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Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us: A Deep Dive into the Life of John Laurens

July 1, 2020 by Ali Bloomston
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The scene I’m most looking forward to in the Hamilton film is not a highly-choreographed spectacle number like “Satisfied” or “Battle of Yorktown,” nor is it an iconic ballad like “Dear Theodosia” or “Burn.” No, the song I’m most looking forward to is a scene that many lovers of the soundtrack may not even know exists. 

I’m talking about “Laurens Interlude,” also known as “Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us,” a devastating moment following “Dear Theodosia” and before “Non-Stop.”

The scene is so brilliantly composed. It begins with John Laurens singing a reprise of “The Story of Tonight” with Eliza and Hamilton’s dialogue placed interstitially between each line of the song. In the scene, Hamilton receives a letter from John Laurens’s father and asks Eliza to read it to him. She continues:

“On Tuesday the 27th, my son was killed in a gunfight against British troops retreating from South Carolina. The war was already over. As you know, John dreamed of emancipating and recruiting 3,000 men for the first all-Black military regiment. His dream of freedom for these men dies with him.”

Hamilton: An American Musical

The last line Laurens sings is “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us…” and the reprise ends hauntingly unresolved. The scene is staged with Hercules Mulligan and Lafaytte on the balcony also reading the letters. Lafayette devastatingly collapses to his knees and buries his face in his hands while Mulligan takes a heavy chug of his flask.

While the audience had only been acquainted with Laurens in a few scenes, the magnitude of his death, especially as it is experienced by the characters onstage, is tangible. The man that they mourned, underrepresented in our history books, left behind a powerful legacy of what it means to be a voice for change. So let’s take a look at the life of this Revolutionary war hero.

Meet John Laurens

John Laurens was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1754 to Henry Laurens and Eleanor Ball Laurens, whose families were both wealthy from cultivating rice. As Hamilton says in the musical regarding southern states, “we know who’s really doing the planting.” Henry also made his personal fortune as the owner of one of the largest slave trading houses in North America, and it’s crucial to understand John Laurens in this context. While he did go on to be a passionate abolitionist, it cannot be overlooked that he benefited from slave labor as a child. 

Portrait of John Laurens

After Eleanor died, Henry moved his sons to London where John received his education from age 16 to 22, continued to law school in 1774, and married a family friend, Martha Manning, in 1776.  While in law school, Laurens couldn’t shake the feeling that he should be back in the colonies and fighting in the Continental Army. He was passionate about the ideals of the Revolution, but he recognized the problematic hypocrisy of a country fighting for its freedom while upholding the practice of slavery. He wrote to a friend:

“I think we Americans at least in the Southern Colonies, cannot contend with a good Grace, for Liberty, until we shall have enfranchised our Slaves.”

John Laurens to Thomas Boone, 1776

So John returned to the colonies with democratic fervor, while his father, Henry, had been elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Henry tried everything in his power to keep John from seeing combat and leveraged his connections to get Laurens a position as a volunteer aides-de-camp to General Washington, a part of his inner circle he referred to as his “family”

Christopher Jackson as George Washington in Hamilton, observed upstage by his aides-de-camp Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Laurens (Anthony Ramos), Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan), and Lafayette (Daveed Diggs). Photographed by Joan Marcus.

Raise a Glass to the Four of Us

It was then, in 1777, that Laurens became friends with fellow aides-de-camp Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette. When John eventually saw combat against Henry’s wishes, he earned a reputation for his recklessness on the battlefield. After the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, his friend Lafayette said of John, “It was not his fault that he was not killed or wounded[,] he did everything that was necessary to procure one or t’other.”

At the Battle of Germantown, the Continental Army attempted to overtake a large stone mansion occupied by British troops, after several failed attempts, Laurens gathered a bunch of straw and set the mansion on fire, only suffering a wound from a musket ball to the shoulder. Washington, recognized Laurens’s bravery, albeit foolhardy, and officially appointed him aides-de-camp with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens, and Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton. (Photographed by Joan Marcus)

The First Black Battalion

Hamilton was not the only revolutionary who was writing like he was “running out of time”— Laurens began fervently writing letters in this period about his belief that Black and white people shared a similar nature and should be granted the same liberties. In these letters, usually addressed to his father, Hamilton, or Washington, Laurens would feverishly argue for a plan to emancipate slaves so they might be enlisted in a Black battalion. Not only would it supply necessary troops to the Continental Army, he continued to argue that it was a moral obligation for a country where “liberty” is a core value, writing to his to his father:

I had barely hinted to you, my dearest Father, my desire to augment the Continental Forces from an untried Source … [The raising of Black battalions would] … advance those who are unjustly deprived of the Rights of Mankind [and] … reinforce the Defenders of Liberty with a number of gallant soldiers.

John Laurens to Henry Laurens, 1778

Laurens wasn’t just passionate about abolishing slavery in his personal circles, he promoted this belief in public. In March 1779, Laurens lobbied and was granted permission to recruit a regiment of 3,000 black soldiers; however, congressional opposition presented a roadblock and the project was postponed. Laurens won a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives and introduced the plan of a Black battalion in 1779, again in 1780, and finally in 1782, and was met with overwhelming disproval each time.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Ramos as Hamilton and Laurens in Hamilton.

My Dearest, Laurens

Laurens’s letters to his friends were not exclusively political, as is evidenced by his casual, comfortable relationship Hamilton. The two revolutionaries became extremely close and wrote each other constantly when they were stationed apart and Hamilton often used language that could be read as passionate. Many a historian has speculated that the relationship between Hamilton and Laurens was at the very least a “romantic friendship” (an intimate, non-sexual relationship) and at most a potentially sexual relationship. Some of the more effusive, perhaps homoerotic language from Hamilton’s letters includes:

“Cold in my professions, warm in [my] friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it m[ight] be in my power, by action rather than words, [to] convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that ’till you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed, my friend, it was not well done. You know the opinion I entertain of mankind, and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments, and to keep my happiness independent on the caprice of others. You sh[ould] not have taken advantage of my sensibility to ste[al] into my affections without my consent. But as you have done it and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have so artfully instilled into [me].”

Alexander Hamilton to John Laurens, 1779

On the matter of Hamilton and John Laurens’ relationship, Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow notes that “it is impossible to say this with any certainty” if the two were lovers, but that “at the very least, we can say that Hamilton developed something like an adolescent crush on his friend.”

Washington on His Side

While his friendship with Hamilton is Laurens’ most analyzed relationship, it’s also worth noting he idolized George Washington. So of course when General Charles Lee slandered General Washington in December 1778, John’s adoration combined with his general danger-seeking behavior was a recipe for a duel. As anyone familiar with “The Ten Duel Commandments” would know, Hamilton was Laurens’s second at the duel and intervened after the first shot when Laurens struck Lee in the side. Lee later declared that Laurens had acted honorably at the duel, and said that he gained an “odd sort of respect for him.”

Naturally, Laurens’ flirtation with danger did not end with the duel and he continued to see action on the battlefield in the Battles of Coosawhatchie, Savannah, and Charleston. After the fall of his hometown Charleston, the British took Laurens as a Prisoner of War and he was sent to Philadelphia. Upon his release, Laurens reluctantly accepted an appointment by Congress as minister to France, where he worked alongside Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine and gained naval support and financial aid for the Siege of Yorktown.

I May Not Live to See Our Glory

Laurens made it back to the colonies to see the French naval ships arrive for the Siege of Yorktown, where he led troops under Hamilton’s command in storming Redoubt #10. It is recorded that Laurens was injured in every single battle he fought, although just mildly. After the British troops surrendered on October 17, 1781, Washington appointed Laurens to draft the terms of a British surrender, which he negotiated with the French commissioner and British representatives.

“Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” from Hamilton (Photographed by Joan Marcus)

After the war, in addition to his work lobbying the South Carolina House of Representatives to raise a Black battalion in 1782, Laurens joined General Nathanael Greene’s army with the goal of driving out the residual British troops from the South Carolina backcountry. On August 27, approximately 500 British soldiers neared the Combahee River, and Laurens and a party of fifty men and one cannon were sent to intercept the British retreat. The British learned of Laurens’s plot and ambushed the American troops, killing Laurens.

Upon his death, Washington wrote of Laurens, “in a word, he had not a fault that I ever could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives.” In a letter to General Nathanel Greene, Hamilton mourned the loss of his closest friend.

“I feel the deepest affliction at the news we have just received at the loss of our dear and inestimable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at end. How strangely are human affairs conducted, that so many excellent qualities could not ensure a more happy fate! The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind; and America, of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend whom I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.”

Alexander Hamilton to General Nathanel Greene, 1782

The Laurens Interlude

When asked why “Laurens Interlude” was excluded from the Hamilton soundtrack, especially when he and his viewpoints are already so underrepresented in history, Lin Manuel-Miranda argues that it is scene that serves as a true revelation in the show when experiencing the production. He wrote “Please understand that the reason I left this scene off the album is precisely BECAUSE I value it (and Laurens) so much.”

What makes this scene such a gut-wrenching and crucial revelation is that Laurens’ dream of emancipation wouldn’t be realized for another 83 years. His dream of a truly equitable United States, where people would be treated equally regardless of the color of their skin, has not been realized 238 years later. In the brief moments following this song, the audience is forced to imagine what a nascent and even contemporary United States could have looked like with more voices like his at the table as they drafted our country’s doctrines. 

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