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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Patriot in the Tower

By Henry Laurens (1724–1792)

[Born in Charleston, S. C., 1724. Died there, 1792. Laurens’s Narrative of his Confinement in the Tower of London. Written 1780–82.]

ABOUT 11 o’clock at night I was sent under a strong guard, up three pair of stairs in Scotland Yard, into a very small chamber. Two king’s messengers were placed for the whole night at one door, and a subaltern’s guard of soldiers at the other. As I was, and had been for some days, so ill as to be incapable of getting into or out of a carriage, or up or down stairs, without help, I looked upon all this parade to be calculated for intimidation. My spirits were good, and I smiled inwardly. The next morning, 6th October, from Scotland Yard, I was conducted again under guard to the secretary’s office, White Hall, where were present Lord Hillsborough, Lord Stormont, Lord George Germain, Mr. Chamberlain, Solicitor of the Treasury, Mr. Knox, Under-Secretary, Mr. Justice Addington, and others. I was first asked, by Lord Stormont, “If my name was Henry Laurens.” “Certainly, my Lord, that is my name.” Capt. Keppel was asked, “If that was Mr. Laurens?” He answered in the affirmative.

His Lordship then said: “Mr. Laurens, we have a paper here” (holding the paper up), “purporting to be a commission from Congress to you, to borrow money in Europe for the use of Congress. It is signed Samuel Huntingdon, President, and attested by Charles Thomson, Secretary. We have already proved the handwriting of Charles Thomson.” I replied: “My Lords, your Lordships are in possession of the paper, and will make such use of it as your Lordships shall judge proper.” I had not destroyed this paper, as it would serve to establish the rank and character in which I was employed by the United States. Another question was asked me, which I did not rightly understand. I replied: “My Lords, I am determined to answer no questions, but with the strictest truth; wherefore, I trust, your Lordships will ask me no questions which might ensnare me, and which I cannot with safety and propriety answer.” No farther questions were demanded. I was told by Lord Stormont, I was to be committed to the Tower of London on “suspicion of high treason.” I asked, “If I had not a right to a copy of the commitment?” Lord Stormont, after a pause, said: “He hesitated on the word right,” and the copy was not granted. Mr. Chamberlain then very kindly said to me: “Mr. Laurens, you are to be sent to the Tower of London, not to a prison; you must have no idea of a prison.” I bowed thanks to the gentlemen, and thought of the new hotel, which had been recommended by my friends in Newfoundland. A commitment was made out by Mr. Justice Addington, and a warrant by their Lordships to the Lieutenant of the Tower, to receive and confine me.

From White Hall, I was conducted in a close hackney coach, under the charge of Col. Williamson, a polite, genteel officer, and two of the illest-looking fellows I had ever seen. The coach was ordered to proceed by the most private ways to the Tower. It had been rumored that a rescue would be attempted. At the Tower the Colonel delivered me to Major Gore, the residing Governor, who, as I was afterward well informed, had previously concerted a plan for mortifying me. He ordered rooms for me in the most conspicuous part of the Tower (the parade). The people of the house, particularly the mistress, entreated the Governor not to burthen them with a prisoner. He replied, “It is necessary. I am determined to expose him.” This was, however, a lucky determination for me. The people were respectful and kindly attentive to me, from the beginning of my confinement to the end; and I contrived, after being told of the Governor’s humane declaration, so to garnish my windows by honeysuckles, and a grape-vine running under them, as to conceal myself entirely from the sight of starers, and at the same time to have myself a full view of them. Governor Gore conducted me to my apartments at a warder’s house. As I was entering the house I heard some of the people say: “Poor old gentleman, bowed down with infirmities. He is come to lay his bones here.” My reflection was, “I shall not leave a bone with you.”

I was very sick, but my spirits were good, and my mind foreboding good from the event of being a prisoner in London. Their Lordships’ orders were, “To confine me a close prisoner; to be locked up every night; to be in the custody of two wardens, who were not to suffer me to be out of their sight one moment, day or night; to allow me no liberty of speaking to any person, nor to permit any person to speak to me; to deprive me of the use of pen and ink; to suffer no letter to be brought to me, nor any to go from me,” etc. As an apology, I presume for their first rigor, the wardens gave me their orders to peruse….

And now I found myself a close prisoner, indeed; shut up in two small rooms, which together made about twenty feet square; a warder my constant companion; and a fixed bayonet under my window; not a friend to converse with, and no prospect of a correspondence.

Next morning, 7th October, Gov. Gore came into my room, with a workman, and fixed iron bars to my windows; altogether unnecessary. The various guards were enough to secure my person. It was done, as I was informed, either to shake my mind or to mortify me. It had neither effect. I only thought of Mr. Chamberlain’s consolation. I asked Mr. Gore, “What provision was to be made for my support?” He replied, “He had no directions.” I said, “I can very well provide for myself, but I must be allowed means for obtaining money.” He gave no answer.

In a word, I discovered I was to pay rent for my little rooms, find my own meat and drink, bedding, coals, candles, etc. This drew from me an observation to the gentleman jailer (the officer who locks up a prisoner every night), who would immediately report it to the Governor: “Whenever I caught a bird in America I found a cage and victuals for it.”

What surprised me most was, although the Secretaries of State had seen the ill state of my health and must also have heard of my continuing ill by reports, daily made to them, they never ordered, or caused to be provided for me, any medical assistance. The people around me thought, for a considerable time, my life in imminent danger. I was of a different opinion. When the Governor had retired from his iron bars, neither my servant nor baggage being yet arrived, I asked the warder, “If he could lend me a book for amusement.” He gravely asked: “Will your honor be pleased to have ‘Drelincourt upon death?’” I quickly turned to his wife, who was passing from making up my bed: “Pray, Madam, can you recommend an honest goldsmith, who will put a new head to my cane; you see this old head is much worn?” “Yes, sir, I can.” The people understood me, and nothing more was said of “Drelincourt.”…

The 8th, Governor Gore, hypocritically kind, came and told me I had leave to walk about the Tower (he had received the order from General Vernon); but advised, I would only walk the parade before the door; “if you go farther,” said he, “there will be such a rabble after you.” I treated his kindness with contempt, and refused to walk. The parade is the very place where he had predetermined to expose me. The order of General Vernon, received by him from the Secretaries of State, was, “that I should be permitted to walk the Tower grounds.” Mr. Gore attempted to supersede both. The Governor grew uneasy, and asked the wardens why I had not walked? They answered that I was lame with the gout. Sunday, 12th November, hobbled out; a warder with a sword in his hand, at my back; the warder informed me Governor Gore had ordered that I should walk only on the parade; I returned immediately to my little prison. The 16th, the Governor, more uneasy, jealous and fearful of General Vernon, sent me notice I might walk the broad pavement (115 yards) before the great armory, and within the armory, all arbitrary on his part; but the walk within the building was very agreeable, it would afford sufficient exercise, and viewing the quantity and variety of military stores, etc., etc., was amusing. I visited the place almost every day, till the third December, when going there, Lord George Gordon, [who] was also a prisoner in the Tower, unluckily met, and asked me to walk with him. I declined it, and returned instantly to my apartment. The Governor, being informed of this by one of his spies, although the warder explained and proved to him I was in no respect a transgressor, caught hold of the occasion, and locked me up. I remained thus closely confined by his arbitrary will, forty-seven days; if any, the fault was in Lord George, but the brutal Governor dared not lock him up….

Sunday, 18th, General Vernon, having been fully informed by a friend in the Tower of the Governor’s arbitrary locking me up from the third December, called and very kindly enquired, if I took my walks abroad as usual. I replied in the negative, and candidly explained what had passed between the Governor and myself. He was exceedingly displeased and said aloud—the people below stairs heard him—“I’ll take care to give orders that you may walk when you please and where you please!” He gave orders, not to the Governor, but to Mr. Kinghorn, an inferior officer. The 22d February, walked abroad, first time since third December. The Governor very angry, and much mortified, I must expect the effect of his ill nature in some other way; but I despise him. Monday, 26th February, Mr. Oswald having solicited the Secretaries of State for my enlargement upon parole, and offered to pledge “his whole fortune as surety for my good conduct,” sent me the following message, in addition to the above by Mr. Kinghorn, the gentleman jailer: “Their Lordships say, if you will point out anything for the benefit of Great Britain, in the present dispute with the Colonies, you shall be enlarged.” The first part of the message overwhelmed me with feelings of gratitude, the latter filled me with indignation. I snatched up my pencil, and upon a sudden impulse wrote a note to Mr. Oswald as follows, and sent it by the same Mr. Kinghorn:

“I perceive, my dear friend, from the message you have sent me by Mr. Kinghorn, that if I were a rascal, I might presently get out of the Tower—I am not. You have pledged your word and fortune for my integrity. I will never dishonor you, nor myself. Yes, I could point out, but is this the place? If I had nothing in view but my own interest or convenience, promises and pointings out would be very prompt; but this is not a proper place. I could point out a doctrine, known to every old woman in the kingdom, ‘A spoonful of honey will catch more flies, than a ton of vinegar.’ What I formerly predicted to you, came to pass. I can foresee, now, what will come to pass, happen to me what may. I fear no ‘possible consequences.’ I must have patience and submit to the will of God, I do not change with the times. My conduct has been consistent, and shall be so.”…

The 7th March, Mr. Oswald visited, and was left alone with me. It immediately occurred he had some extraordinary subject from White Hall for conversation, and so it appeared. Mr. Oswald began by saying, “I converse with you this morning not particularly as your friend, but as a friend to Great Britain.” I thanked him for his candor; he proceeded: “I have certain propositions to make for obtaining your liberty, which I advise you should take time to consider. I showed the note you lately sent me to Lord Germain, who was at first very angry. He exclaimed, ‘Rascals! rascals!—we want no rascals! Honey! honey!! vinegar! They have had too much honey, and too little vinegar! They shall have less honey and more vinegar for the future!’” I said to Mr. Oswald, I should be glad to taste a little of his lordship’s vinegar; his lordship’s honey had been very unpleasant; but Mr. Oswald said, “That note was written without a moment’s deliberation, intended only for myself, and not for the eye of a minister.” Mr. Oswald smiled, and said, “It has done you no harm.” I then replied, “I am as ready to give an answer to any proposition which you have to make to me at this moment as I shall be in any given time. An honest man requires no time to give an answer where his honor is concerned. If the Secretaries of State will enlarge me upon parole, as it seems they can enlarge me if they please, I will strictly conform to my engagement to do nothing, directly or indirectly, to the hurt of this kingdom. I will return to America, or remain in any part of England which may be assigned, and render myself, when demanded.” Mr. Oswald answered, “No, you must stay in London, among your friends. The ministers will often have occasion to send for, and consult you; but observe, I say all this as from myself, not by particular direction or authority; but I know it will be so. You can write two or three lines to the ministers, and barely say, you are sorry for what is past. A pardon will be granted. Every man has been wrong, at some time or other of his life, and should not be ashamed to acknowledge it.” I now understood Mr. Oswald, and could easily perceive my worthy friend was more than half ashamed of his mission. Without hesitation, I replied, “Sir, I will never subscribe to my own infamy, and to the dishonor of my children.” Mr. Oswald then talked of long and painful confinement, which I should suffer, and repeated “possible consequences.” “Permit me to repeat, Sir,” said I, “I am afraid of no consequences but such as would flow from dishonorable acts.” Mr. Oswald desired, “I would take time, weigh the matter properly in my mind, and let him hear from me.” I concluded by assuring him, “he never would hear from me in terms of compliance; if I could be so base, I was sure I should incur his contempt.” Mr. Oswald took leave with such expressions of regard and such a squeeze of the hand, as induced me to believe he was not displeased with my determination. In the course of this conversation, I asked, “Why ministers were so desirous of having me about their persons.” Mr. Oswald said, “They thought I had great influence in America.” I answered, “I once had some influence in my own country; but it would be in me the highest degree of arrogance to pretend to have a general influence in America. I know but one man, of whom this can be said; I mean General Washington. I will suppose, for a moment, the General should come over to your ministers. What would be the effect? He would instantly lose all his influence, and be called a rascal.” Mr. Duché dreamed that he had an influence even over the General. What was the consequence of his apostasy? Was the course of American proceedings interrupted? By no means. He was execrated, and the Americans went forward….

September 23d.—For some time past I have been frequently and strongly tempted to make my escape from the Tower, assured, “It was the advice and desire of all my friends, the thing might be easily effected, the face of American affairs was extremely gloomy. That I might have 18 hours start before I was missed; time enough to reach Margate and Ostend; that it was believed there would be no pursuit,” etc., etc. I had always said: “I hate the name of a runaway.” At length I put a stop to farther applications by saying, “I will not attempt an escape. The gates were opened for me to enter; they shall be opened for me to go out of the Tower. God Almighty sent me here for some purpose. I am determined to see the end of it.” Where the project of an escape originated is uncertain; but I am fully convinced it was not the scheme of the person who spoke to me upon the subject. The ruin of that person and family would have been the consequence of my escape, unless there had been some previous assurance of indemnification.