John Laurens, born in 1754 into a prominent family of Charleston, South Carolina, was sent to school in England and Switzerland. Laurens married in October 1776, after impregnating the daughter of a friend of his father, and three months later returned to America to take part in the Revolution. He joined George Washington's staff as a volunteer aide, fought and was wounded in several battles, and was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel by Congress. In December 1778, Laurens, angry at certain "constant personal abuse" of his general, fought a duel to defend Washington's honor.
Elected to the South Carolina assembly in 1779, Laurens withdrew from this political post to fight against a British invasion. When Charleston capitulated to the British in 1780, Laurens was held as a prisoner of war until his exchange for a British officer held by the Americans. That year, at age twenty-six, Laurens was sent by Congress to France on a successful mission to obtain much-needed money and supplies. Returning to America, he rejoined the Revolutionary army, taking an active part in several battles.