I have long been curious about where our family picked up the first name Laurens. This was the name of my grandfather, often confused for Laurence, and seeming to harken back to some proud long ago heritage.
Aware of the famous South Carolina Laurens family, I have search for a connection, but nowhere have I found our people to have crossed paths. They were prominent in The Palmetto State during the American Revolution while the Beckwith family was largely still in Virginia. Nowhere have I found the Laurens family mingling with any other Beckwith or associated family lines.
Any hint of the name Laurens though has always been a sure way to make sure I compulsively poke my head into every possible rabbit hole of available records. This is how I found myself ordering a copy of an obituary from Wofford College indexed on their website under an interesting name. Beckwith, Laurens H. 5/30/1907.
I knew that Laurence Ranson Beckwith, namesake of his grandfather and son to Laurence Henry Beckwith (my great grandfather’s brother), had died as a child in 1907. I’d seen his grave marker in the Prospect Cemetery on the Jamison side of Orangeburg, South Carolina. I’d raced there in a rental car one evening after I had finished at the South Caroliniana, fighting some surprisingly thick traffic through Columbia to find myself suddenly standing alone at dusk in an old graveyard full of familiar names.
So I knew about Laurence. I knew about his father Laurence. I know about his grandfather, who went by “L. R” but had, during his time in the Confederacy, clearly signed his name as Laurence more than once.
The obituary arrived.
BECKWITH. — Laurens Ranson, third child and oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Laurens H. Beckwith, was born April 9, 1898, and died February 14, 1907. For one so young, he was a bright light in the home circle, very bright in intellect, gentle, and kind. How his willing hands are missed. He has left this blighted land where flowers so quickly fade, for the one where they constantly bloom. How soon his little soul was wafted above on angel’s wings far from earth to his God, where he sits and sings with that little band. How dear father missed his footsteps following him. He was sick but a short while, falling victim to that dreaded disease whooping cough. While he is not here with father, mother, sisters, and brother, his dear spirit shadows them. Dear father and mother, while your hearts are crushed and bleeding, you know where to find our dear boy. The Lord says, Suffer little children to come unto Me of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Okay, first of all, I’d like to take a moment to thank anyone who ever had anything to do with the development of childhood vaccinations. Next… what? The obituary writer is a family member herself, taking great pains to elegantly describe the pain and glory of the little boy’s passing, so it seems unlikely that this is a matter of a misspelling. Did the grandfather, the L. R. Beckwith who signed as Laurence at one point in his life, come up with Laurens? Was it the boy’s father, Laurence Henry, who decided that he wanted to be Laurens Henry?
What I do know is that my grandfather was not the original Laurens and that’s where I will leave it for now, stalled again but a little closer to an answer.
After writing this post, some dear Find a Grave volunteer photographed the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Cemetery, including the grave of Laurens Ranson Beckwith’s father, Laurens Butler Beckwith (1814-1869) confirming the name on the gravestone. The gravestone certainly looks original, but I am no expert. However, his name is given as Laurence in the obituary that ran in The Spirit of Jefferson following his death.
The only conclusion I can come to is that they probably used nicknames and signed things with their initials, as was customary, so their actual first name didn’t really come up very often.