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From the Editor:
  
THE TRUTH ABOUT SILAS DEANE, AND WHY WE SHOULD CARE

   It only makes sense that the main thoroughfare of Wethersfield is named the Silas Deane Highway. Silas Deane, whose house is part of the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum complex in Old Wethersfield, played a crucial part in getting the French on board for the American Revolution. It makes sense that his name is noted in history as well as being part of everyday life today. You see the name Silas Deane, you hear it, and it evokes heroic times in Connecticut.

    The problem – it is an outrage, really – is that if a student at Silas Deane Middle School (located in Wethersfield at 551 Silas Deane Highway) goes to Wikipedia looking for information on his or her school’s namesake, they are going to read that Deane was an embezzler and then they are going to read: “When King George III letters were made public in 1867, it was revealed that Deane had been working as a British informant for the entire period of the revolution.” If the student wanted to dig deeper, he or she might look at noted American historian Robert Middlekauff’s book A Glorious Cause, published in 1982 as Volume II of The Oxford History of the United States. In this book the student would find Wikipedia’s charges of embezzlement confirmed.

    The fact is that all these allegations made by Wikipedia and Middlekauff are totally without basis in fact “pure horse-pucky”, as an old country editor I used to work for would put it. What you have are usually reliable sources who are relying themselves, on this subject, on unreliable sources.

    Enter Yale University Press. In 2011 it published a book, Edward Bancroft: Scientist, Author, Spy by Thomas  J. Schaeper.  In the course of laying out the fantastic career of Bancroft, who knew Deane well, Schaeper demonstrates that all the major charges made against Silas Deane are untrue.

   On October 1 Dr. Schaeper spoke at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum complex. His talk drew about 150 people, one of the best-attended lectures in the history of the museum.  I was not able to attend, but I got a copy of Dr. Shaeper’s book and greatly enjoyed reading it. A few days ago, I called him up at his office at St. Bonaventure University and asked him about Wikipedia’s claim that the King George III papers prove that Silas Deane was a British spy. “Absolutely untrue,” he answered me. He told me that he himself had been all through those papers, that he had found nothing that in the least way implicated Deane. He reminded me that Congress had proclaimed that the charges against Deane had been “ex-parte erroneas, and a gross injustice,” and that in 1835 and 1831 the government had made substantial financial awards to Dean’s descendants.

    It is impossible for me to go on about how unjust the present state of affairs are to the historic memory of Silas Deane without pointing out that we, alive today, especially the people of Connecticut, are the big losers in this.  The air along the Silas Deane Highway needs to be cleaned of antique slanders and lies, something the EPA can do nothing about.

                                                                                                              Max H. Peters

 

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