Papers of John Adams, volume 6

From John Bondfield

From Peter McIntosh


The incredible career of Dr. Edward Bancroft as a double agent, serving Britain or the United States as his interest dictated, and his relations with Silas Deane have been well documented by Julian Boyd in “Silas Deane: Death by a Kindly Teacher of Treason?” ( WMQ , 3d ser., 16:165–187,319–342, 515–550 [April, July, Oct. 1959]). Bancroft was Deane's friend, confidant, and partner in financial transactions that ranged from speculation on the London market to shipments of arms to America; and unless Deane was wholly naive, which is possible, it seems likely that he knew of or at least suspected Bancroft's ties with the British secret service. Deane's mention of Bancroft here, and description of him below as a man who “merits Your Freindship and Confidence,” thus takes on added interest and, perhaps, significance.

Despite Deane's recommendation, JA's relations with Bancroft were never close. This was not because of any suspicion by JA that Bancroft was a spy, but rather that Bancroft's speculations, keeping of a mistress, and irreligion led JA to see him as avaricious, immoral, and a man of too “irregular and excentric a Character” to be trusted (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:71–74, and note 3).

One incident, not mentioned in either his Diary or Autobiography, that may have influenced JA's attitude stemmed from Bancroft's status, with Deane and Benjamin Franklin, as a shareholder in the Vandalia Company. Bancroft apparently sought to use that association, almost certainly with Franklin's approval, to enlist JA in the Deane-Franklin-Bancroft faction (see note 5, below). According to Arthur Lee, in an entry for 25 May in his fragmentary journal for the period from that date to 4 July (MH-H: Lee Papers), “Mr. A. told me Dr. B had in the name of his Company offerd him a share in the Vandalia Company.... He refusd.” Had this offer been accepted and become known to Arthur Lee it would almost certainly have caused an irreparable split between him and JA, for it would have allied JA with the “stockjobbers” that Lee so often railed against. Perhaps more important, it would have involved JA in an enterprise against which Lee had for so long fought as the London agent for the rival Mississippi Company founded by the Lees, George Washington, and others. Indeed, the involvement of Franklin and his Paris associates in the Vandalia Company can be seen as an important reason for Lee's hostility toward them (Boyd, “Silas Deane,” WMQ , 3d ser., 16:535–537 [Oct. 1959]; Thomas Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, N.Y., 1937, p. 47, 211, 216).