Year
1776

Silas Deane embarks on secret mission to France

Silas Deane, Connecticut delegate to the Continental Congress, leaves for France on a secret mission on this day in 1776. The Committee of Congress for Secret Correspondence, consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, John Dickinson, John Hay and Robert Morris, instructed Deane to meet with French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, to stress America’s need for military stores and assure the French that the colonies were moving toward “total separation.

Deane managed to negotiate for unofficial assistance from France, in the form of ships containing military supplies, and recruited the Marquis de Lafayette to share his military expertise with the Continental Army’s officer corps. By November 6, 1776, Deane wrote the Committee, expressing his frustration at their lack of specific instructions, and reported that he had garnered, Two hundred pieces of brass cannon, and arms, tents and accoutrements for thirty thousand man, with ammunition in proportion, and between twenty and thirty brass mortars, which were waiting to leave for the rebelling colonies at Havre de Grace in Nantes. On December 7, Deane wrote Congress to ask that they ratify the commission of major general that he had promised to Lafayette.

Despite these significant contributions to the Patriot cause, Deane’s career ended in disgrace. When Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Arthur Lee came to France to serve as delegates in an open capacity, Lee accused Deane of financial misconduct during his secret mission. Because the French government would not release their confidential documents involving Deane’s clandestine mission, he was never able to prove his innocence, nor was he ever proven guilty. He died bankrupt under suspicious circumstances on board a ship while returning from his exile in Europe to the United States in 1789.

Fifty years after his death, Congress granted Deane’s granddaughter a payment in apology for the government’s ill-treatment of her Patriot grandfather.

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