croud of Men chiefly in disguise & heard the Voices & thumpings of many more on the other side, assured them that I had no Stamp'd Paper nor any connexion with stamps.  When I found that no fair words would pacify them I accused them with cruelty to a poor Sick Woman far done with Child & produced Mrs. Laurens shrieking & wringing her hands adding that if there was any one Man amongst them who owed me a spite & would turn out I had a brace of Pistols at his service & would settle the dispute immediately but that it was base in such a multitude to attack a single Man.  To this they replyed in general that they Loved & respected me, would not hurt me nor my property but that they were sent even by some of my seemingly best friends to search for Stamp'd Paper which they were certain was in my Custody advised me to open the door to prevent worse consequences.

Conscious of my innocence, I was pausing whether to refuse every one of their demands or barely to open the door, at which they still continued knocking as if they would have beat down the House, & to let them proceed as their rage & madness should impel them, but Mrs. Laurens's condition & her cries prompted me to open the door which in two minutes more they would have beat thro.  A brace of Cutlasses across my breast was the salutation & Lights, Lights, & Search was the Cry.  I presently knew several of them under their thickest disguise of Soot, Sailors habits, slouch hats, &Ca.  & to their great surprize called no less than nine of them by name & fixed my eye so attentively upon other faces as to dis­cover at least the same number since.  They made a very superficial search indeed or rather no search at all in my House, Counting House, Cellar, & Stable.  After that farce was over they insisted upon my taking what they called "A Bible Oath" that I knew not where the Stamp'd Paper was which I absolutely refused not failing to confirm my denials with Damns of equal weight with their own, a language which I only had learned from them, they threatned then to carry me away to some unknown place & punish me.  I replyed they might if they would, they had strength enough but I would be glad to have it attempted by any Man alone, either among them or of those who they said had sent them.  When they found this attempt fruitless a softer Oath, as they thought, was propounded.  I must say "May God disinherit me from the Kingdom of Heaven" If I knew where the Stamped Papers were.  This I likewise premptorily refused & added that I would not have one word extorted from my Mouth.  That I had voluntarily given my word & honour but would not suffer even that to pass my Lips by compulsion, further that If I had once accepted of a trust they might Stamp me to Powder but should not make me betray it, that my sentiments of the Stamp Act was well known.  I had openly declared myself an Enemy to it & would give & do a great deal to procure its annihilation but that I could not think they pursued a right method to obtain a repeal, &Ca., &Ca.  Some times they applauded, some times cursed me at length one of them holding my Shoulders said they loved me & every Body would Love me if I did not hold way with one Governor Grant.  This provoked me not a little as it exhibited to me the Cloven foot of a certain malicious Villain acting behind the Curtain who could be reached only by suspicion.  I answer'd that if he meant that I corresponded with Governor Grant & esteem'd him as a Gentleman I acknowledged with pleasure that I did "hold way" as he called it with him, that I knew nothing in Governor Grants con­duct or principles as a Gentleman that could shame my acquain­tance with him, that if Governor Grant had any criminal schemes or projects he was too prudent to trust me with his secrets, but in one word for all Gentlemen I am in your power.  You are very strong & may if you please Barbicue me.  I can but die, but you shall not by any force or means whatsoever compel me to renounce my friendships or to speak ill of Men that I think well of or to say or do a mean thing.  This was their last effort, they praised me highly & insisted upon giving me three Cheers & then retired with God bless your honour, Good night, Colonel, We hope the poor Lady will do well, &Ca., &Ca.  A Thousand other things you may believe were said & done in an hour & a quarter (the time of their visit) but the above is a fair abstract of all that is important.

Is it not amazing that such a number of Men many of them heated with Liquor & all armed with Cutlasses & Clubbs did not do one penny damage to my Garden not even to walk over a Bed & not 15/ damage to my Fence, Gate, or House?

 Philip M. Hamer, David R. Chesnutt, James C. Taylor, et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 14 vols. to date, (Columbia, S. C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1968-), 5: 29-31.