An Essay On The Natural History Of Guiana

Along the way, the leaders of the rebellion proclaimed the new country’s independence in a document that still inspires, and the fledgling government carried off several diplomatic coups that did much to help seal the victory.But there was a more ambiguous side to the story as well.

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Bancroft became a key member of the group, working closely with Franklin—who joined the mission in December 1776 and later was made ambassador—handling much of the paperwork, drafting reports and correspondence, and translating.

He was present for meetings with the French and for almost all of the Americans’ internal discussions.

The book made Bancroft a prominent scholar—it remained authoritative for more than a century—and propelled his rapid rise in London’s social and literary circles.

Bancroft also continued to travel, speculated in North American land, and, as the political crisis developed between England and her North American colonies, became a spokesman for the American cause and a close associate of Benjamin Franklin, who represented the colonies in London.

For example, before the French and Americans signed their formal alliance in February 1778, Bancroft regularly gave London advance notice of the departure schedules of scores of ships leaving French ports with aid for the colonists.

The British government declined to intercept them, however, fearing that violations of neutral rights would provoke the French.Bancroft has long been condemned as a traitor to his country—“perfidy” was the word the great US diplomatic historian, Samuel Flagg Bemis, used to describe Bancroft’s work—but Schaeper points out that, before making this accusation, one must first ask, “what was his country?” (61) When the Revolution began, Schaeper notes, most colonists still thought of themselves as Englishmen rather than citizens of a separate entity.One of these men was Edward Bancroft, and in a new biography, Edward Bancroft: Scientist, Author, Spy, historian Thomas Schaeper gives us the story of this remarkable man.Edward Bancroft is hardly a familiar name to Americans today.Born in Massachusetts in 1745, he was apprenticed as a youth to a doctor in Connecticut but ran off in 1763, eventually reaching what today is Guyana.There he worked as a physician on local plantations and traveled through the region, researching plant and animal life for a book—An Essay on the Natural History of Guiana in South America —he published in 1769 after he moved to London.In Schaeper’s account, Bancroft was a spy, but not a traitor. Bancroft was the asset that case officers and analysts today dream about, and Schaeper gives copious details about how Bancroft went about his work.With his unlimited access, Bancroft had no need to recruit subsources or make potentially alerting queries.Finally, nothing in Schaeper’s account suggests that Bancroft presented any serious handling problems.With his patriotic motivation, he seems to have worked diligently and with few complaints.


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