Martha Laurens was born, daughter of Henry and Eleanor Laurens, the beginning of one of Charleston’s most extraordinary lives.
Her father, Henry, was a successful merchant. Through his London contacts, Laurens entered into the slave trade with the Grant, Oswald & Company who controlled 18th century British slave castle in the Republic of Sierra Leone, West Africa known as Bunce Castle. Laurens contracted to receive slaves from Serra Leone, catalogue and marketed the human product conducting public auctions in Charles Town. His company Austin and Laurens, in the 1750s, handled was responsible for the sales of more than eight thousand Africans.
Three month old Martha Ramsay was pronounced dead of smallpox. Her body was laid out in preparation for a funeral and placed next to an open window. Dr. John Moultrie arrived and pronounced her still alive, speculating she had been revived by the fresh breeze. This event made Martha very special to her father, Henry.
In 1780 Henry Laurens was imprisoned in the Tower of London for “suspicion of high treason” as supporting the American Revolution. After his release he moved to Vigan, France and was nursed back by Martha, where she had spent the years of the War living with her uncle. In 1787 she married Dr. David Ramsay. The two had met while Ramsay writing a History of the American Revolution and reading Henry Laurens’ papers.
Mr. William Laval secured from the state of South Carolina a vague grant to 870 acres of “land” in Charleston Harbor. Acting on this odd grant, Laval made claim to the site of Fort Sumter. This also raised a question in the South Carolina legislature as to what authority the government had acted upon to begin construction. Laval wrote to the engineer in charge at Fort Johnson, Charleston Harbor:
You are hereby notified that I have taken out, from under the seal of the State, a grant of all those shoals opposite and below Fort Johnson, on one of which the new work called Fort Sumter, is now erecting. You will consider this as notice of my right to the same; the grant is recorded in the office of the secretary of state of this State, and can be seen by reference to the records of that office.
Laval’s claim was presented to Robert Lebly, superintendent in charge of the building of fortifications at Charleston Harbor. Lebly forwarded the claim to Brigadier General Charles Gratiot the next day.