The Continental Congress of the United States elects former congressman Henry Laurens minister to Holland on this day in 1779. Laurens’ first and most crucial duty as the new minister was to negotiate an alliance with Holland, which he did in 1780. During Laurens’ return voyage from Holland in the fall of 1780, his ship was intercepted and captured by the British Navy off the coast of Newfoundland, and he was taken prisoner. During their search of the vessel, British sailors discovered Laurens’ copy of the unofficial Patriot treaty with the Dutch, drafted by Congressional agent William Lee. The British went on to use the document as grounds for war against the Dutch and sent Laurens to London to stand trial before the privy council, a group of the king’s closest advisors, on suspicion of high treason. He was subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London for 15 months.
On December 31, 1781, the British finally released Laurens from prison in exchange for American-held prisoner General Charles Lord Cornwallis. Following his release, Congress appointed Laurens, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. In one of his final acts of public service, Laurens signed the preliminary Treaty of Paris on November 30, 1782, before returning to the United States, where he retired to his home near Charleston, South Carolina. Laurens was later elected to the Continental Congress, the state legislature and the federal Constitutional Convention, but declined each office, preferring to remain in retirement until his death on December 8, 1792.