If you’re like the majority of the 6AM City team, you’ve been streaming Hamilton non-stop since it was released on Disney+ at the beginning of the month. For those who don’t know, Hamilton is an award-winning Broadway show (and now a movie) that has been trending since its debut. The play tells the story of an underrated founding father while featuring catchy hip hop, rap + jazz musical numbers created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
While Alexander Hamilton is definitely the star of the show, there’s a cast of supporting characters to help shape the story. #DYK that one of the characters has a major tie to South Carolina?
“I’m John Laurens in the place to be, A-two pints of Sam Adams but I’m workin on three.”
John Laurens, both a character and real-life figure, was friends with Hamilton + wanted to establish a Black military battalion. But before we get into those details, let’s look around and go back to the beginning of his story.
Laurens was sent with his brothers to Europe for his education and returned to the US in 1777. Tensions were on the rise between England and the Colonies and Laurens joined the efforts as an assistant and secretary to George Washington. This is where he met Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette; if you don’t know, now you know.
During his time as Washington’s aide with Hamilton + Lafayette, Laurens fought in a few historic battles, including Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge + Yorktown, and was also involved in a duel with General Charles Lee (que Ten Duel Commandments).
Laurens was an idealist who strongly believed that all men were created equal, which was not a popular belief during this time in the South where even Laurens’ own father was involved in the trading of enslaved people.
In 1778 he wrote to his father, who was the president of the Continental Congress at the time, and proposed to use what was supposed to be his inheritance of 40 enslaved people as part of a brigade. This idea was supported initially but never came to fruition.
In March of 1779 when the British began to move in on the South, Congress approved his idea of providing $1,000 to the enslavers for each enlisted man who agreed to serve until the end of the war and sent Laurens back to South Carolina to recruit a regiment of 3,000 Black soldiers.
However, the plan was opposed in the South. Laurens did not want to throw away his shot so he tried three more times to create the battalion in 1779, 1780 + 1782 with no success.
History had its eyes on Laurens as his work for the young country did not stop there. He worked to secure a loan from the French and brought two ships back to the US just in time for the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. Laurens was also selected as one of the representatives who negotiated the surrender with England. Even after the Revolutionary War was over, he knew there was still work to be done and continued to fight for the emancipation of the South until his death.
John Laurens died in August of 1782, at the age of 27, on the Combahee River in South Carolina during a British ambush. He was buried by his father on his family’s plantation, now referred to as Mepkin Abby, SC in Berkeley County. After his death, Hamilton + his wife Eliza continued his work and helped tell his story.