Lately I’ve seen a certain piece of misinformation on Laurens being spread around (not intentionally - I think it’s because of the factually incorrect first version of the “Laurens Interlude” that some people have heard). I wanted to correct it because this misinformation is giving Laurens a lot of credit where it isn’t wholly due.
Laurens was never successful in getting his plan for a black regiment approved; therefore, he never led a regiment of freed slaves during the Revolutionary War. And even if he had, it would not have been the first case of black people or freed slaves serving in the war.
Laurens certainly tried to get the regiment approved, but he was met with overwhelming opposition by the South Carolina House of Representatives time and time again. He proposed his plan to the SC House of Reps on three separate occasions, right up until his death, but he was never able to get more than one or two dozen votes in his favor. This legislature was made up of the very slaveowners that would have had to give up their slaves to form the regiment, so they weren’t too keen on approving Laurens’s plan and 1) losing what made them money/kept them rich, and 2) arming the slaves that they had been abusing for decades. In his final proposal, Laurens even suggested that the slaves for the regiment could come from the confiscated loyalist estates instead of from many of the representatives’ estates, but the proposal was still rejected.
Thus, Laurens was not able to lead a black regiment during the war. When he died, there were no slaves that had to be returned to their masters (other than Shrewsberry and another slave that had served as John’s valets and were, if I recall correctly, ultimately returned to Henry Laurens).
And Laurens’s plan wasn’t completely novel! Colonel Christopher Greene of Rhode Island enlisted slaves to form his 1st Rhode Island Regiment. I have not read as much about this regiment, so I don’t want to try and get into the details of Greene’s work, but I can assure you that Laurens was neither the first nor the only man to think of offering slaves freedom in exchange for their service.