Silas Deane
The Story
The People
The Places
Timeline Portraits Objects documents Maps interactives Classroom Bibliography Search Home
   

Classroom Lessons

Silas Deane’s Membership
in the First and Second Continental Congresses

There were two Continental Congresses. The first lasted barely six weeks, September 5, 1774 through October 26, 1774. That should be called the First Continental Congress (see image). The Second had a much longer run, May 10, 1775 through March 2, 1789. It must be remembered that there was no precedent for the gathering of representatives and therefore there were no rules for the members to follow. It is very exciting to think about the framework that the members settled on and the work that they achieved since they started with nothing. In a nutshell, the “work” was the American Revolution which led to the establishment of the United States of America. (see map)

In 1774, the unrest which some residents of the thirteen colonies had been feeling for as long as a century, and for others just because of a recent directive from England (such as the Stamp Act), was coming to a boiling point. But that boiling point did not occur at the same time or with the same power for each of the colonies. Many colonies and individual citizens did not have a problem with being ruled from across the ocean by the King of England. Others had been straining at the bit for years to protest the actions of a king and his government in limiting any power of the citizens of the colonies.

But this is not meant to be a lesson on the enormous work, trials, tribulations and achievements of the Continental Congresses. Books have been and are still being written on that subject that are fascinating and admirable works of scholarship. No, we are here specifically to discuss Silas Deane and his participation in the First and Second Congresses.

In 1774 it was decided by some of the colonies that discussion should be undertaken about the role of England in governing the colonies. At this point there was no majority of residents in the colonies who felt a break should be made. In fact, quite the opposite was true. One colony (Georgia) did not even send delegates to the First Congress. Most seemed to have felt that something could be worked out with the crown and all would be well. A little tweaking was all that was needed. So the governments of each colony were instructed to designate three delegates, and possibly two alternates, to travel to Philadelphia to have some discussions. The Council on Safety in Connecticut appointed Eliphalet Dyer, Roger Sherman and Silas Deane to be its delegates and those three set out at the end of August 1774 (Docs. 11a and 11b).

In the Documents section of this web site, Silas Deane Online, you will be able to read in Silas’s own words letters which describe this journey, his meeting along the road with delegates from other New England colonies and Silas’s first impressions of the men who became the heroes of a new nation. Also in those letters are wonderful descriptions of the arduous journey, the lay of the land and the cities and towns that the group traveled through. Read for yourself Silas’s thoughts on George Washington and John Adams and many other heroes you have been learning about since third grade (Docs. 7, 8 and 9). And remember that at this point Silas was on exactly the same level as these national heroes. Why is he not considered one himself today? What events later in his life changed this status?

In October of 1774 the First Continental Congress ended. The Second Continental Congress began meeting on May 10, 1775 and Connecticut sent the same three delegates who had been appointed for the First (Docs. 11a and 11b). The mood of the delegates at the Second Congress was much more radical than at the first. Even Georgia was now concerned about the relationship with the crown. The event which changed the tone was the attack by England at Lexington and Concord. But with the change of tone, Connecticut eventually had second thoughts about its delegates. Remember, there were no rules yet written so the Connecticut General Assembly, in order to get delegates that thought exactly as it did, decided that it had the authority to change the delegates. Deane and Dyer were not even nominated. Sherman remained a Connecticut representative, now joined by Oliver Ellsworth and Oliver Wolcott. In the Documents section of Silas Deane Online you can read Governor John Trumbull’s letter of explanation (Doc. 14) and then Deane’s letters to his wife expressing his disappointment but also accepting his fate (Doc. 16).

That first session of the Second Continental Congress adjourned in December 1775 for a recess with Deane no longer an official member. But he did not return to Connecticut with the other delegates, Dyer and Sherman. Instead he remained in Philadelphia, working hard on the Congress’s Naval Committee (Doc. 15) and in March of 1776 Deane was thought highly enough by members of the Congress to be appointed to represent the colonies in France (Doc. 17). Refer to the Biography and Musings lessons of this website to learn more of Silas Deane’s business in France.

SIDEBAR QUESTION
We at Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum are often asked why Silas Deane did not sign the Declaration of Independence since we say he was a member of the Second Continental Congress. Other visitors come with the mis-information that he was a signer of that great document. Now that you have read this lesson, can you answer the question: Why was Silas Deane not a signer of the Declaration of Independence?

ANSWER: By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed by the members of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, Silas Deane was no longer a member of the Congress but was in France as an agent of the Secret Committee of the Congress (Doc. 17). In fact, Silas Deane had not even received official notification of the Declaration until August 1776 (Doc. 58)!

SIDEBAR: GOOD ADVICE FROM SILAS DEANE
Read a portion of Silas Deane’s letter of July 20, 1775 to his wife Elizabeth (Doc. 67). This was written years before car insurance and dangerous traffic were on the roads, but it should teach all young drivers a lesson – neither a borrower or a lender be! Silas should never have loaned his carriage to Roger Sherman.

 

 

 


Congress, 1774


America, 1763


The Samp Act


Silas Deane


King George III of England


John Adams


George Washington


Lexington Green


Europe, 1813


1830 Phaeton

 
           
©2004-2005 Webb Deane Stevens Museum. All rights reserved. Design by Literae Interactive