Monday, January 08, 2007

Same Old Shit, Different Century

SILAS DEANE was born in Groton in 1737, graduated from Yale University and became a merchant in Wethersfield before embarking on a government career.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant

A Patriot Long Forgotten

Radio Docudrama To Examine Silas Deane, Local Hero Who Faded From History

January 8, 2007
By ANN MARIE SOMMA, Courant Staff Writer

WETHERSFIELD -- On any given day, hundreds of drivers pass down the Silas Deane Highway, named after a little-known patriot whom two Connecticut men hope to elevate from a footnote in the annals of the American Revolution.

"He was a patriot. He probably gave his life for the revolution, even though he had some doubts," Paul Gionfriddo said.

Gionfriddo, of Glastonbury, and William Lobb, of Wallingford, have written a 90-minute docudrama entitled "Silas Deane, The Improbable Hero." It will air Tuesday at 7 p.m. on WNPR Connecticut Public Radio. The project was funded mainly by private donations and a $500 contribution from the town.

Actor Robert Vaughn narrates the program, which tries to give insight into the life of a man whose opposition to British rule cost him his family, his fortune and his life.

Deane's life story and self-imposed exile in Europe read like a mystery novel. The cause of his death has never been explained.

Deane was born in Groton, the son of a blacksmith. He married into money, settled in Wethersfield and became a successful merchant.

Twice appointed to represent Connecticut in the Continental Congress, Deane became a leader of the Revolution. He helped plan and finance the attack on Fort Ticonderoga and the Battle of Saratoga. He was sent to France to work as a secret agent and to purchase munitions and recruit French officers to help train and lead the Continental Army against the British. Among his most famous recruits was the Marquis de Lafayette.

But Deane's name is absent from most textbooks, probably because his political career ended with a charge of treason.

Deane was later joined in France by Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, a man from a powerful Virginia family. It was Lee who accused Deane of getting rich from his work for the Colonies. Congress recalled Deane to Philadelphia and investigated him without a hearing.

Deane's reputation also took a hit when his private letters calling for America to make peace with England were published in a Loyalist newspaper in New York. Some suspect he penned the letters while in a deep depression.

While trying to return to America to clear his name, Deane died bankrupt aboard a ship in an English harbor. He was never found guilty of Lee's accusations. Congress paid Deane's heirs a restitution as an apology 50 years after his death.

Ann Kuckro, the president of National Society of Colonial Dames of America, said few people are aware of Deane outside of Wethersfield.

"He was a very human person who lived in a complicated time," Kuckro said. "He was falsely accused and didn't have an opportunity to defend himself. He was an ardent patriot, but no one has given him any credit."

Town Manager Bonnie Therrien said she hopes the program will bring tourists to Wethersfield.

Contact Ann Marie Somma at

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