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Henry Laurens (1724-1792)

Du Simitiere, Pierre Eugene ||Wilkinson, Robert __Publisher
Place Made:
London Great Britain
Date Made:
ink on paper
HOA: 4 3/8; WOA: 3 5/8 (engraving)
Accession Number:
SITTER: Henry Laurens had served as president of Congress, escaping just ahead of the British Army in 1777 when the British captured Philadelphia. In 1780 Laurens was sent by Congress as envoy to the Netherlands to negotiate a treaty of friendship and commerce. He was captured at sea by the British, charged with high treason, and confined to the Tower of London until December 1781. Following the surrender at Yorktown he was exchanged for Lord Cornwallis. He was then sent by the Congress with John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin to negotiate a treaty with Britain for recognition of the independence of the United States.

Laruen’s grandparents were French Huguenot refuges who fled France in the late 17th century. They settled first in New York, and then in Charleston. He was educated in London and was a partner in the firm Austin and Lauren, the largest slave trading business in North America. In 1762 he purchased Mepkin Plantation, on the Cooper River above Charleston. Laurens owned more than 300 enslaved men and women. In a letter to his son John written during his imprisonment in London he recognized the irony of seeking freedom for his fellow Americans while also being a slave owner. Though his son John urged his father to manumit his slaves, he never did.

ARTIST: Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere (1736-1784) was a native of Switzerland who came to America in 1766. His early drawings included a rare view of Drayton Hall shortly after construction. He supported the American Revolution and produced a series of portraits of Revolutionary American leaders. In addition to Henry Laurens, his portraits included George Washington, William Henry Drayton, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Horatio Gates, and Baron von Steuben.

DESCRIPTION: Copperplate engraving on paper; 1/4 length portrait in profile of a man facing left. He wears a coat, vest, and ruffled shirt. His own hair is styled with a single side curl, a ponytail and a ribbon bow. The profile is set in a tromp l’oeil oval frame on a patterned background.

Issued as part of Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere’s “Portraits of generals, ministers, magistrates, members of Congress, and others, who have rendered themselves illustrious in the revolution of the United States of North America” published by R. Wilkinson and J. Debrett, London, 1783, volume 2.

Based on an advertisement in the December 9-13, 1783 South Carolina Gazette & General Advertiser it was also available as a separate print. J. Miller of Charleston advertised that “received several elegant metzotinto [sic.] plates of Laurens.”

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase fund