Over the past several months I’ve spoken with a number of people around Charleston, fans of the hit musical, Hamilton, who asked me what I thought of the portrayal of John Laurens in the musical—was it accurate, was it fair, and wasn’t it just so cool? I have to admit, at first, I had no idea what they were talking about. I am not a consumer of pop culture, and—full disclosure—I am not a fan of the Broadway musical experience. Nevertheless, the question itself is valid—how accurate and fair is portrayal of John Laurens in the musical, Hamilton? And let’s be honest, many young fans of the musical are asking the more basic question: who was John Laurens?
Here’s my short answer to both of these questions: John Laurens was a wealthy young man from Charleston who used his talents, influence, and raw physical energy to fight for independence from Great Britain during the American Revolution. In the end, he fell victim to the military violence of the war, but the portrayal of John Laurens in the musical, Hamilton, is grossly oversimplified, and not entirely accurate. To explain what I mean by this, we’ll have to travel back to the second half of the eighteenth century and take a brief tour of the life and times of John Laurens.