History involves much more than what simply happened in the past. It involves analyzing evidence and making connections. The Strange Death of Silas Deane, which was written by James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle for the Prologue to After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection (1982), is a mystery of epic proportions. There are contrasting opinions behind Silas Deane on what the truth could be, but given the evidence, the case cannot be concretely proven. Silas Deane was an American Revolutionary. But most do not know of Silas Deane. To many in the revolutionary times, he was a man of scandal. Accused of both treason and diplomacy for own personal gain, Silas Deane was removed from history and left to live in poverty. Although, Silas Deane was a very ambitious man. He went from the son of a blacksmith to a lawyer, to a businessman, and then entered himself into the political world.
Looking at the way Deane had passed away for the first time we could say that he possibly just became ill from a common illness or virus of some sort and died to the cause of that. This would make somewhat of a logical answer and quite a few people believed that is what happened, but of course, there is no concrete evidence to prove that this was the actual cause of his death and there are a few more possible causes other than this one. There are quite a few reasons for Silas Deane’s death that historians have come up with after studying his life and the surrounding people. Some people think Deane’s death was a natural one and some people not. Though, we will never know which one is truly the correct answer to the mystery of how he died. In 1789, after many years of living alone and unhappily in England Deane finally decided that he would book a passage on a ship sailing to the United States. However, he would never make it back to the states. While trying to wait out a storm that had come upon the Boston Packet Silas Deane became ill.
James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle reported “Deane borders the Boston Packet in med-September, and it sailed out of London down the Thames River to the Atlantic. A storm came up, however, and on September 19 the ship lost both its anchors and beat a course for safer shelter, to wait out the storm. While walking the quarterdeck with the ship’s captain, Deane suddenly complained of dizziness and stomach pain. The captain immediately put him to bed. Deane’s condition worsened; twice he tried to say something, but no one was able to make out his words. Only four hours after the first signs of illness he breathed his last” (p. xx). At the age of the 52 he died. A rumor made its way around London in the weeks following the death of Silas Deane. Even though, Deane was a very successful man at the beginning but he spent few years of his life unhappily. Without friends and with little money and later Arthur Lee accused him of cheating his country to make a private profit. So according to certain people, Deane was depressed by his poverty, bad health, and low reputation, and committed suicide. John Cutting, a New England merchant, wrote that Deane overdosed on opium. John Quincy Adams heard that Deane’s death was voluntary and self-administered. Tom Paine, the famous pamphleteer reported that Deane took poison. Alternatively, his death could be from natural causes such as stroke or perhaps murder by overdose or poison. Boyd suggests that, Deane could have been taking laudanum for any reason. He had not recovered from his illness of he may have become addicted to laudanum from taking it when delirious in 1788. As Boyd states, neither the suicide theory nor his own poisoning supposition can be proven.
The closest person to a friend of Silas Deane’s was his “personal secretary”, Edward Bancroft. Bancroft was a double agent for England, and Deane was possibly the only American that knew. Together they placed bets and wagers on events also known as insurance, that they knew were going to happen, because they had the inside knowledge from America and France. They were last together about a week before Deane’s death. Not only was Bancroft a spy, but he was admired by both America and England, something Deane failed to do. Deane decided decades later he was going to return to America to help the community with his plans of new canals and gristmills, and a week after he boarded the boat, Deane felt dizzy and sickly, and death quickly followed. Maybe he deserved death? After all, he wasn’t the most truthful person. Deane was terribly sick and several times he wrote Bancroft requesting a prescription to relieve his discomfort. Before Deane had died, Bancroft had supplied him with money, medicine, and advice. However, Bancroft was an expert on poisons, particularly Woodward, which could have just been easily crushed to a powdered substance and placed inside the medicine bottle that Silas Deane would have used. Bancroft had the means, money, expertise, and motive to kill Silas Deane, after all, Deane could have spilled his double agent secret and screwed the remainder of Bancroft’s fortunes.
Although the case of Deane’s death is not explained, there are signs as to what the outcome could be. The most valid one seems to be that Bancroft ordered Deane’s poisoning for fear of his own fall; there is strong evidence of this theory. Bancroft was probably fearful that he would lose his power, respect, and possibly freedom. He had the reason to make Deane’s death happen, and he surely had a goal. The single part missing in the issue is if he actually did it. Although this is not quite accepted upon what the most likely answer is, it is certainly agreeable that Silas Deane’s death is truly strange.