University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. Spring, 2002


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South Caroliniana Library Opens Long-awaited Laurens Exhibit


Dr. and Mrs. Stephen Ackerman view the Laurens paper.

Dr. C. James Taylor held an audience of South Caroliniana Library supporters spellbound on October 16 as he recounted the saga of the life and writings of Revolutionary War-era statesman and native South Carolinian, Henry Laurens (1724-1792). Dr. Taylorís talk was entitled, ďA Long Journey Home: The Revolutionary War Papers of Henry Laurens.Ē  The occasion was the opening of an exhibit of Laurensí papers which had been returned to South Carolina after an absence of 134 years.  The papers were acquired last spring through the generosity of the Henry W. Kendall family from whom the library had received the revered Kendall Map Collection in 1961. 

Henry Laurens was a wealthy Charleston planter and merchant who represented South Carolina at the Continental Congress of which he was elected president in 1777.  En route to  Holland in search of support for the coloniesí separation from England, Laurens was captured by the British and was held in the Tower of London for 15 months as a traitor. One of the most fascinating items in the Kendall Collection is the diary Laurens kept while he was imprisoned.

Over his lifetime, Laurens, an inveterate writer of both letters and diaries, collected thousands of items including copies of all the letters he sent and their corresponding replies from other 18th-century luminaries such as John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.  After his death,  Laurensí papers were preserved by his children until they were acquired by William Gilmore Simms in the 1830ís.  According to Dr. Taylor, Simms probably used Laurensí papers as background material for his historical novels.  In 1867, Simms was forced by dire financial need to sell the collection which was purchased by the Long Island Historical Society.  Ninety-two years later, in 1959, Mrs. Henry P. Kendall purchased the Laurens papers and housed them in the Kendall Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.  After the deaths of both Mrs. Kendall and her son, Dr. Henry W. Kendall, the Kendall family agreed that the papers should indeed return to South Carolina.  The collection will be called The Henry W. Kendall Collection of the Papers of Henry Laurens.

Dr. Taylor has spent the last 22 years editing The Papers of Henry Laurens, continuing the work of previous editors, Dr. Philip Hamer, Dr. George C. Rogers, Jr., and Dr. David Chesnutt.  The 16th and final volume of the project will be published in 2002.  Dr. Taylorís long association with the Kendall family as he journeyed to Massachusetts to work on the project was instrumental in bringing the Laurens papers home at last.

Special guests for the event were Mr. Thomas Lockhart, descendant of Henry Laurens and Mrs. Alester G. Furman III of Greenville.

This page updated February 6, 2002 by Amy W. Yarbrough.
This page copyright © 2002, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/reflections/laurens.htm