Benedict Arnold

army officer who betrayed America to the British during the Revolutionary War (1740–1801)

Benedict Arnold V (14 January 1741 [O.S. 3 January 1740][2][3] – 14 June 1801) was a general during the American Revolutionary War. He began the war in the Continental Army but later changed to the British Army. While on the American side, led the fort at West Point, New York. He planned to give the fort to the British army. He was caught in September 1780 and switched sides to the British Army. He was made a brigadier general in the British Army.

Benedict Arnold V
A head and shoulders profile engraving of Benedict Arnold. He is facing left, wearing a uniform with two stars on the epaulette. His hair is tied back.
Benedict Arnold
Engraving by H.B. Hall after John Trumbull
Place of burialSt Mary's Churchyard, Battersea, London[1]
Service/branchColonial militia
Continental Army
British Army
Years of serviceColonial militia: 1757, 1775
Continental Army: 1775–1780
British Army: 1780–1781
RankMajor General (Continental Army)
Brigadier General (British Army)
Commands heldFort Ticonderoga (June 1775)
Quebec City (siege, January–April 1776)
Montreal (April–June 1776)
Lake Champlain fleet (August–October 1776)
Philadelphia (June 1778–April 1780)
West Point (August–September 1780)
American Legion (a Loyalist regiment, September 1780–1781)
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War
AwardsBoot Monument

Arnold was born in Connecticut. He started as a merchant, sailing ships on the Atlantic Ocean. He joined the Continental army outside Boston. Soon, he became famous for cunning and bravery. His actions included these:

  1. 1775:the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
  2. 1776:defensive and delaying tactics after losing the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain
  3. the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut (when was promoted to major general),
  4. relieving the Siege of Fort Stanwix, and
  5. 1777:actions in the Battles of Saratoga, in which he suffered leg injuries that ended his combat career for several years.

The Continental Congress decided to promote other people instead of Arnold, and this made him angry. Other officers claimed credit for some of Arnold's actions.[4] When he lived in Philadelphia, Arnold was accused of corruption, but he was found innocent. Congress investigated his accounts, and found that he owed it money after he had spent much of his own money on the war effort.

Arnold was angry about being passed over for promotion and being told to pay money even though he had already given much of his money to the army. He decided to change sides in 1779, and he began to secretly talk to the British

In July 1780, he asked for, and got, command of West Point. Secretly, he planned to surrender it to the British. But Arnold's contact in the British army, Major John André, was captured. André had been carrying papers Arnold had given him that revealed the plot. Upon learning of André's capture, Arnold ran away down the Hudson River to the British ship HMS Vulture. Arnold was almost captured by the forces of George Washington, but he did get away.

Arnold was made a brigadier general in the British Army, an annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of over £6,000.[5] During the American Revolutionary War, he led British forces on raids in Virginia, and against New London and Groton, Connecticut. In the winter of 1782, Arnold moved to London with his second wife, Margaret "Peggy" Shippen Arnold. In England, the king and the Tory political party liked him, but the Whig political party did not. In 1787, Arnold became a merchant again became a merchant, with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick, but returned to London to settle permanently in 1791, where he died ten years later.

Because of the way he changed sides, his name quickly became a byword in the United States for treason or betrayal.[6] Some of the memorials that have been placed in his honor show the mixed feelings people still have about him.

Early life


Benedict was the second of six children of Benedict Arnold III (1683–1761) and Hannah Waterman King. He was born in Norwich, Connecticut on January 14, 1741.[2] He was named after his great-grandfather Benedict Arnold. That Benedict Arnold had been governor of the Colony of Rhode Island. Benedict Arnold was also named after his brother Benedict IV, who died in infancy.[2] Out of the six children, only Benedict and his sister Hannah lived to be adults; his other brothers and sisters died of yellow fever when they were still children.[7] Arnold's mother's mother's ancestor was John Lothropp. Lothropp was also the ancestor of at least four U.S. presidents.[8]

Arnold's father was a businessman. Socially, the family was high-ranking in Norwich. When he was ten, Arnold was sent to a private school in Canterbury. His parents planned for him to go to Yale. However, after the brother and sisters died, Arnold's father started drinking, and the family lost some of its money. By the time Arnold was fourteen, his family could not pay for private education. His father also drank too much and was in too poor health to teach Arnold to work in the family business. Arnold's mother's friends made Arnold the apprentice with two of her cousins, Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, in an apothecary and general merchandise business in Norwich.[9] His apprenticeship with the Lathrops lasted seven years.[10]

In 1755, Arnold tried to join the provincial militia to fight in the French and Indian War, but his mother did not let him.[11] In 1757, when Arnold was sixteen, he did enlist in the militia, which marched to Albany and Lake George. When Arnold's commanders heard that the French had captured of Fort William Henry, they turned around. Arnold was in the military for 13 days[12] Some say that Arnold deserted in 1758[13] but there is no proof.[14]

Arnold's mother died in 1759. Arnold's father's alcoholism got worse, so Arnold had to support his father and younger sister. His father was arrested for public drunkenness, was refused communion by his church, and eventually died in 1761.[10]



The Lathrops helped Arnold become a pharmacist and bookseller in New Haven, Connecticut in 1762.[15] Arnold was hardworking and successful, and his business begame larger. In 1763, he repaid the Lathrops the money he borrowed,[16] bought back the family house that his father had sold, and re-sold it a year later for a large profit.

In 1764 he and Adam Babcock, another young New Haven merchant, became partners. Using the profits from the sale of the family house, they bought three ships and started trading with the West Indies. Arnold brought his sister Hannah to New Haven to work in the apothecary business when he was not there. He traveled a lot for his business, throughout New England and from Quebec to the West Indies, often running of one of his own ships.[17] On one of his voyages, Arnold fought a duel in Honduras with a British sea captain who had called him a "damned Yankee, destitute of good manners or those of a gentleman."[18][19] The captain was wounded after in the first part duel, and apologized after Arnold threatened to aim to kill on the second part.[20]

A 1766 political cartoon on the repeal of the Stamp Act

The Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765 limited trade in the colonies.[21] Because of the Stamp Act, Arnold joined groups of people who did not like those taxes. He also joined the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization. The Sons of Liberty sometimes used violence.[22] At first, Arnold did not go to protests in public. Like many merchants, Arnold opposed the Stamp Act by continuing his trading business without paying the tax. This meant he was a smuggler. Arnold also lost much of his money. He owed £16,000 and some creditors told people that he was bankrupt. He sued them.[23] On the night of January 28, 1767, Arnold and members of his crew, watched by a crowd of Sons of Liberty, attacked and beat up a man whom they thought had told the government that Arnold was smuggling. Arnold was convicted of disorderly conduct and fined the relatively small amount of 50 shillings. This sentence was very light. This might have been because many people knew about the case and agreed with Arnold.[24]

On February 22, 1767, Arnold married Margaret Mansfield. She was the daughter of Samuel Mansfield, the sheriff of New Haven. Historians think Arnold may have met Samuel Mansfield at the local Masonic Lodge.[25] Arnold became business partners with Samuel Mansfield. Samuel Mansfield used his job as sheriff to help Arnold stay away from people to whom he owed money.[26] Arnold's first son, Benedict VI, was born in 1768.[27] Richard Arnold was born in 1769. Henry Arnold was born in 1772.[25] Margaret died early in the revolution, on June 19, 1775, while Arnold was still at Fort Ticonderoga.[28] Even while Margaret Arnold was still alive, it was really Arnold's sister Hannah who ran their house.

Arnold was in the West Indies when the Boston Massacre happened on March 5, 1770. He wrote he was "very much shocked" and wondered "good God, are the Americans all asleep and tamely giving up their liberties, or are they all turned philosophers, that they don't take immediate vengeance on such miscreants."[29]

Early Revolutionary War


Arnold began the war when he was elected as a captain in Connecticut's militia in March 1775. After the start of fighting at Lexington and Concord the following month, his company marched northeast to help at the siege of Boston that followed. Arnold told the Massachusetts Committee of Safety of his idea to seize Fort Ticonderoga in New York, which he knew was poorly defended. They made him a colonel on 3 May 1775, and he immediately rode off to the west, arriving at Castleton in the disputed New Hampshire Grants (present-day Vermont) in time to join with Ethan Allen and his men in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. He followed up that action with a bold raid on Fort Saint-Jean on the Richelieu River north of Lake Champlain. When a Connecticut militia force arrived at Ticonderoga in June, he had a dispute with its commander over control of the fort, and resigned his Massachusetts commission. He was on his way home from Ticonderoga when he learned that his wife died earlier in June.[30]

Quebec Governor Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester opposed Arnold at Quebec and Valcour Island

When the Second Continental Congress authorized an invasion of Quebec, in part on the urging of Arnold, he was passed over for command of the expedition. Arnold then went to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and suggested to George Washington a second expedition to attack Quebec City via a wilderness route through present-day Maine. This expedition, for which Arnold received a colonel's commission in the Continental Army, left Cambridge in September 1775 with 1,100 men. After a difficult passage in which 300 men turned back and another 200 died en route, Arnold arrived before Quebec City in November. Joined by Richard Montgomery's small army, he took part in the assault on Quebec City on 31 December, in which Montgomery was killed and Arnold's leg was shattered. Rev. Samuel Spring, his chaplain, carried him to the makeshift hospital at the Hotel Dieu. Arnold, who was promoted to brigadier general for his role in reaching Quebec, maintained an ineffectual siege of the city until he was replaced by Major General David Wooster in April 1776.[31]

Arnold then traveled to Montreal, where he served as military commander of the city until forced to retreat by an advancing British army that had arrived at Quebec in May. He commanded the rear of the Continental Army during its retreat from Saint-Jean. James Wilkinson said Arnold was the last person to leave before the British arrived. He then directed the construction of a fleet to defend Lake Champlain, which was defeated in the October 1776 Battle of Valcour Island. His actions at Saint-Jean and Valcour Island played a notable role in delaying the British advance against Ticonderoga until 1777.[32]

During these actions, Arnold made a number of friends and a larger number of enemies within the army power structure and in Congress. He had established decent relationships with George Washington, commander of the army, as well as Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates, both of whom had command of the army's Northern Department during 1775 and 1776.[33] However, a dispute with Moses Hazen, commander of the 2nd Canadian Regiment, boiled over into a court martial of Hazen at Ticonderoga during the summer of 1776. Only action by Gates, then his superior at Ticonderoga, prevented his own arrest on counter charges leveled by Hazen.[34] He had also had disagreements with John Brown and James Easton, two lower-level officers with political connections that resulted in ongoing suggestions of wrongdoing on his part. Brown was particularly vicious, publishing a handbill that claimed of Arnold, "Money is this man's God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country".[35]

Saratoga and Philadelphia

General Horatio Gates led the forces at Saratoga (portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1793–94)

General Washington told Arnold to defend Rhode Island after the British captured Newport in December 1776. At that time, the militia did not have enough weapons and supplies to attack the British.[36] Arnold was near his home, so he visited his children, and he spent much of the winter in Boston, where he tried to convince a woman named Betsy Deblois to marry him. She said no.[37] In February 1777, he learned that Congress had not promoted him to major general. He tried to resign, or quit, but Washington did not let him. But Washington did write to members of Congress about the promotions. He wrote that "two or three other very good officers" might quit if Congress kept promoting people for political reasons instead of based on who could fight and lead the best.[38]

Arnold decided to go to Philadelphia to talk about his future. On the way, he heard a British force was marching toward a place in Danbury, Connecticut where the Continental army had put its supplies. Arnold, David Wooster, and Connecticut militia General Gold Selleck Silliman led the militia to stop them. This was the Battle of Ridgefield. Arnold he led a small group of soldiers to stop or slow down the British as they returned to the Atlantic Ocean. Arnold was again wounded in his left leg.

Then Arnold went on to Philadelphia, where he talked with members of Congress about his rank. Because of his good leadership at Ridgefield and because Wooster had died, Congress promoted Arnold to major general, although he did not outrank people who had been promoted before him.[39] Arnold was not happy about this, and he tried to quit the army again. He wrote out a letter of resignation on July 11. But that day, people in Philadelphia learned that the British had captured Fort Ticonderoga. Again, Washington told Arnold he could not quit. Washington ordered Arnold to go north and help defend it.[40]

Arnold arrived in Schuyler's camp at Fort Edward, New York on July 24. On August 13, Schuyler sent Arnold with 900 soldiers to help soldiers at Fort Stanwix. There, Arnold used a trick win. Arnold had a Native American messenger go into the camp of British Brigadier General Barry St. Leger. The messenger said that Arnold's army was much larger and closer than it truly was. St. Leger's Native American soldiers abandoned him, so St. Leger and the rest of his soldiers had to leave too.[41]

Arnold then went back to the Hudson, where General Gates led the American army. They had gone to a camp south of Stillwater.[42] Arnold fought very well in the Battles of Saratoga, even though he argued with General Gates and Gates told him he could no longer lead in the field.[43] During the second battle, Arnold, against Gates' orders, went to the battlefield and led attacks on the British defenses. He was again severely wounded in the left leg late in the fighting. Arnold himself said it would have been better had it been in the chest instead of the leg.[44] Burgoyne surrendered ten days after the second battle, on October 17, 1777. Because of Arnold's bravery at Saratoga, Congress restored his command seniority, meaning he outranked people who had been promoted to the same rank before him.[45] However, Arnold believed they did so because they felt sorry that he had been injured. What he really wanted was an apology for not promoting him sooner.[46]

Arnold's Oath of Allegiance, May 30, 1778

Arnold spent several months trying to heal from his injuries. Instead of cutting off his left leg, he had it set in a cast. It healed, but it was 2 inches (5.1 cm) shorter than the right leg. He returned to the army at Valley Forge in May 1778. Many of the men who fought with him at Saratoga clapped when they saw him.[47] There he took part in the first recorded Oath of Allegiance along with many other soldiers, as a sign of loyalty to the United States.[48]

President's House

Arnold was made military commander of Philadelphia. He made the Masters-Penn mansion, as it was then called, his headquarters at that time. Later, that house would be the presidential mansion of George Washington and John Adams, 1790–1800.[49]

After the British withdrew from Philadelphia in June 1778 Washington appointed Arnold military commander of the city.[50] Even before the Americans reoccupied Philadelphia, Arnold began planning to make money from the change in power there. He did many business deals designed to earn money from war-related supply movements and from his rank as a general.[51] Powerful local men sometimes stopped Arnold's plans. Together, these people found enough evidence to publicly accuse Arnold of making money improperly. Arnold demanded a court martial so he could publicly prove he did nothing wrong. He wrote to Washington in May 1779, "Having become a cripple in the service of my country, I little expected to meet [such] ungrateful returns."[52]

Arnold spent a lot of money in Philadelphia. He went to many social events, such as balls. During the summer of 1778, Arnold met Peggy Shippen, the 18-year-old daughter of Judge Edward Shippen, a Loyalist sympathizer who had done business with the British while they occupied the city.[53] When the British had ruled Philadelphia, Major John André had also wanted to marry Peggy.[54] Peggy and Arnold married on April 8, 1779.[55] Peggy and her friends had learned how to write letters to the men they liked even when there were armies in between, even though the military did not want people to talk to the enemy.[56] Joseph Stansbury, a Philadelphia merchant, helped Peggy and her friends send some of their messages.[57]

Plotting to change sides


Sometime early in May 1779, Arnold met with Stansbury. Stansbury, whose testimony before a British commission apparently erroneously placed the date in June, said that, after meeting with Arnold, "I went secretly to New York with a tender of [Arnold's] services to Sir Henry Clinton."[58] Ignoring instructions from Arnold not to involve anyone else in the plot, Stansbury crossed the British lines and went to see Jonathan Odell in New York. Odell was a Loyalist working with William Franklin, the last Colonial Governor of New Jersey and the son of Benjamin Franklin. On 9 May Franklin introduced Stansbury to Major André, who had just been named the British spy chief.[59] This was the beginning of a secret correspondence between Arnold and André, sometimes using his wife Peggy as a willing intermediary, that culminated over a year later with Arnold's change of sides.[52]

Secret communications

One of Arnold's coded letters.

André spoke to General Clinton, who gave him broad authority to pursue Arnold's offer. André then drafted instructions to Stansbury and Arnold.[60] This first letter opened a discussion on the types of assistance and intelligence Arnold might provide, and included instructions for how to communicate in the future. Letters would be passed through the women's circle that Peggy Arnold was a part of, but only Peggy would be aware that some letters contained instructions written in both code and invisible ink that were to be passed on to André, using Stansbury as the courier.[61]

By July 1779, Arnold was providing the British with troop locations and strengths, as well as the locations of supply depots, all the while negotiating over compensation. At first, he asked for indemnification of his losses and £10,000, an amount the Continental Congress had given Charles Lee for his services in the Continental Army.[62] General Clinton, who was pursuing a campaign to gain control of the Hudson River Valley, was interested in plans and information on the defenses of West Point and other defenses on the Hudson River. He also began to insist on a face-to-face meeting, and suggested to Arnold that he pursue another high-level command.[63] By October 1779, the negotiations had ground to a halt.[64] Furthermore, Patriot mobs were scouring Philadelphia for Loyalists, and Arnold and the Shippen family were being threatened. Arnold was rebuffed by Congress and by local authorities in requests for security details for himself and his in-laws.[65]

Court martial


The court martial to consider the charges against Arnold began meeting on 1 June 1779, but was delayed until December 1779 by General Clinton's capture of Stony Point, New York, throwing the army into a flurry of activity to react.[66] In spite of the fact that a number of members of the panel of judges were men ill-disposed to Arnold over actions and disputes earlier in the war, Arnold was cleared of all but two minor charges on 26 January 1780.[67] Arnold worked over the next few months to publicize this fact; however, in early April, just one week after Washington congratulated Arnold on the 19 May birth of his son, Edward Shippen Arnold, Washington published a formal rebuke of Arnold's behavior.[68]

The Commander-in-Chief would have been much happier in an occasion of bestowing commendations on an officer who had rendered such distinguished services to his country as Major General Arnold; but in the present case, a sense of duty and a regard to candor oblige him to declare that he considers his conduct [in the convicted actions] as imprudent and improper.

— Notice published by George Washington, 6 April 1780[69]
Major John André, British General Henry Clinton's spy chief, was captured and hanged for his role in the plot

Shortly after Washington's rebuke, a Congressional inquiry into his expenditures concluded that Arnold had failed to fully account for his expenditures incurred during the Quebec invasion, and that he owed the Congress some £1,000, largely because he was unable to document them.[70] A significant number of these documents were lost during the retreat from Quebec; angry and frustrated, Arnold resigned his military command of Philadelphia in late April.[71]

Offer to surrender West Point


Early in April, Philip Schuyler had approached Arnold with the possibility of giving him the command at West Point. Discussions between Schuyler and Washington on the subject had not borne fruit by early June. Arnold reopened the secret channels with the British, informing them of Schuyler's proposals and including Schuyler's assessment of conditions and West Point. He also provided information on a proposed French-American invasion of Quebec that was to go up the Connecticut River. (Arnold did not know that this proposed invasion was a ruse intended to divert British resources.) On 16 June Arnold inspected West Point while on his way home to Connecticut to take care of personal business, and sent a highly detailed report through the secret channel.[72] When he reached Connecticut Arnold arranged to sell his home there, and began transferring assets to London through intermediaries in New York. By early July he was back in Philadelphia, where he wrote another secret message to Clinton on 7 July which implied that his appointment to West Point was assured and that he might even provide a "drawing of the works ... by which you might take [West Point] without loss".[73]

General Clinton and Major André, who returned victorious from the Siege of Charleston on 18 June were immediately caught up in this news. Clinton, concerned that Washington's army and the French fleet would join in Rhode Island, again fixed on West Point as a strategic point to capture. André, who had spies and informers keeping track of Arnold, verified his movements. Excited by the prospects, Clinton informed his superiors of his intelligence coups, but failed to respond to Arnold's 7 July letter.[74]

Arnold next wrote a series of letters to Clinton, even before he might have expected a response to the 7 July letter. In a letter of 11 July, he complained that the British did not appear to trust him, and threatened to break off negotiations unless progress was made. On 12 July he wrote again, making explicit the offer to surrender West Point, although his price (in addition to indemnification for his losses) rose to £20,000, with a £1,000 down payment to be delivered with the response. These letters were delivered not by Stansbury but by Samuel Wallis, another Philadelphia businessman who spied for the British.[75]

Command at West Point

Col. Beverley Robinson's house, Arnold's headquarters at West Point

On 3 August 1780, Arnold obtained command of West Point. On 15 August he received a coded letter from André with Clinton's final offer: £20,000, and no indemnification for his losses. Due to difficulties in getting the messages across the lines, neither side knew for some days that the other was in agreement to that offer. Arnold's letters continued to detail Washington's troop movements and provide information about French reinforcements that were being organized. On 25 August Peggy finally delivered to him Clinton's agreement to the terms.[76]

Washington, in assigning Arnold to the command at West Point, also gave him authority over the entire American-controlled Hudson River, from Albany down to the British lines outside New York City. While en route to West Point, Arnold renewed an acquaintance with Joshua Hett Smith, someone Arnold knew had done spy work for both sides, and who owned a house near the western bank of the Hudson just south of West Point.[77]

Once he established himself at West Point, Arnold began systematically weakening its defenses and military strength. Needed repairs on the chain across the Hudson were never ordered. Troops were liberally distributed within Arnold's command area (but only minimally at West Point itself), or furnished to Washington on request. He also peppered Washington with complaints about the lack of supplies, writing, "Everything is wanting".[78] At the same time, he tried to drain West Point's supplies, so that a siege would be more likely to succeed. His subordinates, some of whom were long-time associates, grumbled about unnecessary distribution of supplies, and eventually concluded that Arnold was selling some of the supplies on the black market for personal gain.[78]

A French map of West Point in 1780

On August 30, Arnold sent a letter accepting Clinton's terms and proposing a meeting to André through yet another intermediary: William Heron, a member of the Connecticut Assembly he thought he could trust. Heron, in a comic twist, went into New York unaware of the significance of the letter, and offered his own services to the British as a spy. He then took the letter back to Connecticut, where, suspicious of Arnold's actions, he delivered it to the head of the Connecticut militia. General Parsons, seeing a letter written as a coded business discussion, laid it aside. Four days later, Arnold sent a ciphered letter with similar content into New York through the services of a prisoner-of-war's wife.[79] Eventually, a meeting was set for 11 September near Dobb's Ferry. This meeting was thwarted when British gunboats in the river, not having been informed of his impending arrival, fired on his boat.[80]

Plot exposed


Arnold and André finally met on 21 September at Joshua Hett Smith's house. On the morning of 22 September James Livingston, the colonel in charge of the outpost at Verplanck's Point, fired on HMS Vulture, the ship that was intended to carry André back to New York. This action damaged the ship and she had to retreat downriver, forcing André to return to New York overland. Arnold wrote out passes for André so that he would be able to pass through the lines, and also gave him plans for West Point.[81] On Saturday, 23 September André was captured, near Tarrytown, by three Westchester patriots named John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams;[82] the papers exposing the plot to capture West Point were found and sent to Washington, and Arnold's treachery came to light after Washington examined them.[83] Meanwhile, André convinced the unsuspecting commanding officer to whom he was delivered, Colonel John Jameson, to send him back to Arnold at West Point. However, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, a member of Washington's secret service, insisted Jameson order the prisoner intercepted and brought back. Jameson reluctantly recalled the lieutenant delivering André into Arnold's custody, but then sent the same lieutenant as a messenger to notify Arnold of André's arrest.[84]

Arnold learned of André's capture the following morning, 24 September, when he received Jameson's message that André was in his custody and that the papers André was carrying had been sent to General Washington. Arnold received Jameson's letter while waiting for Washington, with whom he had planned to have breakfast.[85] He made all haste to the shore and ordered bargemen to row him downriver to where the Vulture was anchored, which then took him to New York.[86] From the ship Arnold wrote a letter to Washington,[87] requesting that Peggy be given safe passage to her family in Philadelphia, a request Washington granted.[88] When presented with evidence of Arnold's betrayal, it is reported that Washington was calm. He did, however, investigate the extent of the betrayal, and suggested in negotiations with General Clinton over the fate of Major André that he was willing to exchange André for Arnold. This suggestion Clinton refused; after a military tribunal, André was hanged at Tappan, New York on 2 October. Washington also infiltrated men into New York in an attempt to kidnap Arnold; this plan, which very nearly succeeded, failed when Arnold changed living quarters prior to sailing for Virginia in December.[89]

Arnold attempted to justify his actions in an open letter titled To the Inhabitants of America, published in newspapers in October 1780.[90] In the letter to Washington requesting safe passage for Peggy, he wrote that "Love to my country actuates my present conduct, however it may appear inconsistent to the world, who very seldom judge right of any man's actions."[87]

After switching sides


British Army service


The British gave Arnold a brigadier general's commission with an annual income of several hundred pounds, but only paid him £6,315 plus an annual pension of £360 because his plot failed.[5] In December 1780, under orders from Clinton, Arnold led a force of 1,600 troops into Virginia, where he captured Richmond by surprise and then went on a rampage through Virginia, destroying supply houses, foundries, and mills.[91] This activity brought Virginia's militia out, and Arnold eventually retreated to Portsmouth to either be evacuated or reinforced. The pursuing American army included the Marquis de Lafayette, who was under orders from Washington to summarily hang Arnold if he was captured. Reinforcements led by William Phillips (who served under Burgoyne at Saratoga) arrived in late March, and Phillips led further raids across Virginia, including a defeat of Baron von Steuben at Petersburg, until his death of fever on 12 May 1781. Arnold commanded the army only until 20 May when Lord Cornwallis arrived with the southern army and took over. One colonel wrote to Clinton of Arnold, "there are many officers who must wish some other general in command".[92] Cornwallis ignored advice proffered by Arnold to locate a permanent base away from the coast that might have averted his later surrender at Yorktown.[92]

General Sir Henry Clinton

On his return to New York in June, Arnold made a variety of proposals for continuing to attack essentially economic targets in order to force the Americans to end the war. Clinton, however, was not interested in most of Arnold's aggressive ideas, but finally relented and authorized Arnold to raid the port of New London, Connecticut. On 4 September not long after the birth of his and Peggy's second son, Arnold's force of over 1,700 men raided and burned New London and captured Fort Griswold, causing damage estimated at $500,000.[93] British casualties were high—nearly one quarter of the force was killed or wounded, a rate at which Clinton claimed he could ill afford more such victories.[94]

Even before Cornwallis's surrender in October, Arnold had requested permission from Clinton to go to England to give Lord Germain his thoughts on the war in person.[95] When word of the surrender reached New York, Arnold renewed the request, which Clinton then granted. On 8 December 1781, Arnold and his family left New York for England.[96] In London he aligned himself with the Tories, advising Germain and King George III to renew the fight against the Americans. In the House of Commons, Edmund Burke expressed the hope that the government would not put Arnold "at the head of a part of a British army" lest "the sentiments of true honor, which every British officer [holds] dearer than life, should be afflicted."[88] To Arnold's detriment the anti-war Whigs had gotten the upper hand in Parliament, and Germain was forced to resign, with the government of Lord North falling not long after.[97]

Arnold then applied to accompany General Carleton, who was going to New York to replace Clinton as commander-in-chief; this request went nowhere.[97] Other attempts to gain positions within the government or the British East India Company over the next few years all failed, and he was forced to subsist on the reduced pay of non-wartime service.[98] His reputation also came under criticism in the British press, especially when compared to that of Major André, who was celebrated for his patriotism. One particularly harsh critic said that he was a "mean mercenary, who, having adopted a cause for the sake of plunder, quits it when convicted of that charge."[97] In turning him down for an East India Company posting, George Johnstone wrote, "Although I am satisfied with the purity of your conduct, the generality do not think so. While this is the case, no power in this country could suddenly place you in the situation you aim at under the East India Company."[99]

New business opportunities

Arnold duellist, the Earl of Lauderdale, portrait by Thomas Gainsborough

In 1785 Arnold and his son Richard moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, where they speculated in land, and established a business doing trade with the West Indies. Arnold purchased large tracts of land in the Maugerville area, and acquired city lots in Saint John and Fredericton.[100] Delivery of his first ship, the Lord Sheffield, was accompanied by accusations from the builder that Arnold had cheated him; Arnold claimed that he had merely deducted the contractually agreed amount when the ship was delivered late.[101] After her first voyage, Arnold returned to London in 1786 to bring his family to Saint John. While there he disentangled himself from a lawsuit over an unpaid debt that Peggy had been fighting while he was away, paying £900 to settle a £12,000 loan he had taken while living in Philadelphia.[102] The family moved to Saint John in 1787, where Arnold created an uproar with a series of bad business deals and petty lawsuits.[103] Following the most serious, a slander suit he won against a former business partner, townspeople burned him in effigy in front of his house as Peggy and the children watched.[104] The family left Saint John to return to London in December 1791.[105]

In July 1792 he fought a bloodless duel with the James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale after the Earl impugned his honor in the House of Lords.[5] With the outbreak of the French Revolution Arnold outfitted a privateer, while continuing to do business in the West Indies, even though the hostilities increased the risk. He was imprisoned by French authorities on Guadeloupe amid accusations of spying for the British, and narrowly eluded hanging by escaping to the blockading British fleet after bribing his guards. He helped organize militia forces on British-held islands, receiving praise from the landowners for his efforts on their behalf. This work, which he hoped would earn him wider respect and a new command, instead earned him and his sons a land grant of 15,000 acres (6,100 ha) in Upper Canada,[106] near present-day Renfrew, Ontario.[107]

In January 1801 Arnold's health began to decline.[88] Gout, which he had suffered since 1775,[108] attacked his unwounded leg to the point where he was unable to go to sea; the other ached constantly, and he walked only with a cane. His doctors diagnosed him as having dropsy, and a visit to the countryside only temporarily improved his condition. He died after four days of delirium, on 14 June 1801, at the age of 60.[88] Legend has it that when he was on his deathbed he said, "Let me die in this old uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another,"[109] but this may be apocryphal.[4] Arnold was buried at St. Mary's Church, Battersea in London, England. As a result of a clerical error in the parish records, his remains were removed to an unmarked mass grave during church renovations a century later.[110] His funeral procession had "seven mourning coaches and four state carriages";[88] the funeral was without military honors.[111]

He left a small estate, reduced in size by his debts, which Peggy undertook to clear.[5][88] Among his bequests were considerable gifts to one John Sage, who turned out to be an illegitimate son conceived during his time in New Brunswick.[111]



Arnold's contributions to American independence are largely underrepresented in popular culture, while his name became synonymous with traitor in the 19th century. The demonization of Arnold began immediately after his betrayal became public. Biblical themes were often invoked; Benjamin Franklin wrote that "Judas Iscariot sold only one man, Arnold three million", and Alexander Scammel described Arnold's actions as "black as hell".[112]

An 1865 political cartoon depicting Jefferson Davis and Benedict Arnold in Hell

Early biographers attempted to describe Arnold's entire life in terms of treacherous or morally questionable behavior. The first major biography of Arnold, The Life and Treason of Benedict Arnold, published in 1832 by historian Jared Sparks, was particularly harsh in showing how Arnold's treacherous character was allegedly formed out of childhood experiences.[113] George Canning Hill, who authored a series of moralistic biographies in the mid-19th century, began his 1865 biography of Arnold "Benedict, the Traitor, was born ...".[114] Social historian Brian Carso notes that as the 19th century progressed, the story of Arnold's betrayal took on near-mythic proportions as a part of the national creation story, and was again invoked as sectional conflicts leading up the American Civil War increased. Washington Irving used it as part of an argument against dismemberment of the union in his 1857 Life of George Washington, pointing out that only the unity of New England and the southern states that led to independence was made possible in part by holding West Point.[115] Jefferson Davis and other southern secessionist leaders were unfavorably compared to Arnold, implicitly and explicitly likening the idea of secession to treason. Harper's Weekly published an article in 1861 describing Confederate leaders as "a few men directing this colossal treason, by whose side Benedict Arnold shines white as a saint."[116]

Fictional invocations of Arnold's name also carried strongly negative overtones. A moralistic children's tale entitled "The Cruel Boy" was widely circulated in the 19th century. It described a boy who stole eggs from birds' nests, pulled wings off insects, and engaged in other sorts of wanton cruelty, who then grew up to become a traitor to his country. The boy is not identified until the end of the story, when his place of birth is given as Norwich, Connecticut, and his name is given as Benedict Arnold.[117] However, not all depictions of Arnold were strongly negative. Some theatrical treatments of the 19th century explored his duplicity, seeking to understand rather than demonize it.[118]

The connection between Arnold and treason continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. On an episode of The Brady Bunch, Everyone Can't Be George Washington, after Peter is assigned the role of Arnold in the school play, everyone hates him.[119] In a recent reference, Dan Gilbert, owner of the National Basketball Association's Cleveland Cavaliers, subtly invoked Arnold in 2010. Upset over the manner in which LeBron James announced his departure from the team, Gilbert's company lowered the price of posters bearing James's likeness to $17.41, referring to the year of Arnold's birth.[120][121]

Novelistic treatments of the American Revolutionary war sometimes feature Arnold as a character. But one notable treatment, depicting Arnold very much in a positive light, is Kenneth Roberts' Arundel novels, which cover many of the campaigns in which he participated:

  • Arundel (1929) – The American Revolution through the Battle of Quebec
  • Rabble in Arms (1933) – The American Revolution through the Battles of Saratoga
  • Oliver Wiswell (1940) – The American Revolution from a Loyalist's perspective


Peggy Shippen Arnold and daughter, by Sir Thomas Lawrence

During his marriage to Margaret Mansfield, Arnold had the following children:[122][123]

Benedict Arnold VI (1768–1795) (captain in the British Army, killed in action)
Richard Arnold (1769–1847)
Henry Arnold (1772–1826)

and with Peggy Shippen, he raised a family active in British military service:

Edward Arnold (1780–1813) (lieutenant)
James Arnold (1781–1854) (lieutenant general)
George Arnold (1787–1828) (lieutenant colonel)
Sophia Arnold (1785–1828)
William Arnold (1794–1846) (capt.)


The Boot Monument at Saratoga

On the battlefield at Saratoga, now preserved in Saratoga National Historical Park, stands a monument in memorial to Arnold, but there is no mention of his name on the engraving. Donated by Civil War General John Watts DePeyster, the inscription on the Boot Monument reads: "In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution, and for himself the rank of Major General."[124] The victory monument at Saratoga has four niches, three of which are occupied by statues of Generals Gates, Schuyler, and Morgan. The fourth niche is empty.[125]

On the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point there are plaques commemorating all of the generals that served in the Revolution. One plaque bears only a rank, "major general" and a date, "born 1740",[3] and no name.[113]

The house at 62 Gloucester Place where Arnold lived in central London still stands, bearing a plaque that describes Arnold as an "American Patriot".[126] The church where Arnold was buried, St. Mary's Church, Battersea, England, has a commemorative stained-glass window which was added between 1976 and 1982.[127] The faculty club at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, has a Benedict Arnold Room, in which framed original letters written by Arnold hang on the walls.

  1. Benedict Arnold at Find a Grave
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Brandt (1994), p. 4
  3. 3.0 3.1 Arnold's birth records indicate that he was born 3 January 1740 (Vital Records of Norwich (1913)). Because of the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar and the change of the beginning of the year from 25 March to 1 January, Arnold's date of birth is recorded in the Gregorian calendar as 14 January 1741.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Martin (1997)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Fahey
  6. Rogets (2008)
  7. Brandt (1994), pp. 5–6
  8. Price (1984), pp. 38–39
  9. Brandt (1994), p. 6
  10. 10.0 10.1 Brandt (1994), p. 7
  11. Flexner (1953), p. 7
  12. Flexner (1953), p. 8
  13. Randall (1990), p. 32
  14. Murphy (2007), p. 18
  15. Brandt (1994), p. 8
  16. Brandt (1994), p. 10
  17. Flexner (1953), p. 13
  18. Murphy (2007), p. 38
  19. Roth (1995), p. 75
  20. Flexner (1953), p. 17
  21. Randall (1990), p. 46
  22. Randall (1990), p. 49
  23. Randall (1990), pp. 52–53
  24. Randall (1990), pp. 56–60
  25. 25.0 25.1 Randall (1990), p. 62
  26. Randall (1990), p. 64
  27. Brandt (1994), p. 14
  28. Brandt (1994), p. 38
  29. Randall (1990), p. 68
  30. Randall (1990), pp. 78–132
  31. Randall (1990), pp. 131–228
  32. Randall (1990), pp. 228–320
  33. Randall (1990), pp. 318–323
  34. Randall (1990), pp. 262–264
  35. Howe (1848), pp. 4–6
  36. Randall (1990), pp. 323–325
  37. Randall (1990), pp. 324–327
  38. Brandt (1994), p. 118
  39. Randall (1990), pp. 332–334
  40. Randall (1990), pp. 339–342
  41. Martin (1997), pp. 364–367
  42. Randall (1990), pp. 346–348
  43. Randall (1990), p. 360
  44. Randall (1990), pp. 350–368
  45. Randall (1990), p. 372
  46. Palmer (2006), p. 256
  47. Brandt (1994), pp. 141–146
  48. Brandt (1994), p. 147
  49. "Redirection of: The President's House".
  50. Brandt (1994), p. 146
  51. Brandt (1994), p. 148–149
  52. 52.0 52.1 Martin (1997), p. 428
  53. Randall (1990), p. 420
  54. Edward Shippen biography
  55. Randall (1990), p. 448
  56. Randall (1990), p. 455
  57. Randall (1990), p. 456
  58. Randall (1990), pp. 456–457
  59. Randall (1990), p. 457
  60. Randall (1990), p. 463
  61. Randall (1990), p. 464
  62. Randall (1990), p. 474
  63. Randall (1990), p. 476
  64. Randall (1990), p. 477
  65. Randall (1990), pp. 482–483
  66. Brandt (1994), pp. 181–182
  67. Randall (1990), pp. 486–492
  68. Randall (1990), pp. 492–494
  69. Brandt (1994), p. 190
  70. Randall (1990), p. 497
  71. Randall (1990), pp. 497–499
  72. Randall (1990), pp. 503–504
  73. Randall (1990), pp. 506–507
  74. Randall (1990), pp. 505–508
  75. Randall (1990), pp. 508–509
  76. Randall (1990), pp. 511–512
  77. Randall (1990), p. 517–518
  78. 78.0 78.1 Randall (1990), pp. 522–523
  79. Randall (1990), pp. 524–526
  80. Randall (1990), p. 533
  81. Lossing (1852), pp. 151–156
  82. Carl Van Doren (1969). Secret History of the American Revolution. Popular Library. p. 340. LCCN 41-24478.
  83. Lossing (1852), pp. 187–189
  84. Rowan, Richard Wilmer (1967). Secret Service: 33 Centuries of Espionage. Hawthorn Books Inc. pp. 140, 145. LCCN 66-15344.
  85. Brandt (1994), p. 220
  86. Lossing (1852), p. 159
  87. 87.0 87.1 Arnold to Washington, 25 September 1780
  88. 88.0 88.1 88.2 88.3 88.4 88.5 Lomask (1967)
  89. Lossing (1852), pp. 160, 197–210
  90. Carso (2006), p. 153
  91. Randall (1990), pp. 582–583
  92. 92.0 92.1 Randall (1990)
  93. Randall (1990), pp. 585–591
  94. Randall (1990), p. 589
  95. Brandt (1994), p. 252
  96. Brandt (1994), p. 253
  97. 97.0 97.1 97.2 Brandt (1994), p. 255
  98. Brandt (1994), pp. 257–259
  99. Brandt (1994), p. 257
  100. Randall (1990), pp. 599–600
  101. Brandt (1994), p. 261
  102. Brandt (1994), p. 262
  103. "Benedict Arnold and Monson Hayt fonds". UNB Archives. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: University of New Brunswick. 26 September 2001. Retrieved 7 December 2009. However, Arnold created an uproar within the small community of Saint John when his firm launched several suits against its debtors, and Arnold himself sued Edward Winslow in 1789.
  104. Brandt (1994), p. 263
  105. Brandt (1994), p. 264
  106. Randall (1990), pp. 609–610
  107. Wilson (2001), p. 223
  108. Brandt (1994), p. 42
  109. Johnson (1915)
  110. Randall (1990), pp. 612–613
  111. 111.0 111.1 Randall (1990), p. 613
  112. Carso (2006), p. 154
  113. 113.0 113.1 Carso (2006), p. 155
  114. Hill (1865), p. 10
  115. Carso (2006), pp. 168–170
  116. Carso (2006), p. 201
  117. Carso (2006), pp. 157–159
  118. Carso (2006), pp. 170–171
  119. "Episode summary: Everyone Can't Be George Washington". Archived from the original on 2009-10-10. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  120. "Open Letter to Fans from Cavaliers Majority Owner Dan Gilbert" (Press release). Cleveland Cavaliers. 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  121. "Fathead suggests LeBron is the new Benedict Arnold". USA Today. 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  122. Randall (1990), p. 610
  123. The New England Register 1880, pp. 196–197
  124. Saratoga National Historical Park - Tour Stop 7
  125. Saratoga National Historical Park - Activities
  126. Blue and Green Plaques
  127. "St. Mary's Church Parish website". St Mary's Modern Stained Glass



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