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Wentworth, Paul

Wentworth, Paul

WENTWORTH, PAUL. (c. 1736–1793). Double spy. New Hampshire. Probably born in Barbados, Wentworth claimed kinship with anyone having the same last name, including Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire. He moved to Portsmouth in the 1750s, gaining the governor's patronage. Around 1760 he moved to Surinam, where he married a rich widow, inheriting her sugar plantation when she died shortly thereafter. In 1766 Wentworth went to London, setting himself up as a stock speculator and becoming friends with John Wentworth. When the latter succeeded his uncle as governor of New Hampshire, he appointed Paul Wentworth the province's agent to Parliament and a member of the council, even though the two offices required that he be on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Wentworth determined that the crown offered greater preferment than the patriots could ever hope to match, and in 1772 began feeding information to the king's secret service.

At the beginning of the Revolution, Sir William Eden, head of the British secret service, granted Wentworth a salary of five hundred pounds per year. As soon as Congress sent Silas Deane to Paris in 1776, Eden instructed Wentworth to spy on the American delegation to the French court. Since Deane and Benjamin Franklin were both old friends of his, Wentworth found it easy to establish the necessary connections. On Franklin's recommendation Edward Bancroft, whom Wentworth had hired as a doctor for his Surinam plantation in 1764, was added to the American mission in Paris. Wentworth now recruited him to spy for the British in December 1776. The two men also used their inside information from both sides of the war to speculate with some success on the stock market.

When, after Burgoyne's surrender, the British felt they could offer the Americans some terms short of complete independence, Wentworth was selected to feel out the American commissioners in Paris. He had to wait almost four weeks there before the suspicious Benjamin Franklin agreed to a meeting on 6 January 1778. Secretary Eden had given Wentworth a letter to show Franklin that came with an assurance that it was from a source close to the throne; the letter said that England would fight another ten years to prevent American independence. Franklin said that America would fight fifty years to win it and that both countries would be better off when they were bound only by peaceful commerce. Not only did Wentworth's mission fail to do any good for England, but Vergennes used it to accelerate the French Alliance by pointing out to the kings of France and Spain that the Americans might be making peace with Great Britain. Louis XVI consented to the Franco-American treaty the day after Wentworth saw Franklin.

Hoping that a British victory would save him his New Hampshire estates and aspiring to a title, a seat in Parliament, and an important office, Wentworth appointed and directed spies, used their reports to furnish military intelligence to the British, and in various disguises made frequent trips to the European Continent. After his visit to Franklin, however, he was so well known to French police that he had to remain in London.

Wentworth's rewards were meager: only a seat in Parliament in 1780, which he held just six weeks before being defeated in the general election of that year. George III had little confidence in Wentworth's reports and disapproved of his stock speculation. After failing in his political career, Wentworth retired to his Surinam plantation and died there in December 1793.


Augur, Helen. The Secret War of Independence. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1955.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

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