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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.

Things 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 only known then what was in store for me after that great moment!

Shortly 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. 35).

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 to help 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. 36).

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 Paris (Doc. 38, 39). 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. 40). That the supplies that I had worked so hard to gather 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. How ridiculous! Both Baron Beaumarchais, my French partner, and I had worked hard to get a loan to at least partially cover the cost of those eight 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 repaid to the French and to me and Beaumarchais (Doc. 42). I was asked by Congress to put all this in writing, including all financial receipts. Unfortunately, not knowing that I would be defending my every step and expense while in France, I had left my financial information in Paris. I continued 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 (Doc. 43) and half against me. I had had a long running dispute with Thomas Paine, who was the main spokesman, or should I say author, for those against me (Doc. 44). He wrote, I rebutted; he wrote again, etc. etc. etc. Congress actually 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 income, 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 not going 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 records 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 would make a better financial partner for the colonies than France. So I wrote many letters to acquaintances back in the colonies and all over Europe, expressing my thoughts in many, many words. Some of the many who received my letters included Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Robert Livingston, 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 New-York Historical Society.)

Unfortunately those letters were intercepted by spies for the English government and were eventually published in a Tory newspaper in New York, The Royal Gazette (Doc. 47). I recall I was concerned about its editor Rivington back in Philadelphia in 1774 (Doc. 8). Of course everyone back in America thought I was a traitor, especially when 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.

So this put me and my thoughts of alliance with England in very bad light. More writing against me and much more writing by me to defend 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. So did John 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.

I 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, now turned against 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 politics (Doc. 51).

Poor, friendless, often quite ill and, I admit, probably verging on being considered deranged in my determination to defend my much misunderstood actions, I have been in England since 1783. The English 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 American enterprise. I continue writing and believe my thoughts are beginning 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.

N.B. Silas Deane died on shipboard on September 23, 1789 (See Doc 34). The canal system, steam power and an alliance with England that he had been advocating did come to be. In 1842 Congress paid to Deane’s 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 school history 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?

An important figure in Silas Deane’s life was his student in Hartford, then his secretary recommended by Benjamin Franklin, in Paris (Doc. 66). He also served as Deane’s physician in London (Doc. 52) and had been his business partner in questionable schemes (not related to the good work Deane was doing for the Americans in France). His name was Edward Bancroft. It is probably because of 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 were doing 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. 53). An interesting research project would be for someone to thoroughly trace the death of Silas Deane through the documents and chapters in books on the subject.

 

 



Silas Deane miniature, 1776

Silas Deane
Commemorative Plaque

Silas Deane
Political Cartoon, 1783


Benjamin Franklin

Silas Deane
Commemorative Plate


Elizabeth Deane


George Washington


Benedict Arnold


Silas' pamphlet, 1783


Inside Silas' pamphlet, 1783


Silas Deane's Obituary

 
           
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