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Monday, May 25, 2015

An English Spy in Paris During the American Revolution

By Regan Walker

When I write historical romance, I like to let the history lead me. In the case of my new Georgian romance, To Tame the Wind, the story of an English privateer and the daughter of a French pirate, it led me straight to a spy in Paris in 1782, the last year of the American Revolution. 
Edward Bancroft
Edward Bancroft was an American scientist born in Massachusetts in 1744 but raised in Connecticut. While growing up in Hartford, Bancroft studied under Silas Deane, a lawyer.

After some years, and a jaunt in Surinam, Bancroft went to live in London where he met Benjamin Franklin who was then the agent for several of the Colonies. They became friends and Franklin used Bancroft to spy on the British to support several of Franklin's colonial activities.

In June of 1776, Bancroft’s former instructor, Silas Deane was sent to France by Congress to induce the French to lend their financial aid to the Colonies, which were about to declare their independence. Just after Deane arrived, he sent a letter to Bancroft asking that he come to Paris, which Bancroft did. They met in July and established a close relationship, so that Deane confided to Bancroft the true nature of his mission.

Benjamin Franklin
Deane told Bancroft that he was attempting to obtain France’s aid for the Colonies and to motivate a Bourbon-Prussian coalition against England to force the British to redirect their power to a continental conflict and leave the Colonies alone. The Americans expected France to come to their aid, which they ultimately did. It may have seemed odd that the Americans would approach France. It had not been that long ago as British colonies they had fought alongside England against France. However, France was humiliated after its defeat in the French and Indian Wars. England was its enemy so France was happy to help America in order to check the British.

Toward the end of July 1776, Bancroft returned to London. Before he left, he agreed to provide Deane with intelligence gleaned from his contacts in England. But Bancroft’s new role did not sit well. He had always supported British interests while adhering to the belief that the Colonies and the crown had to come to some compromise. Now he realized that such a compromise was impossible and he worried that French entry into the conflict could destroy the British Empire.

In London, Bancroft met with one William Eden, a character in my story, who became England’s spymaster, presiding over its agents in Europe. They were joined by Lords Suffolk and Weymouth for a discussion on “the colonial rebellion.” It was at this meeting that Bancroft was recruited as a spy for the British. He later wrote of his decision:

I had then resided near ten years, and expected to reside the rest of my life in England; and all my views, interests and inclinations were adverse to the independency of the colonies, though I had advocated some of their claims, from a persuasion of their being founded in justice. I therefore wished, that the government of this country, might be informed, of the danger of French interference, though I could not resolve to become the informant. But… I at length consented to meet the then Secretaries of State, Lords Weymouth and Suffolk, and give them all the information in my power, which I did with the most disinterested views.

When Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris in December 1776, Lord Suffolk told Bancroft to move to Paris and inject himself in Franklin's circle, which he did, becoming the secretary to the American Mission. In that role, Bancroft was privy to many secrets.

It was most interesting to me—and it is a part of my story—that, in order to communicate with the British, Bancroft was told to compose a series of letters about gallantry (ostensibly the writer's exploits with ladies), which he was to address to a “Mr. Richards.” He was to sign the letters as “Edward Edward.” (A bizarre moniker given his own name.) Between the lines of his letters, he was to write in secret ink the information he acquired. The letters were to be placed in a bottle in the hole of a certain box tree in Paris. A man working for Lord Stormont then retrieved these messages. (In my story, it is the hero, Simon Powell, who retrieves the messages.)

Using this method, Bancroft supposedly provided copies of hundreds of documents to his superiors in London. In one instance, the French-American treaty was in King George's hand a mere 48 hours after it was signed, courtesy of Bancroft.

Bancroft’s final work as “Edward Edwards lasted from the start of peace negotiations in the spring of 1782 to the signing of the preliminary peace accord on November 30 of that same year.

Whether Franklin knew of Bancroft’s perfidy is not clear. Franklin did not write about it and Bancroft's personal papers were later destroyed by a family member. (Bancroft’s missives were not discovered until seventy years after his death when the British government provided access to its diplomatic archives.)

In the end, while the British had effectively inserted a spy within the American Commission in Paris, even with Bancroft the British were unable to destroy the relationship Franklin had established with the French, nor diminish France’s considerable support that led to America’s victory and its independence.

All Claire Donet knew was the world inside the convent walls in Saint-Denis. She had no idea her beloved papa was a pirate. But when he seized Simon Powell's schooner, the English privateer decided to take the one thing his enemy held most dear... her.

The waters between France and England roil with the clashes of Claire's father and her captor as the last year of the American Revolution rages on the sea, spies lurk in Paris, and Claire’s passion for the English captain rises.


Regan Walker said...

Hello, Historical Hussies! I'm delighted to be here on Memorial Day sharing a tidbit from America's history. I found my research for To Tame the Wind to be fascinating.

Plush Possum Studio said...

What a unique spot of history! I'd never learned any of this in school. (naturally)
Thanks for sharing it here!