Silas Deane
Silas Deane was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

, politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

 and diplomat
A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization. The main functions of diplomats revolve around the representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state, as well as the promotion of information and...

. Originally a supporter of American independence Deane served as a delegate to the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 and then as the United States' first foreign diplomat when he travelled to France
Early Modern France
Kingdom of France is the early modern period of French history from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 18th century...

 to lobby the French government for aid. Deane was drawn into a major political row over his actions in Paris, and subsequently endorsed Loyalist
Loyalist (American Revolution)
Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution...

 criticisms of American independence. Deane later lived in the Dutch Republic
Dutch Republic
The Dutch Republic — officially known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands , the Republic of the United Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Provinces — was a republic in Europe existing from 1581 to 1795, preceding the Batavian Republic and ultimately...

 and Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 where he died.

Early life

Deane was born in Groton, Connecticut
Groton, Connecticut
Groton is a town located on the Thames River in New London County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 39,907 at the 2000 census....

, the son of a blacksmith
A blacksmith is a person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal; that is, by using tools to hammer, bend, and cut...

. He graduated from Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 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
Wethersfield, Connecticut
Wethersfield is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. Many records from colonial times spell the name Weathersfield, while Native Americans called it Pyquag...

. In Connecticut he taught the future double-spy Edward Bancroft
Edward Bancroft
Edward Bancroft was an American physician and double-agent spy during the American Revolution.He worked as a spy for Benjamin Franklin in Britain before the Revolution, and also while serving as secretary to the American Commission in Paris...


Continental Congress

He took an active part in the movements in Connecticut preceding the War of Independence
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives
Connecticut House of Representatives
The Connecticut House of Representatives is the lower house in the Connecticut General Assembly, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Connecticut. The house is composed of 151 members representing an equal number of districts, with each constituency containing nearly 22,600 residents...

 in 1772, and from 1774 to 1776 was a delegate from Connecticut to the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....



Early in 1776, he was sent to France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan 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
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 and Arthur Lee
Arthur Lee (diplomat)
Dr. Arthur Lee was an American diplomat during the American Revolutionary War. He was the son of Hon. Thomas Lee and Hannah Harrison Ludwell...

, one of the regularly accredited commissioners to France
United States Ambassador to France
This article is about the United States Ambassador to France. There has been a United States Ambassador to France since the American Revolution. The United States sent its first envoys to France in 1776, towards the end of the four-centuries-old Bourbon dynasty...

 from Congress.

On arriving in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, Deane at once opened negotiations with the Comte de Vergennes
Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes
Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes was a French statesman and diplomat. He served as Foreign Minister from 1774 during the reign of Louis XVI, notably during the American War of Independence....

 who was the French Foreign Minister. With the assistance of the playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 and outspoken support of American independence, Beaumarchais, Deane organised shipment of many shiploads of arms and munitions of war to America helping finance the Battle of Ticonderoga
Battle of Ticonderoga
Battle of Ticonderoga may refer to:*Battle of Ticonderoga or Battle of Carillon, an unsuccessful British attack on French*Battle of Ticonderoga , a British approach that forced a small French garrison to withdraw...

. He also enlisted the services of a number of Continental soldiers of fortune, among whom were Lafayette, Baron Johann de Kalb
Johann de Kalb
Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb , born Johann Kalb, was a German soldier who served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.-Early life:...

, Thomas Conway
Thomas Conway
Thomas Conway was a French soldier from Ireland who served as a major general in the American Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He became involved with the alleged Conway Cabal. He later served with Émigré forces during the French Revolutionary War.-Early life:Conway was born...

, Casimir Pulaski, and Baron von Steuben. Many of these officers soon made themselves unpopular once they reached America for a variety of reasons. As Deane had signed the contracts hiring them, he was given the blame by politicians in Philadelphia.

His carelessness in keeping account of his receipts and expenditures, and the differences between himself and Arthur Lee
Arthur Lee (diplomat)
Dr. Arthur Lee was an American diplomat during the American Revolutionary War. He was the son of Hon. Thomas Lee and Hannah Harrison Ludwell...

 regarding the contracts with Beaumarchais, eventually led to his recall and replacement by John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 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
Treaty of Alliance (1778)
The Treaty of Alliance, also called The Treaty of Alliance with France, was a defensive alliance between France and the United States of America, formed in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, which promised military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future...

 with France, which he and the other commissioners had successfully negotiated. It was also in Paris that Deane formally approved of Scotsman James Aitken
John the Painter
John the Painter , also known as James Aitken or John Aitkin, was a Scot who committed acts of terror in British naval dockyards in 1776–77.-Early life:...

's (John the Painter) plot to destroy Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 stores in Portsmouth
Portsmouth is the second largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Portsmouth is notable for being the United Kingdom's only island city; it is located mainly on Portsea Island...

, England on behalf of the Continental cause.

As a mark of approval for Deane's conduct in Paris, the French government agreed that he should travel back to the United States aboard a warship carrying out the first French ambassador to the United States. Louis XVI presented Deane with a portrait framed with diamonds and both Vergennes and Franklin wrote letters commending Deane.


Deane reached Philadelphia on July 14, 1778. In America, Deane was defended by John Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

 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
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 of private letters to his brother in which he repudiated the Revolution as hopeless and suggested a rapprochement with Britain, led to his being barred from entry and branded a traitor at home.

Later life

Deane eventually settled in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 until after the treaty of peace had been signed, after which he lived in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 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
Edward Bancroft
Edward Bancroft was an American physician and double-agent spy during the American Revolution.He worked as a spy for Benjamin Franklin in Britain before the Revolution, and also while serving as secretary to the American Commission in Paris...

, 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 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 granddaughter of Connecticut Governor Gurdon Saltonstall
Gurdon Saltonstall
Gurdon Saltonstall was governor of the Colony of Connecticut from 1708 to 1724...

 of the Massachusetts Saltonstall family
Saltonstall family
The Saltonstall family is a Boston Brahmin family from the U.S. state of Massachusetts, notable for having had a family member attend Harvard University from every generation since Nathaniel Saltonstall—later one of the more principled judges at the Salem Witch Trials—graduated in 1659...


His stepson was Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

Officer (armed forces)
An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position...

 Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb of the 9th Connecticut Regiment
9th Connecticut Regiment
The 9th Connecticut Regiment was a regiment of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. It was first called Webb's Additional Continental Regiment before being added to the Connecticut Line in 1780...

-later consolidated into the 2nd Connecticut Regiment
2nd Connecticut Regiment
The 2nd Connecticut Regiment was authorized in the Continental Army on September 16, 1776. It was organized between 1 January - April 1777 at Danbury, Connecticut of eight companies from the counties of Fairfield, Windham, and Hartford in the state of Connecticut and assigned on 3 April 1777 to...

 which became part of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment
3rd Connecticut Regiment
The 3rd Connecticut Regiment was authorized on 16 September 1776 and was organized between 1 January - April 1777 of eight companies of volunteers from the counties of Windham and Hartford in the state of Connecticut. On 3 April 1777 it was assigned to the 1st Connecticut Brigade in the Highland's...

 which became the 1st Connecticut Regiment
1st Connecticut Regiment
The 1st Connecticut Regiment was a unit of the Continental Army, and was involved in the American Revolutionary War. The regiment was initially formed in 1776, and was active in various forms until 1783.-1776–1780:...


The successful Revolutionary frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

 USS Deane
USS Deane (1778)
The Continental Navy frigate USS Deane, named after American commissioner to France Silas Deane, was built at Nantes, France, and brought to the United States in May 1778 to be prepared for sea...

 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
Silas Deane House
Silas Deane House in Wethersfield, Connecticut was the home of Silas Deane, the first diplomat for the United States.Deane built the house in 1766. The two-story Georgian house is L-shaped with gable roof and two interior chimneys. In 1959, the house was donated to The National Society of the... There is a road in Ledyard, Connecticut
Ledyard, Connecticut
As of the census of 2000, there were 14,687 people, 5,286 households, and 4,101 families residing in the town. The population density was 385.1 people per square mile . There were 5,486 housing units at an average density of 143.8 per square mile...

named for Silas Deane.

Further reading

  • 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).

External links

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