The Vilest Deeds: Silas Deane, Edward Bancroft and the American Revolution

Silas Deane

Silas Deane

Examining the Evidence at Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum

Wethersfield, Conn. (July 28, 2015) – There will be an airing of historical dirty laundry at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum on Thursday, October 1, 2015, as Professor of History Thomas J. Schaeper, Ph.D., of St. Bonaventure University, presents “The Vilest Deeds: Silas Deane, Edward Bancroft and the American Revolution” at 6:30 p.m. in the Webb Barn. The thought-provoking presentation will be preceded by a wine reception (by donation) at 6 p.m. and followed by a signing of Schaeper’s book, “Edward Bancroft: Scientist, Author, Spy,” Yale University Press, 2011.

Schaeper notes he is especially pleased to lecture at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, as he believes that Silas Deane, whose 1770 home is an integral part of the museum, has been unjustly ignored and even mistreated in the historic record. Silas Deane (1737-1789) and Edward Bancroft (1745-1821) were central figures in the diplomacy of the American Revolution, and Schaeper contends that much of what was written of them was wrong.

An attorney and a representative to the Colonial Assembly in Hartford, Silas Deane served as one of Connecticut’s delegates to the Continental Congress, and helped plan and finance the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. He became, in effect, the first diplomat in American history when he travelled to France to lobby the French government for aid. Deane and Bancroft worked closely together on official business as well as in private commercial ventures. Deane was drawn into a major political row over his actions in Paris, and subsequently endorsed Loyalist criticisms of American independence, and lived on a modest charity provided him in London. Prior to his scheduled voyage back to America, Deane died under suspicious circumstances.


Edward Bancroft

Bancroft was born in Massachusetts and later studied under Silas Deane in Connecticut. It is said that at the age of 16, Bancroft was apprenticed to a physician in Killingworth, Connecticut, but ran away after a few years. In the late 1760s, Bancroft settled in London, where he established a reputation as a novelist and scientist, and he was highly regarded for his experiments in electricity and his expertise in textile dyes. Today, Bancroft is best known for his work as a British spy after moving to France in 1776. He befriended American diplomats in Paris—working closely with Deane, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Paul Jones, Thomas Jefferson, and others—and transmitted all of his findings to his superiors in London. He also served as secretary to Deane. Some historians suspect that Bancroft, who may have had reason to fear exposure as a spy, may have added poison to Deane’s medications.

Schaeper notes that many authors have accused Deane and Bancroft of the vilest deeds. During his talk he will try to answer the questions of whether Bancroft was a despicable traitor, and how he managed to conceal his espionage from all the American and French officials with whom he worked in France. Schaeper will also examine the question of whether Deane put private gain above the interests of his country or used public money for his private trade, and query whether Deane knew about Bancroft’s espionage, as some have suggested, making Deane also a traitor. Shaeper will analyze the speculation that Bancroft may have poisoned Deane, and the intriguing question of whether Bancroft even managed to lure Benjamin Franklin into becoming a traitor.

Schaeper has been a professor of history at St. Bonaventure University since 1979. His specialty is modern European history, and he has published six books and numerous articles and reviews, covering the economic history of early 18th-century France, and French, British, and American relations in the era of the American Revolution. His years as director of the St. Bonaventure University summer program in England led him to write a history of American Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University. He is a former president of the New York State Association of European Historians. He has appeared on the History Channel and C-SPAN to discuss his work and has been interviewed on BBC radio and the NBC radio network. He is currently completing an edition of the letters and journal of an American soldier who served in World War I.

About the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum
Located in the heart of Connecticut’s largest historic district, the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum provides the quintessential New England experience – from the American Revolution to the early 20th century. Tours include the 1752 Joseph Webb House, where General George Washington met with French General Rochambeau and planned the military campaign leading to the end of the Revolutionary War, the 1770 Silas Deane House, built for America’s first diplomat to France, and the 1788 Isaac Stevens House, which depicts Connecticut life in the 18th and 19th centuries. For more information visit: or call (860) 529-0612. Like us on Facebook:



Charles Lyle, Executive Director

(860) 529-0612, ext., 14, [email protected]

Julie Winkel, Media Specialist

203-815-0800, [email protected]