Lesson Plan: Overview

Henry Laurens in the Tower of London

Grade Level: 8th

Narrative of the Capture of Henry Laurens

Academic Standards

Standard 8-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Revolution—the beginnings of the new American nation and South Carolina’s part in the development of that nation.

8-2.2 Compare the perspectives and roles of different South Carolinians during the American Revolution, including those of political leaders, soldiers, partisans, Patriots, Tories/Loyalists, women, African Americans, and Native Americans.

8-2.4 Summarize events related to the adoption of South Carolina’s first constitution, the role of South Carolina and its leaders in the Continental Congress, and the ratification of the United States Constitution, including Henry Laurens’s actions, Charles Pinckney’s role, and the importance of issues debated during the Philadelphia Convention for South Carolina.

Historical Background Notes

Henry Laurens was a wealthy South Carolina political leader who typified the dilemmas faced by many in the colonies. He had wanted to remain loyal to King George, but customs commissioners appointed by Townshend were often corrupt and had deliberately intimidated the wealthiest men, such as John Hancock of Boston and Henry Laurens of Charles Town (Divine et al. 2002, 158). In South Carolina, about one third of the people were loyalists, and one-third patriots supported the Continental and Provisional congresses. The final third joined whichever side was winning. Due to the activity and strength of the loyalists, more battles were fought in South Carolina during the American Revolution than in any other colony. At least 137 battles and skirmishes took place in South Carolina between 1775 and 1782. Henry Laurens “wept at the thought of independence” and expressed the views of many South Carolinians when he wrote that he felt like a faithful son driven “by the hand of violence” from his fathers house (Weir 1997, 331).  Economic dependence on Great Britain heightened the decision by many to remain loyal to the mother country.

Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1778, owned slaves like most of South Carolina’s leaders. At the same time, he argued for freedom and Liberty from Great Britain. Laurens struggled with this apparent hypocrisy. In letters to his son John, Laurens questioned how he could push for freedom from Great Britain and not give his slaves their freedom. He wrote that he was trying to find ways to free his slaves, but the law restricted his actions (Horne and Klein 2000, 170). Thus Laurens was one of the first wealthy planters to realize that slavery conflicted with the ideals of liberty and freedom expressed in the United States Constitution.

In 1779, Laurens was captured by the British whilst trying to negotiate a treaty and a loan between the patriots and Holland; and on October 6, 1780 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Diplomacy was used to negotiate his exchange with a British prisoner on December 31, 1781.

Ultimately, Henry Laurens was exchanged for Lord Cornwallis. His period in the Tower of London illustrates the risks taken during the American Revolution and the power of prestige.



Primary Sources
  Laurens, Henry. "A Narrative of the Capture of Henry Laurens, of His Confinement in the Tower of London, &c., 1780, 1781, 1782." In Collections of The Historical Society of South Carolina, Vol. 1, 46 & 57-8.  Charleston, SC: S.G. Courtney & Co for the South Carolina Historical Society, 1857.
  Secondary Sources
  Divine, Robert A., et al. The American Story. New York: Longman, 2002.
  Gay, John, composer. The Beggars Opera. BBC Hyperion CDA66591/2, 1990. CD.
  Horne, Paul A. Jr., and Patricia Klein. South Carolina: The History of an American State. Atlanta: Clairmont Press, 2000.
  "Plan of the Tower of London." In The Tower of London in the History of the Nation, by A.L. Rouse, 267. London: Book Club Associates, 1972.
  Weir, Robert M. Colonial South Carolina: A History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  Transparency of "Plan of the Tower of London"

Lesson Plans

May take two class periods.
1. Brainstorm/discuss with students prison conditions in the Tower of London.  Incorporate excerpts from The Beggars Opera (See Materials), and discuss the meaning of “graft” and “incentives.”
2. Using texts and the internet, have students research information on Henry Laurens.
3. Give students a copy of pages 46,57, and 58 of Lauren’s letters. Discuss Laurens situation and emotions expressed in the letters. Use overhead map to discuss the physical layout of the Tower. (See Materials)
4. Have students write a journal entry: Imagine that you are a guard at the Tower of London. You observe Henry Laurens over a period of two months. One moment he is optimistic about his release, the next moment he is despondent about the course of the Revolutionary War. Write about your reactions towards this revolutionary hero.  Would you be sympathetic or would you wish to see him beheaded for betraying his mother country?
5. Students may illustrate their journal with drawings of Henry Laurens in the Tower of London.
6. Students share journal entries; you could also use a double entry journal with students working in pairs.

Teacher Reflections

My first lesson on Henry Laurens presented difficulties because of the time constricts in the curriculum due to our new “cohesive curriculum” strategy. The lesson really required considerable background knowledge. My students enjoyed working on the research in the library but really needed longer than one class period. They found the whole concept of being thrown in prison for trying to raise money very surprising. Reading the diary excerpts did make them aware of the dangers that leaders of the Revolution faced. Most of them just considered the outcome a forgone conclusion, and it did bring home the capricious nature of warfare and the need for financial backing. I think that the journal assignment was difficult without greater background knowledge and some students addressed the written assessment in a superficial way.

Nic Butler, at the South Carolina Historical Society, has been especially helpful , suggesting musical selections from The Beggar’s Opera, to give students an idea of music from the 1780's. Staff at the society found examples of Henry Lauren’s diary that I could reproduce for my students.

Student Assessment

1. Evaluate the students' journal entries. Reading their journal entries would allow me to determine if they have understood the difficulties faced by the colonists in rebelling against Great Britain. It would also allow me to determine if they have discovered information about prison conditions in the Tower of London, and realized the importance of diplomacy.

2. Informal assessment is also very important in this lesson. Brainstorming ideas, student questions and class discussions provide valuable insights.

Examples of Students Work

Journal Entry 1
Journal Entry 2


Lorna Espenshade
C.E. Williams Middle School, South Carolina