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The Story

Silas Deane's Life and Times

Silas Deane, the circumstances of his life, and his contributions to American history appear in almost no textbooks, even at the college level, and very few people outside of Wethersfield are aware of his existence. Deane was born in Groton, Connecticut, in 1737, the eldest son of a wealthy farmer. He, like John Adams, was the first in his family to attend college. In 1761 he moved to Wethersfield and practiced law. One of his clients was Mehitable Webb, the wealthy widow of merchant trader Joseph Webb, who following her husband's death at 34 was left with six children and a business to run. Silas and Mehitable married in 1763, and in 1766 built a new house next door to the Webb mansion. This house is atypical of Wethersfield architecture, and was obviously a statement about the Deanes' wealth and position. Although they probably expected to have another large family, they had only one son, Jesse Deane, before Mehitable's death in 1767.

Having acquired two houses, great wealth, and a stepfamily through his first marriage, Silas Deane evidently sought additional social and political prominence as well, for when he remarried he chose Elizabeth Saltonstall Evards, another rich young widow and the granddaughter of a colonial governor. Similarly, George Washington had married the wealthiest woman in Virginia, widow Martha Custis, who helped raise him both financially and socially into the plantation aristocracy. The relationship between Elizabeth and her stepson, as well as among Jesse and his Webb half-brothers and -sisters is somewhat enigmatic, but family letters hint at some problems, including references to a physical disability which Jesse suffered. Elizabeth was also sickly, suffering from "the asthma" which may or may not be the condition we know by that name today. Her doctors prescribed treatments such as bleeding followed by horseback riding; not surprisingly, her condition was increasingly frail throughout her marriage.

When Elizabeth arrived at the Deane House, she probably brought with her several enslaved servants of African descent; two of them were named Pomp and Hagar. While John Adams had strong feelings against slavery, Silas Deane like George Washington used slaves to provide the labor necessary to run an upperclass household. The Museum staff have recently uncovered a great deal of information about the African Americans who lived and worked in the Deane House, especially Pomp and Hagar, who probably obtained their own freedom in 1791 following their master's death. Washington, in contrast, granted his personally owned slaves their freedom in his will.

 

 

 

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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