Fictional musings of Silas Deane
as he waits for
weather to clear for his ship to sail from England, September 20,
1789: How I have spent the last fourteen years of my life (with apologies
to Mr. Deane for the style of these musings); written 2004.
had been going pretty well for me. I was in Paris and was proud
to have been part of the ceremony on February 7, 1778 for the signing
of two treaties between France and the colonies (see Treaty
of Alliance and Act
Separate and Secret). I had been in France for almost two years
working hard to bring these
alliances into being. George Washington (see portrait) wrote,
referring to the Treaty of Alliance, “I believe no event
was ever received with more heartfelt joy.” (Noted in A
Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic,
by John Ferling, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003; p. 204.)
My signature (see portrait),
along with the great Benjamin Franklin (see portrait) and
the not-so great Arthur Lee,
was on both the treaties. I always seemed to be at odds with Mr.
Lee. If I had
known then what was in store for me after that great moment!
after the signing, I received a letter from the Second Continental
Congress dated December 1777 (Doc.
24) asking me to
return to Philadelphia
for meetings. I wasn’t too concerned, just a little curious.
I had heard that some people back in America were not happy with
some of the European officers I had recruited for General Washington’s
army. Maybe that was to be the topic of conversation with me
back in Philadelphia. (Doc.
I was fortunate enough to be
given very comfortable passage on
the Admiral D’Estaing’s frigate LANGUEDOC,
part of the French fleet that was heading to America in April
the colonies with
the War, thanks to that Treaty signed in February. So I left
France with little anxiety and arrived back in Philadelphia in
July. I was
bringing endorsements from such dignitaries as the Conte
de Vergennes and Benjamin Franklin (Doc.
By August I had
had two very unsuccessful meetings with Congress. In November
I was still trying to put things straight in writing
and in oral presentations as requested by Congress (see Doc.
37). By this point I felt I was defending my whole time in
It seems that rascal Arthur Lee, whose brother was quite powerful
in Congress, had sent word from Paris that I was up
to no good (Doc.
That the supplies that I had worked so hard
and send from France in 1777 to the colonies, and which, I might
add, had helped General Washington’s army be successful
at Saratoga, were a gift from France and required no payment.
Both Baron Beaumarchais, my French partner, and I had worked
hard to get a loan to at least partially cover the cost of those
shiploads of goods (Doc.
41) and we had put a great deal of our
own money into the endeavor. That money had to eventually be
the French and to me and Beaumarchais (Doc.
42). I was asked
by Congress to put all this in writing, including all financial
not knowing that I would be defending my every step and expense
while in France, I had left my financial information in Paris.
to wait on Congress’s decision on my fate through November
1779 (remember, I had been back in Philadelphia since July 1778!),
when I took off to my brother’s in Williamsburg, planning
to return to France from there.
Congress was, I believe, in shambles,
mostly due to my case. About half the members were on my side
43) and half against
I had had a long running dispute with Thomas Paine, who was the
spokesman, or should I say author, for those against me (Doc.
44). He wrote, I rebutted; he wrote again, etc. etc. etc.
dismissed him too in January 1779 (Doc.
45), as it had me earlier.
But throughout all this bickering and exchange of hundreds of
pages, nothing was ever settled. I had no official position,
no life at home (my dear wife Elizabeth (see portrait) having
succumbed to a lifelong struggle with ill health in December
of 1777; I do regret
to Wethersfield before I left for France) (Doc.
46) and little
hope for the future.
After a long, snowy winter in Virginia, I
was finally able to return to France in June of 1780. My hope was
to gather up my
and clear my name. Perhaps I was a little too ambitious in
my endeavor because at this point things went from bad to worse.
In my despondency,
I was beginning to think that England would be successful in
winning the long war. If it did, I felt strongly that England
a better financial partner for the colonies than France. So
I wrote many letters to acquaintances back in the colonies and
expressing my thoughts in many, many words. Some of the many
who received my letters included Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Robert
George Washington (see signature),
Benjamin Harrison, my brothers and stepchildren – the
list goes on. (N.B. – Many of these letters can be found
in volumes iv and v of the The Deane
Papers published by the
Unfortunately those letters were intercepted
by spies for the English government and were eventually published
in a Tory
New York, The Royal Gazette (Doc.
47). I recall I was concerned
its editor Rivington back in Philadelphia in 1774 (Doc.
Of course everyone back in America thought I was a traitor,
General Washington’s army, with much-needed help from
the French (remember my work there!), had a great victory at
Yorktown in October
1781 that led to the eventual and total defeat of the English
army. My timing could not have been worse for my reputation.
this put me and my thoughts of alliance with England in very
bad light. More writing against me and much more writing
myself followed for the next few years. I still thought England
was a better match for America than France, but I could not
convince my former colleagues. Thomas Paine called me a traitor.
Adams and he even went so far as to compare me to Benedict
Arnold (see signature and Doc.
48). How unjust! Why, I wouldn’t even see
that traitor to the American cause when he tried to call on
me in London (Doc.
49)! Still, I always considered myself a loyal American.
wrote a long pamphlet, which I had published in England and
America in 1784 (see image and Doc.
30), that I hoped would be my saving
grace, but it
had just the opposite effect. All my friends who had stuck
with me through the letters published in The Royal Gazette,
me too. This included the great man Benjamin Franklin who had
continually defended me to Congress but now thought mine a
hopeless cause (Doc.
50). Even my own brother advised me to speak no more on
Poor, friendless, often quite ill and, I admit,
probably verging on being considered deranged in my determination
my much misunderstood actions, I have been in England since
are really quite advanced in their industrial thinking and
I believe many of their innovations would help my native
country get ahead
in the industrial world (Docs
31, 32 and 33).
I have been exploring English ideas for canals and steam
power to help advance
enterprise. I continue writing and believe my thoughts are
to be accepted back home. If the weather clears soon this
ship will be sailing to America where I can put all my theories
to the test.
I hope I will be able to see my good friend Edward Bancroft
if he comes to America. Perhaps I will also manage to get
repaid the expenses
I incurred while getting supplies for the colonies from France.
Silas Deane died on shipboard on September 23, 1789 (See Doc
The canal system, steam power and an alliance
England that he had been advocating did come to be. In
descendants the moneys he spent for the colonies while
in France (Doc
54 and 55).
Thus ended the intriguing and mysterious life of Silas
Deane, but it did not get him into the high
books. This website has been designed to help you better
understand his life, work, and his contemporaries, and
to let you decide:
Was Silas Deane a “lost hero” of the American Revolution?
important figure in Silas Deane’s life was his student
in Hartford, then his secretary recommended by Benjamin Franklin,
66). He also served as Deane’s physician
in London (Doc.
52) and had been his business partner in questionable
(not related to the good work Deane was doing for the Americans
in France). His name was Edward Bancroft. It is probably because
Bancroft that Deane’s life had such a disastrous end.
It was not discovered until the late 1800s that Bancroft had
been a double
agent, officially serving the American delegation in Paris
while relaying to the English everything that the Americans
or planned to do. Bancroft even succeeded in making Deane’s
death misunderstood by spreading rumors that even to this day
receive the attention of students and historians (Doc.
research project would be for someone to thoroughly trace the
death of Silas Deane through the documents and chapters in
books on the
Silas Deane miniature, 1776
Political Cartoon, 1783
Silas' pamphlet, 1783
Inside Silas' pamphlet, 1783
Silas Deane's Obituary