Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens 1782 by John Singleton Copley

Henry Laurens 1782 by John Singleton Copley

Charleston, South Carolina was a primary point of entry for captured Africans shipped to America during the 18th century. Charleston merchant Henry Laurens played a major role in the shipping and selling of many of these African slaves. Between 1751 and 1761 the firm of Austin & Laurens sold an estimated 7,800 African men, women, and children. Young men often sold for as much £30 sterling each, young women £20, and children about £10 each. Consequently, after just one decade of selling human beings, Henry Laurens became one of the richest men in the British colonies of America. Henry Laurens would go on to become a leading American patriot and President of the Continental Congress.

So who was Henry Laurens? How did he build his slaving empire? And how did he manage to make the transition from a slave merchant in the southern colonies to the President of the Continental Congress? Given recent interest in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and in African American studies, it is interesting to note that Henry Laurens, a man who had such a major impact on the lives of so many human beings, has but one biography. David Duncan Wallace’s “The Life of Henry Laurens With a Sketch of the Life of Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens” (John Laurens was Henry Laurens son). Wallace’s book was written in 1915, almost 100 years ago! I believe an updated biography of Henry Laurens is well past due. With that in mind, I hope to use this website as a research and writing platform for learning more about Henry Laurens and the British slave trade to Charleston, South Carolina during the 18th century. I also hope that you will find something of interest on my website, and that you will share your own research as well.


David Eltis and David Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010).

Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family (New York: Ballantine Books, 2001).

Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers, Jr. and Maude E. Lyles, The Papers of Henry Laurens Volume One: Sept. 11, 1746 – Oct. 31, 1755 (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1968).

David Duncan Wallace, The Life of Henry Laurens With a Sketch of the Life of Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens (New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915).