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Henry Laurens taken Prisoner

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

December 19.—Early in September last, Mr. Henry Laurens was taken prisoner by the British frigate Vestal, on his way from Congress to the Court of Holland, and is now confined in the Tower of London. A correspondent at Portsmouth, England, gives the following account of his capture:—”Mr. Keppel, the captain of the Vestal, was on a cruise off the coast of America, when he fell in with the ship which carried Mr. Laurens, the President of the American Congress. It was a Dutch vessel, laden with tobacco, and bound for Holland. As soon as Mr. Laurens perceived the English armed boat make up to the vessel in which he was, he threw the box that contained his letters overboard, but the lead that was annexed to it proving insufficient for sinking it immediately, one of the daring tars belonging to the Vestal, leaped from the boat, and kept it afloat till the rest assisted him in lifting it.

“Mr. Laurens was bound to Holland with a commission from the Congress, and the tenor of his business was certainly of such a nature as must have produced immediate hostilities between England and the States, if this accident had not intervened to protect us against this farther misfortune. The papers which have been found in the box above mentioned are of the utmost consequence; they contain an explicit detail of his business with the States, and a full description of his powers and commission there. Some secret correspondence is said to be discovered between the members of the Congress and certain great inhabitants of England, but we do not mention this with any degree of confidence, it having been an old and favorite device of a disappointed Minister to insinuate the imputation of treason against those men who have the fortitude to discover a steady opposition to his measures.

“Government have sent word that Mr. Laurens should be brought to London under a strong guard. They have ordered one lieutenant to come in the chaise with him, and two more in another vehicle behind. How he is to be disposed of, is as yet a doubt with administration. They are in a puzzle whether he should be received only as an American captive, or be sent to Newgate as a rebel.”1


1 Upcott, vi. 59.