Silas Deane Convinces France To Supply The Continental Army
Silas Deane is one of my favorite Founders. Without his hard work in France, we would never have received the support of their Navy (though Franklin gets all the credit, Deane set things in motion well before he arrived).
Deane gave us Generals like Lafayette and von Steuben. He sent the guns, ammo and supplies which gave the Americans what they needed to win in Trenton and Saratoga.
Silas Deane supported the Continental Army through the early years of the Revolutionary War. And in thanks, he was left broke and outcast in a foreign land.
Connecticut merchant Silas Deane, with his business adversely affected by British taxes, represented his colony at the First Continental Congress.
He signed the Continental Association, boycotting English goods, and became a proponent of independence.
After assisting with the creation of the Continental Navy, Deane had a strong disagreement with fellow Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman. This lead to Silas’ recall home.
Secret Mission to France
Seeing Deane's potential, Benjamin Franklin recruited him for a special mission.
Deane was to be America's first Minister to France. This task was to be kept secret, however, because France helping the colonists would inevitably lead them to a war with Britain.
Deane traveled to Europe under the guise of his merchant business. He quickly began working with the French in secret, sending supplies back to help the Continental Army.
More Americans Arrive
Within a year of Declaration of Independence being signed, the talks with France became (slightly) more open.
Congress sent two more Ministers: Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee.
Deane and Franklin worked well together, as they had in the past, but Lee gave the other two men headaches. Always seemingly attempting to make himself look good, Lee made negotiations difficult.
Eventually, after the Battle of Saratoga, the French agreed to join the war effort. Soon after, the Continental Congress called Deane home.
Deane arrived on the shores of what was now an independent United States with the might of the French Navy at his back. He was accompanied by the French Admiral and the first French Minister to the United States.
His mission had been an astounding success. Silas expected to be greeted as a hero.
Instead he was brought to trial.
Trail in Congress
Unbeknownst to him, Arthur Lee had been writing letters back to his two brothers (Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot) who were members of the Continental Congress. These letters were full of accusations about Deane’s behavior overseas, most of which were out right lies.
This became one of the biggest political splits during the Continental Congress. Silas was accused of taking advantage of the Congress by inflating his expenses.
The truth is, Deane's mission was so secret at first that he needed to hide his expenses in the same books he used for his business. Unfortunately, his biggest mistake was leaving his account books in France, which he did because he expected to return. This left him with little evidence in his defense.
What he did have, however, were letters to Congress from both Ben Franklin and King Louis applauding his work as a Minister. He also had a defense team led by John Jay.
Back to Europe
Silas Deane would be cleared of any wrongdoing, but the damage was done.
The Lee Family had so much prestige in the young nation that their opinion was taken as fact by many.
Deane returned to Europe in an attempt to salvage his business. His merchant company had been faltering due to neglect. Too much of his life was spent working for his country.
That country had turned it's back on him.
He was now a poor man.
Silas Deane would never return home.
While I recommend a book with every article, today I give you a MUST READ. I IMPLORE YOU TO READ THIS BOOK. 'Unlikely Allies' is one of my favorite books about the American Revolution because it looks at the conflict through the eyes of Paris.
Additionally, while Deane is the main character, you get to learn about some of the most fascinating people in France and how they were able to help the American Cause. If you click on the link below, you will purchase from Amazon at the standard price and we will get a small percentage to keep this website alive. Or just go to the library. If they don't have this book, you should move to a town with a better library. Seriously, I recommend it that highly.
Oh also, there's a cool band who I've written about before called Pinataland who write fun Americana songs about people in history. They have one for Silas Deane. Listen to it here.
If you'd like to learn more about the disagreement between Deane and Lee, click here to read and interesting letter by John Adams, Deane's replacement.