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Silas Deane, c. 1781

Silas Deane (December 24, 1737 – September 23, 1789) was a delegate to the American Continental Congress and later the United States' first foreign diplomat.

Contents

Biography

Deane was born in Groton, Connecticut, the son of a blacksmith. He graduated from Yale in 1758 and in 1761 was admitted to the bar, he practiced law for a short time outside of Hartford before he became a merchant in Wethersfield, Connecticut. In Connecticut he taught the future double-spy Edward Bancroft.

He took an active part in the movements in Connecticut preceding the War of Independence, was elected to the state assembly in 1772, and from 1774 to 1776 was a delegate from Connecticut to the Continental Congress. Early in 1776, he was sent to France by Congress in a semi-official capacity, as a secret agent to induce the French government to lend its financial aid to the colonies. Subsequently he became, with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, one of the regularly accredited commissioners to France from Congress.

On arriving in Paris, Deane at once opened negotiations with Vergennes and Beaumarchais, securing through the latter the shipment of many shiploads of arms and munitions of war to America, and helping finance the Battle of Ticonderoga. He also enlisted the services of a number of Continental soldiers of fortune, among whom were Lafayette, Baron Johann de Kalb, Thomas Conway, Casimir Pulaski, and Baron von Steuben.

His carelessness in keeping account of his receipts and expenditures, and the differences between himself and Arthur Lee regarding the contracts with Beaumarchais, eventually led to his recall and replacement by John Adams as ambassador to France on November 21, 1777 and was expected to face charges based on Lee's complaints and on his having promised the foreign officers commissions outranking American officers. Before returning to America, however, he signed on February 6, 1778 the treaties of amity and commerce and of alliance with France, which he and the other commissioners had successfully negotiated. It was also in Paris that Deane formally approved of Scotsman James Aitken's (John the Painter) plot to destroy Royal Navy stores in Portsmouth, England on behalf of the Continental cause.

In America, Deane was defended by John Jay and John Adams in 1778 in a long and bitter dispute before Congress, whose requests for copies of his receipts and disbursements were refused by France; since France had not officially made alliance with the Thirteen Colonies until February 6, 1778, they felt that any such evidence of their prior involvement would be a diplomatic embarrassment. Deane in turn then agitated for a diplomatic break with France and questioned the integrity of members of Congress who disagreed with him. He was finally allowed to return to Paris in 1781 to settle his affairs and attempt to find copies of the disputed records, but his differences with various French officials, coupled with the publication in Rivington's Royal Gazette in New York of private letters to his brother in which he repudiated the Revolution as hopeless and suggested a rapprochement with England, led to his being barred from entry and branded a traitor at home. He eventually settled in the Netherlands until after the treaty of peace had been signed, after which he lived in England in a state of poverty. He published his defence in An Address to the Free and Independent Citizens of the United States of North America (Hartford, Conn., and London, 1784).

In 1789 Deane planned to set sail back to America to try to recoup his lost fortune but mysteriously took ill and died on September 23 of that year before his ship set sail. Some historians argue that he was poisoned by Edward Bancroft, an American double agent with the British who had been employed by both John Adams and Silas Deane for gathering intelligence during the Revolutionary War and may have felt threatened by a potential testimony from Deane to the American Congress. As it turns out Silas Deane was never found guilty of Arthur Lee's accusations. His granddaughter Philura through her husband pressed his case before Congress, and his family was eventually paid $37,000 in 1841 on the ground that a former audit was "ex parte, erroneous, and a gross injustice to Silas Deane"; about fifty years after his death.

Deane 1766, painting by William Johnston

Deane married twice, both wealthy widows from Wethersfield; Mehitable Webb in 1763 (who died in 1767), and Elizabeth Saltonstall Evards in 1770. His second wife was a granddaugther of Connecticut Governor Gurdon Saltonstall-of the Massachusetts Saltonstall family.

His stepson was Continental Army Officer Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb of the 9th Connecticut Regiment-later consolidated into the 1st Connecticut Regiment of 1781-1783.

Legacy

The successful Revolutionary frigate USS Deane was named after him, as is the Silas Deane Middle School, the Webb Deane Stevens Museum, and the Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield. His grand mansion, completed in 1766, was declared a National Historical Landmark and restored, and is open for public viewing as the Silas Deane House [1]. There is a road in Ledyard, Connecticut named for Silas Deane.

References

  • The Correspondence of Silas Deane was published in the Connecticut Historical Society's Collections, vol. ii.
  • The Deane Papers, in 5 vols., in the New York Historical Society's Collections (1887-1890)
  • Winsor's Narrative and Critical History, vol. vii. chap. i.
  • Wharton's Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols., Washington, 1889).

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SILAS DEANE (1737-1789), American diplomat, was born in Groton, Connecticut, on the 24th of December 1737. He graduated at Yale in 1758 and in 1761 was admitted to the bar, but instead of practising became a merchant at Wethersfield, Conn. He took an active part in the movements in Connecticut preceding the War of Independence, and from 1774 to 1776 was a delegate from Connecticut to the Continental Congress. Early in 1776 he was sent to France by Congress, in a semi-official capacity, as a secret agent to induce the French government to lend its financial aid to the colonies. Subsequently he became, w ith Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, one of the regularly accredited commissioners to France from Congress. On arriving in Paris, Deane at once opened negotiations with Vergennes and Beaumarchais, securing through the latter the shipment of many vessel loads of arms and munitions of war to America. He also enlisted the services of a number of Continental soldiers of fortune, among whom were Lafayette, Baron Johann De Kalb and Thomas Conway. His carelessness in keeping account of his receipts and expenditures, and the differences between himself and Arthur Lee regarding the contracts with Beaumarchais, eventually led, in November 1777, to his recall to face charges, of which Lee's complaints formed the basis. Before returning to America, however, he signed on the 6th of February 1778 the treaties of amity and commerce and of alliance which he and the other commissioners had successfully negotiated. In America he was defended by John Jay and John Adams, and after stating his case to Congress was allowed to return to Paris (1781) to settle his affairs. Differences with various French officials led to his retirement to Holland, where he remained until after the treaty of peace had been signed, when he settled in England. The publication of some "intercepted" letters in Rivington's Royal Gazette in New York (1781), in which Deane declared his belief that the struggle for independence was hopeless and counselled a return to British allegiance, aroused such animosity against him in America that for some years he remained in England. He died on shipboard in Deal harbour, England, on the 23rd of September 1789 after having embarked for America on a Boston packet. No evidenceof his dishonesty was ever discovered, and Congress recognized the validity of his claims by voting $37,000 to his heirs in 1842. He published his defence in An Address to the Free and Independent Citizens of the United States of North America (Hartford, Conn., and London, 1784). 1784).

The Correspondence of Silas Deane was published in the Connecticut Historical Society's Collections, vol. ii.; and The Deane Papers, in 5 vols., in the New York Historical Society's Collections (1887-1890). See also Winsor's Narrative and Critical History, vol. vii. chap. i., and Wharton's Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols., Washington, 1889). 1889).


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