The Tragic Death Of Alexander Hamilton’s Best Friend

Even if you’ve listened to the “Hamilton” musical original Broadway cast recording backward and forward, there is one song and scene that you would not know was missing unless you’ve seen the show live (or on Disney+).

It’s sandwiched between the wistful and hopeful “Dear Theodosia” and the fast-paced first act closer, “Nonstop.” The scene is of Eliza Hamilton telling Alexander Hamilton of the death of his friend John Laurens.

Laurens, who played a big role in the first act, was one of Hamilton’s first friends in the show. In reality, the two met while serving as an aide-de-camp to George Washington in the Continental Army, explained the Mount Vernon website, and not during Hamilton’s first few years in the United States.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Laurens was the son of Henry Laurens and his wife, Eleanor. He was the eldest of all their children. His father held a position in the Continental Congress. After the death of his mother, his father brought him and his siblings to London for their studies. He developed a keen interest in science but followed his father’s footsteps in the legal profession and politics.

Laurens, excited by the burgeoning political revolution back in the United States, joined his father and left his wife and child in London. He arrived right on time for the Battle of Brandywine and was even commended for his actions on the battlefield. Though people called him brave, some in the Revolutionary Army believed he was more brash than anything.

He wanted to abolish slavery

John Laurens’ brashness often got him into trouble. A memorable moment, wrote Encyclopedia Britannica, was between Laurens, Hamilton, and Charles Lee. Lee had been disgraced in the Battle of Monmouth but continued to speak badly about Washington. Laurens challenged Lee to a duel, with Hamilton as his second who will prepare the weapons. The two did not end up killing anyone, but it did prove to many people how bold the two young men could be.

This ended up becoming Laurens’ signature. Despite his father becoming wealthy because of the slave trade, Laurens passionately believed in ending slavery. Unlike many in the Revolutionary Army, Laurens thought it was only through abolishing slavery and providing rights to Black Americans that the country can truly be great. He wanted to establish a battalion manned by both white and Black men, promising emancipation to the Black men he enlisted. Unfortunately, he found little support, though he did manage to change the Marquis de Lafayette’s mind, wrote Mount Vernon. One of his other big supporters was, of course, Hamilton.

Laurens was captured by the British in 1780 during the fall of Charlotte. However, he was part of a prisoner exchange and was returned to the Americans. Laurens then went to France to appeal for more supplies.

Laurens was present in many of the crucial battles with Washington, including the Battle of Yorktown, one of the critical fights that ultimately led to the Americans’ victory.

John Laurens died before peace could be declared

While the Battle of Yorktown proved pivotal in turning the tides in favor of the Revolutionaries, it wasn’t the end of the war.

John Laurens was in South Carolina following the Battle of Yorktown. Smithsonian Magazine pointed out he wasn’t supposed to be involved in any fights at that time. Laurens was sick, possibly with malaria, but had heard news of an upcoming skirmish. The British were evacuating Charleston and, on their way out, decided to raid some farms. This angered the Revolutionaries led by Brigadier General Mordecai Gist and planned to intercept the British.

Weak with illness, Laurens once again displayed his signature rashness and joined Gist to fight. Laurens and 50 men were sent to secure the Combahee River. Interestingly, the Combahee River played a role during the Civil War when Harriet Tubman led the Combahee River raids to free slaves.

Once they got there, the troops went to work setting up their cannons. But the British spotted them and ambushed the group that night. There were more of them than Revolutionaries. Laurens would not back down and wanted to fight, nonetheless. The British opened fire, and Laurens was shot. He fell from his horse and died.

Laurens died just as the Americans were finally winning, and the British would formally leave the United States. And just like in the musical, his friends had to be informed of his death while preparing to create a government.

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