Skip to main content

Bancroft, Edward

Bancroft, Edward

BANCROFT, EDWARD. (1744–1820). Double agent, writer, inventor. Born at Westfield, Massachusetts on 9 January 1744, Bancroft led an adventurous life as a sailor and colonist in Dutch Guiana before settling in London. Here he wrote on American subjects for the Monthly Review and published his Essay on the Natural History of Guiana (1769), which gained him a solid reputation as a naturalist. He also wrote the pro-American Remarks on the Review of the Controversy between Great Britain and Her Colonies (1769), and Charles Wentworth (1770), a novel attacking Christianity. Becoming acquainted with Benjamin Franklin in London, he served as Franklin's spy and later performed in the same role for another American diplomat, Silas Deane, whom he had known as a young man. He also gained the confidence of John Paul Jones. In December 1776 he began spying for the British, as well, assuming the name Edwards. His American friends never suspected Bancroft of his duplicity.

Paid £200, eventually increased to £1000 a year, and promised the post of Regius professor of divinity at King's (Columbia) College when New York was returned to British control, Bancroft was given the mission of spying on the American commissioners in Paris. His reports were sent to Paul Wentworth, another double agent, in London. Using his secret information, he also speculated financially based on war news such as General John Burgoyne's defeat and the start of the peace negotiations. The British government terminated Bancroft's services as a spy in 1784, ignoring his pleas that he could still be useful.

Bancroft lived a complicated double life. A successful doctor and scientist, he was elected to the Royal Society on Franklin's recommendation in 1773. As an inventor he made important discoveries in the field of textile dyes. His Experimental Researches Concerning the Philosophy of Permanent Colours was published in 1794. Yet, despite these accomplishments, Bancroft seemed compelled to intrigue. His treachery did not come to light until seventy years after his death on 8 September 1821. When a descendant, the British general William C. Bancroft, learned the truth, he burned all his grandfather's papers.

                             revised by Michael Bellesiles

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bancroft, Edward." Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: Library of Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bancroft, Edward." Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: Library of Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bancroft-edward

"Bancroft, Edward." Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: Library of Military History. . Retrieved September 25, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bancroft-edward

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.