south carolina house of representatives

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.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney was the mother of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who fought in the Revolutionary War and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and Thomas Pinckney, who also fought in the Revolution as well as the War of 1812 where he achieved the rank of Major General, served in the House of Representatives, was governor of South Carolina, and US minister to Great Britain under George Washington.

Eliza was strong-willed and extremely intelligent; it was through her determination and experiments that indigo was brought to and cultivated in South Carolina as a valuable cash crop–in fact, her experiments were so successful that it became a main crop of South Carolina and a source of tremendous wealth for the individuals who grew it, the colony over all, and England, who, by the Revolution, no longer had to import it from French colonies and lose, as Eliza wrote, “many thousand pounds per annum,”.

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The South Carolina House of Representatives has approved taking down the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds and placing it in a museum instead.

The move early Thursday came after more than 13 hours of contentious debate. It also came just weeks after the fatal shootings of nine black church members, including a state senator, at a Bible study group in Charleston.

The House approved the Senate bill 93-27, and still has one more vote that appeared to be perfunctory since they had met two-thirds approval. The bill would then go to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who supports it.

It is a stunning reversal in a state that was the first to leave the Union in 1860 and raised the flag again at its Statehouse more than 50 years ago to protest the civil rights movement.

It could come down within days.

Source

I really wish we knew more about Laurens and Kinloch’s relationship from 1777-1782.  In 1776, they were on the complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, and they went through a nasty breakup of sorts.  Fast forward to 1782, and we very likely have Kinloch writing an incredibly heartfelt obituary for Laurens.  Kinloch even closed the obituary with the following:

It will be unnecessary to anticipate the grateful emotions which must arise in the breast of every virtuous citizen in favour of this illustrious young man, whose untimely death we all have reason to lament; and while I join the publick opinion in admiring his disinterest[ed] zeal for the rights of mankind, his great and unwearied services to his country, his gallantry in the field, and his ability and address in negociation, together with those more domestick virtues which distinguish him in the characters of the companion, the husband, and the son, and endear him to the bosom of private life; I am happy thus to perform my last duties to the memory of a friend.

So what happened during those five years that seems to have made Laurens and Kinloch good friends again?  We know they fought in some of the same battles, and they represented the same parishes as members of the South Carolina House of Representatives.  But without many writings regarding the two of them during this time period, it’s hard to piece together the progress of their relationship.

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On April 3, 1790, President George Washington forwarded Congress a copy of a letter from South Carolina’s Governor and a copy of the legislature’s January 19 ratification of the Bill of Rights.

South Carolina was the 4th state to ratify amendments to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights officially became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791 when three-fourths of the states ratified articles three through twelve.

Letter from President George Washington Transmitting Copies of South Carolina’s Ratification of the Bill of Rights, 4/3/1790, SEN1A-E2, Records of the U.S. Senate

John Laurens’s Classics References

I think it’s worth noting that any time John Laurens made a Classics reference in writing to his male lovers, there was an underlying queer component.

In his November 6, 1774 letter to Francis Kinloch, Laurens wrote the following, an excerpt (and slight paraphrasing) of Virgil’s First Eclogue:

Impius haec tam culta Novalia Miles habebit!  Barbarus has segetes?  En quo discordia Cives Perduxit Miseros!  En queis consevimus Agros_

Here is the translation:

A disloyal soldier will own these well-tilled fields!  Will a barbarian/foreigner own these crops?  To this, discord has led our unfortunate citizens!  For these men we sowed our lands_

This letter was sent just before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and Laurens and Kinloch would end up taking different sides at the start of the fighting - Kinloch was a loyalist while Laurens was a patriot.  Laurens included this quote in an attempt to have Kinloch understand the viewpoints and motivations of the rebelling colonists (Should we let the English rule us and take our land?).  This Virgil quotation is certainly appropriate for the time of war they were about to live in, but Virgil’s Eclogues are also known for their discussions of love between two male shepherds (these discussions are the main focus of the Second and Third Eclogues, but the First Eclogue is a conversation between two male shepherds nonetheless).  Kinloch and Laurens appear to have had a romantic relationship, so it’s fitting that Laurens would choose to mirror their own conversations by quoting the political and military discussions of two gay shepherds.

Later, Laurens and Hamilton would make several references to Demosthenes, a famous Greek orator.  Laurens made the first reference on July 14, 1779:

Oh that I were a Demosthenes—the Athenians never deserved more bitter exprobration than my Countrymen.

Laurens was in South Carolina at this time, attempting to convince the South Carolina House of Representatives to approve his black regiment plan.

Hamilton referred to Laurens as Demosthenes a couple months later (September 11, 1779):

I think your black scheme would be the best resource the situation of your country will admit. I wish its success, but my hopes are very feeble. Prejudice and private interest will be antagonists too powerful for public spirit and public good. The favourable events in Europe will probably be a casting weight against you. Your sanguine politicians, will think the war at the end and imagine we have nothing to do, but to sit down quietly and see the destruction of British power. Even the animated and persuasive eloquence of my young Demosthenes will not be able to rouse his countrymen from the lethargy of voluptuous indolence, or dissolve the fascinating character of self interest, to inspire them with the ⟨—⟩ and wisdom of legislators and with the natural enthusiasm of republicans!

In these two quotations, the reference to Demosthenes was made so as to compare the Greek orator’s famed public speaking abilities to Laurens’s attempts to convince the SC House of Representatives of the promise of his black regiment plan.  However, Demosthenes was also known for having pederastic relationships with younger men.  @zooeyscigar has a great post about the Demosthenes/Laurens parallels here.

With both the Virgil quotation and the mentions of Demosthenes, the main points of these references focused on the military and political efforts of Laurens and company.  However, these references all have an underlying and fairly suggestive queer component that Laurens, Kinloch, and Hamilton would have been aware of (all were students of the Classics and queer men).  Laurens was fairly conserved when it came to writing down his love for Kinloch and Hamilton, so these sly references to gay shepherds and a queer orator of ancient Greece could easily have been ways for Laurens to discuss his sexuality and feelings for his lovers without revealing these emotions outright.

The combination of military talent, intellectual brilliancy and maturity of character which marked him hardly find a parallel among his associates save in his friend and fellow-officer on Washington’s staff, Alexander Hamilton. If both these remarkable youths had been spared, we have every reason to believe that Laurens also would have acquitted himself nobly in the constructive work of the next two decades. Quick in his mental operations, handsome, socially accomplished, highly educated, endowed with large wealth, eminent position and the prestige of a great father, he had the prospect of the career of a powerful leader.

A splendid full-length life-size portrait (presented in 1911) now hangs in the hall of the South Carolina House of Representatives. But more impressive is his almost unknown grave. He was buried first upon the Stock plantation upon which he fell; but his father moved the body to his home at Mepkin plantation, twenty-nine miles up the eastern bank of Cooper river from Charleston. The family graveyard, originally about twenty feet square, seems to have been enclosed on this occasion. He was, it seems, the first to be laid there, close against the original southern wall. Beside him lie the ashes of his father—two dear friends, giving to this day the impression of something gigantic by their graves ten feet two inches long. Next to the north wall lies Henry Laurens’s youngest child, Mrs. Eleanor Laurens Pinckney. Before the next grave—a grave of another generation—could be dug, twenty-seven years later, the yard had to be enlarged; and as time went on, again its walls were expanded, each time with workmanship inferior to the last and each time with material inferior to the original, suggestive of the decay of the economic and social system to guard some of whose most brilliant and worthy representatives it was reared. How sad is the reflection that the once noble plantation, with its generous mansion standing in the midst of a beautifully kept park of about a hundred acres, has now become simply part of a great hunting preserve owned by Northern sportsmen. The old graveyard is retained by the family and is still a holy spot to the lover of his country. One holds dear the little trees that spring from the graves for the dust from which they draw their life. The plain headstones are denied by the severe taste of their designer any reference to official place or title or manner of death, save for a slight exception in favor of John. At the outbreak of the Revolution the father reproved his impetuous son for speaking too hastily of it being sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But events had proved that it was no schoolboy vaporing and that if ever a patriot had earned the right to use those words, it was John Laurens. The simplicity of the inscription is more eloquent than a great slab filled with eulogies:

Sacred
to the memory of
JOHN LAURENS
Son of
HENRY and ELEANOR
LAURENS
Born 28th October 1754
Died 27th August 1782
Dulce et decorum est
pro patria mori
.’

— 

From The Life of Henry Laurens, With a Sketch of the Life of Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens by David Duncan Wallace

This book was published in 1915, so the information about Mepkin is a bit outdated.  Mepkin is now an abbey.

One of the interview questions that Rebecca Onion sent me was, “How’d you come to love this era/historical figure? What was the gateway to your interest?”  In the article, my response got summed up in one line: “Jaclyn, 21, who runs john-laurens, told me she first got interested in the topic because of 1776.”  I understand she had a word limit, but I don’t feel this one sentence came close to conveying the full response I gave.  I really liked what I had written as my response, so I’m sharing it here to both explain how I became interested in Laurens and show the difference between the questions we bloggers were asked/the responses we gave and what these responses were turned into to make that article.  So here’s what my full answer was:

When I took history courses in school, the American Revolution was always a time period that piqued my interest.  But what really established my interest in this era was the musical 1776.  While it has some historical inaccuracies and can be endearingly over-the-top at times, the musical does an excellent job of communicating the passion and conflict (both between America and England and between the colonists themselves) that were central to the forming of our nation.  It also does not shy away from discussing issues such as slavery, which was deeply entrenched in the Southern way of life (and much of the world in general) and would dictate racial relations and government policy-making for centuries to come. The complexities of the founding fathers and their contemporaries are what really started to draw me in.  I became particularly interested in learning about Alexander Hamilton and picked up Ron Chernow’s biography on him a few years ago. Through my research on Hamilton, I was introduced to John Laurens, who was close friends with Hamilton and likely had a romantic relationship with him.  Laurens stood out as an iconoclast of his time.  Though he was born into a South Carolinian slave-owning family that had made most of its fortune and status through slave trade and labor, he openly condemned the practice.  He even believed that black people could be treated as equal and wrote to his father, “we have sunk the Africans & their descendants below the Standard of Humanity, and almost render’d them incapable of that Blessing which equal Heaven bestow’d upon us all.”  During his short life, Laurens tried to form a black regiment to help fight in the war.  His plan was to recruit slaves to fight for the American side and free them after their service. (Unfortunately, his plan was repeatedly rejected by the South Carolina House of Representatives.)  Laurens also advocated for equal distribution of wealth – one of his bolder statements about this came after a fire destroyed several houses in Charleston, prompting Laurens to write to his father, “I deplore the misfortune of Charles Town if it has fallen upon Individuals of moderate fortune;_ if it affects only a number of rich men & will contribute to equalizing estates I shall not regret it_”  Laurens was far from perfect, but the fact that he so openly censured the institutions that had brought him and his family into the upper class and supported his words through his actions shows that he was quite a progressive man.  Prior to Hamilton, Laurens was not well-known, rarely making brief appearances in the occasional history textbook or biography of more lionized historical figures.  The lack of literature on him and lack of awareness surrounding him is what prompted me to devote my free time to researching his life and telling his story.

South Carolina House votes to remove the Confederate flag from capitol grounds!

After roughly 13 hours of debate, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 94-20 early Thursday morning in favor of removing the Confederate battle flag that flies above the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. The bill will now move to the desk of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who promised to swiftly sign the legislation. Her statement certainly indicates so.

State Senator Clementa Pickney was a hero. He was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1996 at the age of 23. At age 27 he was elected to the South Carolina Senate, becoming the youngest African-American in the state to be elected to the State Legislature. He pushed for police to wear body cameras. He represented his state and his country with honor and distinction. What saddens me the most about his death is that it took a heinous act to be committed for all of us to know who he was and what he stood for. Each night, on your cable news channels no one talks about the 27 year old black man who was elected to the State Legislature. They talk about the 27 year old black gunman. They talk about the 27 year black rapist. They talk about the 27 year old black athlete who committed a DUI. They never talk about black men like this. Black men who embrace the ideals of their community, state and country and act with passion and vigor to improve all three. No, they don’t talk about black men like this. They attack black men like this. In due course, we will know the names and faces of all the victims of this senseless, racist, act of terrorism. But there is a reason we don’t already know many of them and that is because they don’t fit the narrative as it relates to black people in this country.

I am fully awake.

Thank you Senator Pickney…Thank you.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson donates $100K to families of Charleston shooting victims

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has donated $100,000 to the families of the nine victims killed in Wednesday night’s church shooting in Charleston S.C., and to the church.

On Saturday morning, Bakari Sellers, a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, tweeted a picture of Richardson’s letter addressed to the Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund.


“We don’t want to comment on the specifics of the donation, but know our hearts are one with those who grieve the loss of these individuals,” team spokesperson Steven Drummond said.

In the letter, dated Friday and on Panthers letterhead, Richardson referenced each victim by name and said he enclosed a check for $100,000, with each family to receive $10,000 “to help defray funeral costs and other financial needs” and Emanuel AME Church to receive $10,000 “as a memorial honoring the victims.”

Killed in the attack Wednesday were senior pastor Clementa C. Pinckney, 41; assistant pastor Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Myra Thompson, 59; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49.

Richardson wrote that the money was to help “defray funeral costs and other financial needs of each.”

Further, in the letter Richardson said, “Our hearts are one with those who grieve the loss of these individuals.”

Richardson made it clear when he founded the Panthers, who played their first season in 1995, that the NFL team represented North and South Carolina. He built the stadium in Charlotte, but holds training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, each year.

A native of Spring Hope, North Carolina, Richardson was an All-American football player at Wofford and built his financial empire in Spartanburg.

It’s sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book — a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people’s lives.
—  NPR repots that Alison Bechdel, author of the fantastic queer graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, responds to the South Carolina House of Representatives vote to cut a total of $70,000 in funding to the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate because two books with gay and lesbian themes – Bechdel’s memoir and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio – were assigned on freshman reading lists. 

South Carolina is Considering Drastic Action to Cut College Funding

Another day, another story about a state de-funding higher education. This time it’s South Carolina – where the South Carolina House of Representatives has recommended that South Carolina State – the state’s only historically black college – close for two years in order to get its financial house in order.

Saying the college needs a “clean slate,” legislators recommend firing the college’s employees, board of trustees, and administrators and reopening in 2017. Students who maintain a 2.5 GPA would be eligible for state-funded scholarships to go to other public colleges or other historically black schools.