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The Story

Silas Deane and the Continental Congress

Silas Deane represented Connecticut at the first continental congress in 1774. He rode to Philadelphia with John Adams, and like that better-known correspondent, wrote numerous letters to his wife describing the city, the congressional representatives, and other details both serious and comical. Again like Adams, much of Deane's correspondence was preserved and later transcribed and published by Yale University and the New York Historical Society. Another large body of letters was cataloged and arranged by the Connecticut Historical Society but never published. Despite these efforts, Deane's letters are still almost unknown to scholars, while Adams' letters have been studied extensively. Very few institutions have copies of the published works, and the unpublished material is even more inaccessible.

While at Congress, John Adams and Silas Deane were both instrumental in the founding of the American naval branch, by urging that the new government appropriate funds to build warships. George Washington paid for one vessel out of his own fortune, while Deane oversaw the construction of at least one other vessel at his father-in-law's shipyard in New London, Connecticut.

Deane also helped finance the Battle of Ticonderoga, a critical American victory which helped build popular support for the revolutionary cause. He served on the secret Committee of Correspondence, whose mission was to secure French support for the colonies. Claiming to be a trader from Bermuda (Wethersfield's chief trading partners were the West Indies), Deane went to France to purchase munitions and recruit French officers to help train and lead the American army. He was alone in a foreign country and did not speak a word of the language, yet among his more famous recruits was the Marquis de Lafayette. He was later joined in France by Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee from Virginia. Sadly, Silas Deane never saw his wife Elizabeth again, for she died in 1777; he read about her passing in the newspaper while in France.

Clearly, Silas Deane moved in the inner circles of what modern historians have termed, "the Revolutionary generation." He was a public figure and accorded great respect throughout the 1770s; when George Washington rode to Boston to take command of the American troops in 1775, he stopped at the Deane House to take luncheon with Elizabeth Deane. Why then has Silas Deane been forgotten while John Adams and George Washington are remembered as heroes of our early nation stems? The reason appears to stem from the outcome of the French mission.

 

 

 

Who was Silas
Deane?

Silas Deane's
life and times

Silas Deane and
the Continental
Congress

Silas Deane's
decline and fall

 
           
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