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A South Carolina Planter Endorses Plans for a Black Regiment

South Carolina planter and merchant, Henry Laurens was one of the richest men in colonial America. He amassed a fortune through buying and selling African slaves. Before the American Revolution, over 40% of Africans who survived transport to the British colonies passed through South Carolina. Despite Laurens's close involvement in the slave trade, his support for slavery gradually eroded. By the mid-1770s, he had joined the patriot cause, serving as president of the Continental Congress from 1777-78, and became principally opposed to slavery. He also became an advocate of his son John's "excentric Scheme" to raise a black regiment by arming southern slaves. The fact that, after the war was over, Laurens offered freedom to only a few of his approximately 300 slaves shows the limits of his commitment to emancipation.

My Negroes…all to a Man are strongly attached to me, so are all of mine in this Country, hitherto not one of them has attempted to desert on the contrary those who are more exposed hold themselves always ready to fly from the Enemy in case of a sudden descentmany hundreds of that Colour have been stolen & decoyed by the Servants of King George the thirdCaptains of British Ships of War & Noble Lords have busied themselves in such inglorious pilferage to the disgrace of their Master & disgrace of their Cause.these Negroes were first enslaved by the EnglishActs of Parliament have established the Slave Trade in favour of the home residing English & almost totally prohibited the Americans from reaping any share of itthe British Parliament now employ their Men of War to steal those Negroes from the Americans to whom they had sold them, pretending to set the poor wretches free but basely trepan & sell them into ten fold worse Slavery in the West Indies, where probably they will become the property of English-Men again & of some who sit in Parliament; what meanness!...

I abhor Slavery, I was born in a Country where Slavery had been established by British Kings & Parliaments as well as by the Laws of that Country Ages before my Existence, I found the Christian Religion & slavery growing under the same authority & cultivationI nevertheless disliked itin former days there was no combating the prejudices of men supported by Interest, the day I hope is approaching when from principles of gratitude as well as justice every Man will strive to be foremost in shewing his readiness to comply with the Golden Rule; not less than £20000. Stg. would all my Negroes produce if sold at public Auction tomorrow I am not the Man who enslaved them…nevertheless I am devising means for manumitting many of them & for cutting off the entail of Slavery great powers oppose me, the Laws & Customs of my country, my own & the avarice of my Country MenWhat will my Children say if I deprive them of so much Estate? these are difficulties but not insuperable.

Source | Henry Laurens, "Henry Laurens to John Laurens, August 14, 1776," letter, in David R. Chestnutt et al., The Papers of Henry Laurens, (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1985-90), vol. 14 .
Creator | Henry Laurens
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Henry Laurens, “A South Carolina Planter Endorses Plans for a Black Regiment,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 10, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/675.

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