ARNOLD, BENEDICT. (1741–1801). General in the Continental and British armies, traitor. Connecticut. Great-grandson of a Rhode Island governor, Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on 14 January 1741. He had to abandon his education after his father, an alcoholic merchant, went bankrupt. In March 1758, Arnold ran off to enlist in a New York company. He deserted the following year, but through his mother's efforts was not prosecuted. In March 1760 he enlisted again, served briefly in upper New York, and again deserted. He made his way home alone through the wilderness and completed his apprenticeship as a druggist. After the death of his parents, the twenty-one-year-old Arnold sold the family property and went with his sister, Hannah, to New Haven, Connecticut, where he opened a shop to sell drugs and books. He became a successful merchant and started sailing his own ships to the West Indies and Canada. One of his activities was horse-trading, a business which took him to Montreal and Quebec. Like others who had the opportunity, Arnold undoubtedly engaged in smuggling as well. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield and fathered three sons in five years.
CONTINENTAL ARMY CAMPAIGNS
In 1766 Arnold became leader of the New Haven Sons of Liberty and was active in local Patriot politics, though his violent personality colored his reputation. He fought at least two duels and gained a reputation as a spendthrift and philanderer. Having been elected a captain of militia in December 1774, Arnold reacted quickly to the "Lexington alarm." When New Haven's town leaders refused to issue arms and munitions to Arnold's company, he led his men in a raid on the armory, then marched his newly armed men to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Almost immediately upon his arrival in the Boston lines, Arnold talked the authorities into letting him lead a bold enterprise to capture Fort Ticonderoga. The Massachusetts authorities appointed him a militia colonel on 3 May, and he traveled north ahead of his troops. He arrived at the fort just in time to find another group, the Green Mountain Boys under Ethan Allen, about to launch their own attack. Arnold attempted to bully his way into command, but was rebuffed, although Allen did allow Arnold to participate in the capture of Ticonderoga, on 10 May 1775.
Using captured boats, Arnold raided St. Johns, Canada, on 17 May, and on 1 June he was instructed by Massachusetts authorities to take temporary command of all American forces on Lake Champlain. On 14 May, Massachusetts sent a committee with instructions to put all American troops in Arnold's area under the command of a leader from Connecticut. Arnold took violent exception to being superseded and, after withdrawing with a body of supporters to the captured vessels off Crown Point, he defied the order and threatened to arrest the committee. Insulted by a fellow officer, Arnold "tooke the liberty of breaking his head." Arnold was finally persuaded to abandon his mutiny, and on 5 July he returned to Cambridge to face accusations of mishandling the funds that had been entrusted to him for the expedition. The Massachusetts legislature eventually paid the official expenses Arnold had incurred. Meanwhile, Arnold's wife had died on 19 June.
Arnold next marched to Quebec through the Maine wilderness with 1,000 men, from 13 September to 9 November 1775, and this contributed to his reputation as the "whirlwind hero." Joining with General Richard Montgomery's army, which had come up the St. Lawrence River, Arnold acted bravely in the attack on Quebec, 31 December 1775, in which he was seriously wounded in the knee and Montgomery was killed. Arnold was appointed brigadier general on 10 January. After spending a terrible winter laying siege to Quebec, Arnold surrendered command of his pathetic little army to David Wooster in April 1776. With the arrival of British reinforcements, the Americans retreated to Montreal, ravaged by hunger and smallpox the whole way. In May, Arnold led an effort to release the prisoners taken in the actions at the Cedars shortly before the Americans retreated from Canada.
Over the next few months, Arnold built a small navy on Lake Champlain, even while facing a court martial for plundering. At Valcour Island, he led his small navy in a remarkable action of great strategic importance against a larger British force. Though defeated, Arnold delayed the British advance sufficiently to prevent their moving further south to Ticonderoga.
During this period Arnold maintained good relations with his superiors, Phillip John Schuyler and Horatio Gates, but he clashed with three junior officers. Captain Jacobus Wynkoop of the navy had been sent by Schuyler to take charge of the fleet on Lake Champlain. When Wynkoop challenged Arnold's authority as senior commander, Arnold had him arrested and, with the backing of Gates, removed. Arnold charged Captain Moses Hazen with negligence in handling the stores evacuated from Montreal, but Arnold made himself so offensive to the court-martial that the latter acquitted Hazen and ordered Arnold arrested. Major John Brown proved to be a more tenacious enemy than either Wynkoop or Hazen, and embroiled Arnold in a series of inquiries that were never resolved.
Arnold, meanwhile, had joined George Washington in New Jersey. On 23 December 1776 he was sent to Providence, Rhode Island, to help Joseph Spencer plan an operation to oust the British from Newport, a place they had just occupied. While in New England he was outraged to learn that, on 19 February 1777, Congress had promoted five officers to major general, but had neglected to include Arnold's name on the promotion list. He wrote Washington that Congress must have intended this as "a very civil way of requesting my resignation." Washington, who had not been consulted on this list and who had the highest opinion of Arnold, urged him to remain in the service while he attempted to have the injustice righted. Arnold was frustrated in his efforts to raise troops and supplies for the Newport operation, incensed by the failure of federal authorities to recognize his military accomplishments to date, and worried about the neglected state of his personal affairs at New Haven.
During this period, Arnold has been described as "sulking in his tent like some rustic Achilles," but an opportunity suddenly arose for him to display his daring leadership. On 23 April 1777, the British launched the Danbury Raid, aimed at a key American supply depot in Connecticut. Arnold did not arrive in time to prevent the British from burning Danbury, but his 400-man militia inflicted heavy losses on the enemy as they retreated to the coast. Again a popular hero, Arnold was promoted to major general on 2 May, but this did not remove his principal grievance: he was still junior in rank to the five officers who had been promoted over him on 19 February.
John Brown, also a good man at pressing a grievance, had meanwhile renewed his offensive against Arnold. On 12 May he published a personal attack on Arnold that ended with the prophetic words: "Money is this man's god, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country." Exactly a month later, after Arnold had reached Morristown, Washington wrote Congress asking that a committee investigate the matters Arnold wanted settled: his public accounts, Brown's charges, and his seniority. In Philadelphia on 20 May Arnold sent Congress Brown's handbill of 12 May and reiterated the request for an inquiry. The Board of War was given the latter duty and on 23 May, reported that Brown's charges were groundless. Some delegates still wanted an accounting for $55,000 of the $67,000 Congress had advanced him for operations in Canada, but Arnold was unavailable to respond; he was sent on 14 June to take charge of militia forces on the Delaware, where the enemy started their perplexing maneuvers that preceded the Philadelphia Campaign.
Arnold returned to resume his arguments with Congress, but the same day that he finally submitted his resignation—11 July 1777—Congress received Washington's request that he be assigned to command the militia of the Northern Deptartment in opposing Burgoyne's Offensive. Arnold asked that his resignation be suspended and headed north. On 8 August a motion to backdate Arnold's commission to 19 February was defeated in Congress by sixteen votes to six.
Arnold's first assignment in the north was to lead the relief forces that ended British general Barry St. Leger's expedition. He sided with Schuyler in the factionalism that rent the northern army, and was almost immediately at odds with Gates when that general succeeded Schuyler. In the first and second battles of Saratoga, 19 September and 7 October, he played a prominent and controversial part in the American victories.
Seriously wounded in the second battle of Saratoga, Arnold was incapacitated for many months. But Congress again was forced to acknowledge his contribution to the cause: they officially thanked him, along with fellow officers Gates and Benjamin Lincoln for the defeat of Burgoyne, and on 29 November they resolved that Washington should adjust Arnold's date of rank. A new commission made him a major general as of 17 February 1777, which finally gave him seniority over the five officers whose promotions on 19 February had so rankled him. The slate of his grievances now virtually erased, Benedict Arnold entered a new phase of his career. Because his leg had not healed sufficiently for him to lead troops in the field, he was directed on 28 May 1778 to take command in Philadelphia when the expected British evacuation took place. On 19 June he was in the city.
DESCENT INTO DISGRACE
Since Philadelphia was the seat of the state as well as the federal government, Arnold had two sets of civil authorities over him. Furthermore, the city was divided into factions: returning Patriots, Loyalists and collaborators, and neutralists. Any military commander in such a situation would have trouble, but few could have gotten into it any faster than Arnold. Almost from the start he was suspected of using his official position for personal speculation. He heightened suspicion and alienated townspeople in all walks of life by ostentatious living that exceeded his known means of legitimate income. Joseph Reed, president of the Pennsylvania Council and of the state, presented Congress with eight charges of misconduct against Arnold in February 1779. Arnold immediately demanded an investigation, which cleared him of most charges and referred the rest to a military court. The prosecution was handled by Colonel John Laurance, and Arnold took charge of his own defense.
Although documents brought to light long after the trial prove that Arnold's dishonesty as the military commander of Philadelphia was far worse than the state authorities suspected, the prosecution was unable to assemble adequate evidence to support its case. Hence, Colonel Laurance had to resort to such charges as "imposing menial offices upon the sons of freemen of this state." There was more substance to the other three charges that were presented at the trial, although proof was lacking.
After hearing Arnold argue his case with admirable skill, on 26 January 1780 the court came as close as possible to exonerating him without insulting his accusers. Two of the charges were dismissed entirely. These were the allegation of imposing "menial offices" and the charge that he had purchased goods for personal speculation during a period in which he ordered all shops in Philadelphia to be closed. However, the court found Arnold guilty of improperly issuing a pass for his ship, the Charming Nancy, to leave the city while other vessels were temporarily quarantined, and he was also convicted of using public wagons for private purposes. The sentence for these offenses, however, was merely a reprimand from the commander in chief. Still positively disposed to Arnold, Washington's reprimand was written almost as a commendation, but Arnold was nonetheless furious that he did not receive a complete acquittal.
Arnold did not wait to finish his protracted battle with the Pennsylvania authorities before making the decision that launched him into the adventure for which he is known to history. On 8 April 1779 he had married 19-year-old Peggy Shippen, daughter of a prominent Philadelphia merchant and suspected Loyalist. The next month Arnold took the first step in turning traitor to the Continental cause.
Using his influence to gain command of West Point in August 1779, Arnold conspired to hand the post over to the British the following month. The plot was soon discovered, however, and Arnold fled West Point aboard the British ship, the Vulture, on 25 September 1780. The British made good their promise to reward Arnold for his efforts in their behalf, despite his failure to deliver West Point. He was commissioned as a brigadier general of the British Army and given the perquisites (including a pension) associated with that rank. He was also awarded £6,315 in compensation for the property losses he incurred in coming over to the Loyalist side. In the spring of 1782, Peggy Arnold was additionally awarded a yearly pension of £500, and £100 per year was eventually given to each of her children.
The British authorities assigned Arnold a military command, and he started raising a legion comprised of Loyalists and American deserters. After escaping an attempt by Sergeant John Champe to kidnap him in New York, Arnold led raids against New London, Connecticut, and in Virginia. Nonetheless, the British officers in America did not welcome this provincial traitor as a companion in arms, and the high command did not trust him. Furthermore, his recruitment efforts proved unimpressive. Deserters and Loyalists were plentiful, but even though Arnold offered a bounty of three guineas gold and the same food, clothing, and pay as British regulars, by the end of a year he had attracted only 212 of the 900 men his legion required. Although he enjoyed some success as a British commander, Arnold found his reception in London, where he arrived in early 1782, frosty at best. While the king and his ministers consulted Arnold on American affairs, they did not offer him the field command to which he felt entitled, and even other Loyalists in exile scorned the famous traitor.
LATTER YEARS IN EXILE
In the following years, Arnold entered into a number of commercial schemes. In 1785 he established himself as a merchant-shipper at St. John, New Brunswick, and re-entered the West Indies trade. After some initial success and the birth of an illegitimate son, John Sage, Arnold's fortunes soon faltered: his business was destroyed by a fire in 1788 and he returned to London in 1791 to try his hand at other ventures. On 1 July 1792 he fought a duel with the Earl of Lauderdale, who had accurately impugned Arnold's character during a debate in the House of Lords. Arnold shot and missed; Lauderdale held his fire and agreed to apologize. During the war with France, Arnold served as a privateer. Captured, he spent some time in a French prison, but eventually escaped. Later he helped to put down the Martinique slave uprising, but he again found himself returning to London on the verge of bankruptcy. He spent the last few years of his life seeking further preferment from the British government.
Arnold remains a highly controversial figure. Most military historians find him one of the finest field commanders in the Revolution, a leader capable of inspiring his men to truly heroic actions. Yet his lack of discretion, reckless leadership, and aggressive personal behavior undermined his effectiveness and destroyed a promising career.
Flexner, James T. The Traitor and the Spy. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1953.
Martin, James Kirby. Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
Randall, Willard Sterne. Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor. New York: Morrow, 1990.
revised by Michael Bellesiles
Born January 14, 1741
Died June 14, 1801
Military leader, traitor
Benedict Arnold occupies a place in American history as the most famous traitor of Revolutionary times. In the early years of the American Revolution (1775–83), Arnold was known as a brave and skilled military planner who has been credited with the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in New York. But over the years his contributions have been all but forgotten and his name has come to represent disloyalty to one's country.
Born in 1741, Benedict Arnold V was the son of Benedict Arnold IV, a businessman and landowner, and Hannah Waterman King, a stern and commanding woman. The first Benedict Arnold, who came to America in 1657, once served as the governor of Rhode Island.
When he was eleven years old, Benedict V's prosperous parents sent him away to school in Connecticut, where he studied Latin and mathematics. But his education was cut short when his troubled father lost the family fortune. Young Benedict became the subject of jokes after several incidents found him leading his drunken father home from local taverns. At about this time, the boy decided he must learn to be brave. He started picking on bigger boys to fight with, and began to perform daring feats like leaping over wagons in the roadway.
Early career, marriage
When he was about fourteen, young Arnold left home and went to work for a relative, learning the druggist trade. In his mid-teens, he volunteered to fight in three battles of the French and Indian War (1754–63), a conflict between France and England (won by England) to determine who would control the lands in America. He then deserted to be at his dying mother's bedside. When Arnold's father died in debt in 1761, the young man joined his sister Hannah in New Haven, Connecticut. Arnold's cousin paid the debts left by Benedict IV and set the young man up in a pharmacy business that soon became successful.
In Connecticut Arnold also found success as a sea captain, trading mostly horses and other livestock with Canada and the West Indies (an island chain extending from Florida to South America) and possibly smuggling. An energetic and restless man of average height, Arnold was very strong and muscular. He gained a reputation for getting into fistfights and reportedly twice took part in duels. The dark-haired, gray-eyed businessman married Margaret Mansfield in 1767, and within five years the couple had three children, with two more to follow.
When Arnold became a captain of New Haven's citizen soldiers in 1774, America was about to declare her independence and go to war with Great Britain. In 1775, Arnold marched his men to fight in Boston when he heard that the Revolutionary War had broken out. He took part in the capture of New York's Fort Ticonderoga (pronounced Tie-con-der-OH-guh), and led troops that used captured boats to take over the British fort at St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada.
Arnold's wife died in 1775. Shortly thereafter, he commanded 1,000 troops on a stressful and finally unsuccessful campaign to capture Quebec, Canada. During the attempt, he received a serious leg wound that required months of recovery. Because of his strong leadership, Arnold was promoted to brigadier (pronounced BRIG-a-deer) general (a position just below major general), and in 1776 he commanded a fleet of ships, battling with British gunboats on Lake Champlain and at Valcour Island in New York. The battles that he helped to win there were of great importance in America's victory in the war.
Historian Carl Van Doren described Arnold's abilities as an officer: "He was original and [bold], quick in forming plans, quick in putting them into vigorous execution. He led his soldiers, not drove them, and held the devotion of the [soldiers under him].… But [when it came to dealing with] officers of rank equal or nearly equal with his, Arnold was [stubborn] and arrogant."
Ups and downs in the military
Arnold's hot temper and impatience earned him many enemies. In the winter of 1776–77, Americans who were his personal enemies accused him of misconduct and incompetence. It took the pleas of General George Washington to keep him from resigning from the army.
Arnold's reputation as a brave warrior grew in 1777 as he led an attack and drove British troops out of Danbury, Connecticut. Although he was then appointed major general, Arnold resented the fact that five of his junior officers had been promoted ahead of him. He protested, and as a result, George Washington changed the date of his promotion so Arnold would appear to have held the post of major general longer than the other five generals.
In 1777, a group of businessmen from Montreal, Canada, accused Arnold of stealing property from them. He was found innocent, but was so angry over the way he had been treated that he resigned from the military. Again Washington stepped in, and Arnold changed his mind and resumed his military duties. Arnold then played a major role in the defeat of British General John Burgoyne see entry at Saratoga, New York, where he was once again wounded seriously in the leg.
Arnold's leg was slow in healing this time, which prevented him from resuming command of his troops, so in 1778 George Washington made the mistake of appointing Arnold governor of the city of Philadelphia. Arnold soon demonstrated
that he lacked the necessary patience and political skills for the job. However, he greatly enjoyed his new appointment, entertained on a grand scale, and used his government position to get involved in business deals that might have been illegal.
Marries again, is accused of corruption, commits treason
In 1779, thirty-eight-year-old Benedict Arnold married the young and beautiful Margaret Shippen, daughter of one of Philadelphia's leading families. The Shippens were suspected of maintaining loyalties to Great Britain. That same year, authorities in Pennsylvania charged Arnold with corruption and taking advantage of his official position for his own personal profit. Biographers suspect he may have needed money to support his new wife in the style she had grown up in. Arnold was sent to Washington to be court-martialed (pronounced COURT-mar-shulled). A court martial is a trial conducted by military personnel for offenses against military law.
Arnold was found guilty of two of the charges against him, but as punishment he merely received a gentle reprimand from George Washington. By this time, though, Arnold was thoroughly angry at the treatment he had received from members of Congress and the military. He blamed them for his soiled reputation. Desperately in need of money, he began to entertain the idea of turning traitor and going to work for Great Britain.
In 1779, Arnold exchanged letters with British General Henry Clinton, and began passing information to the British about American troop movements and other matters in exchange for money. His wife Margaret helped him in his efforts, often acting as a messenger.
Turns traitor, fights former comrades
In 1780, Arnold, whose dealings with the enemy were still unknown to General Washington, talked his way into being appointed head of the fort at West Point on New York's Hudson River. Out of both greed and revenge for how he had been treated by the American military, he offered to hand West Point over to the British in exchange for a large sum of money. But when American soldiers captured British Major General John André later that year, the plan failed. André, who acted as a go-between for Arnold and the British, was court-martialed and hanged for spying.
In September 1780, Arnold escaped from the Americans unpunished and fled to the British. As a reward for assisting them, he was made a brigadier general in the British army. Wearing a British uniform, in 1781 Arnold led troops that burned Richmond, Virginia, and conducted raids against his former American comrades in Connecticut, burning the town of New London.
Life in Britain and in Canada
But Arnold was neither liked nor trusted by his new British comrades, who blamed him for the hanging of the popular Major André. As a general, Arnold was expected to round up British soldiers to serve under him, but he was not very successful at that task. So in December 1781, Arnold and his wife set sail for London, England. There King George III and other officials consulted with him on matters concerning America. Still, he felt disliked and neglected, and various business ventures he attempted ended in failure.
By 1785, eager to make money, Arnold moved to St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada, and got involved in the shipping industry. Around 1786 a son, John Sage, was born to Arnold and a mother whose identity has gone undiscovered by historians.
In 1787, Arnold moved Margaret and their five children from Great Britain to Canada, where they were joined by his widowed sister, Hannah, and the sons from his first marriage. But the local people did not welcome the Arnolds and they never grew to feel part of the community. In 1791, Arnold, Margaret, and their children returned to England, while Hannah and Arnold's older sons returned to America.
Benedict Arnold's remaining years spent in England were unlucky ones. In 1792, Arnold's reputation was tarnished when he fought a duel with the Earl of Lauderdale, who had insulted him in the British House of Lords. Arnold shot but missed the Earl, who finally apologized to him. Arnold's fortunes suffered when he supplied materials for British military boats but lost money on the venture. About this time, he became seriously ill. Arnold suffered from asthma (pronounced AZ-muh, a disease that causes breathing difficulties) as well as swelling of the limbs, among other ailments. His wife said that near the end of his life he grew incapable of even the smallest enjoyment.
Benedict Arnold died on June 14, 1801, in London, leaving his family burdened with debts, lawsuits, and the disgrace of bearing the name of Arnold. Margaret Arnold died soon after in 1804. The couple's four sons went on to serve in the British Army. Benedict Arnold's oldest son by his first wife in America was killed in 1795 in the West Indies, while serving there as a military officer.
For More Information
Allison, Robert J. "Benedict Arnold." In American Eras: The Revolutionary Era, 1754–1783. Detroit: Gale, 1998, pp. 288-9.
Boatner, Mark M. "Arnold, Benedict," and "Arnold's Treason," Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stack-pole Books, 1994, pp. 25-43.
Brandt, Clare. The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold. New York: Random House, 1994.
Fritz, Jean. Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold. New York: B. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981.
Martin, James Kirby. Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Warrior: An American Warrior Reconsidered. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
Van Doren, Carl. Secret History of the American Revolution. New York: Viking Press, 1941.
Weigley, Russell F. "Arnold, Benedict." Encyclopedia of American Biography, second edition. John A. Garraty and Jerome L. Sternstein, eds. New York: Harper Collins, 1995, pp. 41-42.
How Historians See Benedict Arnold
Over the two centuries since Benedict Arnold's death, historians have argued about his true character. Some historians describe him as a monster, who took delight in robbing bird's nests when young and who later became a greedy, self-serving man who was all too eager to sell out his comrades.
But other historians point out that George Washington once called Arnold "the bravest of the brave" in the American Revolution. They observe that he courageously sacrificed his family life, financial security, and health and well being to engage in a conflict that left him physically handicapped and with his reputation smeared by false accusations. They insist his heroic actions must be remembered along with the fact of his treason. Others go so far as to contend that he was forced to become a traitor because he was mistreated and misunderstood by his fellow Americans.
Historian Mark M. Boatner provided an example of these differences of opinion in his Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. He wrote "while some writers credit Arnold with winning the two [Revolutionary War] battles of Saratoga almost single-handed, others question whether he was even on the field in the first battle and maintain that the second was won before he charged in to lead a costly, useless attack."
In the mid-twentieth century, new source material was found by historians that has helped them to get a more balanced view of the man, as both hero and traitor. James Kirby Martin, in his 1997 biography Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero, wrote: "[Arnold's] treason was shocking because of the magnitude of his contribution to the Revolutionary effort." No doubt historians will continue to unravel the puzzle of this complicated historical figure far into the future.
Born: January 14, 1741
Died: June 14, 1801
American military general
Youth and family
Benedict Arnold was born on January 14, 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut. He was one of only two of his mother's eleven children to survive into adulthood. His mother had been a prosperous widow before marrying Arnold's father, a merchant. However, Arnold's father did not manage the family's money well, and they were financially ruined when Arnold was thirteen. He was forced to leave school and go to work learning to be an apothecary, a position similar to that of a modern-day pharmacist.
As a young man, Arnold was a risk-taker who looked for outlets for his energetic and impulsive (taking action before thinking things through) nature. He volunteered for the French and Indian War (1754–63), a war fought between France and England in America for control of the colonial lands, but at eighteen he deserted in order to be with his mother, who was dying. In the 1760s he traded with Canada and the West Indies as a merchant and a sea captain. He took his hot-headed nature to sea with him, fighting at least two duels while on trading voyages. He was a financial success as a trader, but he was also accused of smuggling. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield, daughter of a government official in New Haven, Connecticut.
Joining the Revolution
News of the battles of Lexington and Concord (April 17, 1775) in Massachusetts, the first battles of the Revolution, reached Arnold in April 1775. Upon hearing of these events he set out as the head of a company of Connecticut militia for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where George Washington (1732–1799) was gathering an army to fight the British forces. Although he marched to Massachusetts without military orders to do so, Arnold was soon given an official mission. His first military engagement was the attack the next month on Fort Ticonderoga in northeastern New York, where the British had a supply of artillery, a type of large-caliber weaponry that includes cannons. The attack operation was successful, but Arnold got little of the credit for this success. Credit went mostly to Ethan Allen (1738–1789) and the troops Allen commanded, known as the Green Mountain Boys.
Arnold's second assignment was with an expedition against Canada. Leaving Cambridge on September 19, 1775, he led his troops north through Maine into Canada. By land and water and in snow and storms, he reached Quebec, Canada, in early November. There he was joined by another troop, led by General Richard Montgomery, which had come by way of Lake Champlain and Montreal, Canada. Together the two forces assaulted Quebec on December 31, but the attack failed; Montgomery lost his life and Arnold was left with a severe leg wound. Arnold next went to Lake Champlain to prevent the British from using it as a means of traveling from Canada to New York. He lost two naval battles on the lake in October 1776, but he had effectively delayed the British in their southward movement. In the same month Congress made Arnold a brigadier general (an army officer above a colonel).
Honor and accusations
The winter of 1776–77 was an unhappy one for Arnold. His hot temper, impulsiveness, and impatience had earned him many enemies who now made all sorts of charges against him. He was accused of misconduct (poor behavior) on the march through Maine, of incompetence (failure to successfully carry out a mission) on Lake Champlain, and more. Worse yet, in February 1777 Congress promoted five other brigadier generals, all Arnold's juniors, to the rank of major general (an army officer who is above a brigadier general). Only Washington's pleas kept Arnold from resigning from the army. Fortunately, the coming of spring gave him the chance for a successful operation. While visiting his home in New Haven, Arnold heard of a British attack on American supply stations in Danbury, Connecticut. He rounded up the local militia and raced to stop the enemy. Although he got there too late to prevent the destruction of the supplies, he did force the British to flee. A grateful Congress promoted him to major general on May 2, but he was still below the other five in rank. Meanwhile, he faced a formal charge of stealing goods and property from Montreal merchants during the Canadian campaign. He was cleared of the charge, but his anger at the accusation moved him to resign from the army in July 1777.
Once again Washington pleaded with him—this time to rejoin the army. Washington needed him for service in northern New York to block a bold British plan. The British hoped to split New England from the other colonies by sending General John Burgoyne from Fort Ticonderoga down the Hudson River to New York City. Burgoyne not only failed in his mission but also lost his whole army, which he surrendered at Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. Arnold played a major role in the two battles that led to the British defeat. Burgoyne himself said of Arnold that "it was his doing." Congress rewarded Arnold by restoring his position in rank above the other major generals.
Arnold's next assignment was command of the military post at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which the British had left in June 1778. In April 1779 he married Margaret Shippen, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphian. (His first wife had died in 1775.) Moving in wealthy social circles, Arnold lived expensively, spent beyond his means, and soon found himself heavily in debt. At the same time he was being charged with a number of offenses connected to using his military office for private gain. He demanded a trial in Congress, which began in May 1779. The verdict, or decision, handed down in December found him not guilty of most charges but ordered Washington to reprimand him. The general did this, but mildly, in April 1780.
End as a traitor
By this time Arnold had already started on the road to treason. Personally hurt by Congress's treatment and badly in need of money, he had begun to pass information on American troop movements and strength of units to the British in exchange for money as early as May or June of 1779. Early in the summer of 1780, he thought up a plan to turn over the important post at West Point, New York, to the English for the sum of ten thousand pounds. He persuaded Washington to place him in command there in order to carry out this scheme. However, Arnold's plan fell through when his contact, the British spy Major John André (1750–1780), was captured on September 21, 1780, with documents that showed Arnold was a traitor. André was hanged and Arnold fled to the British lines.
Arnold spent the rest of the war in a British uniform fighting his own countrymen. He went to London in 1781 and died there twenty years later on June 14, 1801, forgotten in England and despised in America. To this day, calling someone a "Benedict Arnold" in America is a way of saying that person has betrayed his or her side.
For More Information
Brandt, Clare. The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold. New York: Random House, 1994.
Fritz, Jean. Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold. New York: B. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981.
Martin, James Kirby. Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Warrior: An American Warrior Reconsidered. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
Arnold, Benedict (1741-1801)
Benedict Arnold (1741-1801)
A Synonym for Treachery. In the first two years of the Revolution, Benedict Arnold made a reputation as a daring and skilled fighter, perhaps the best tactician who fought in the Revolution. His bold leadership was decisive in winning the pivotal battle of Saratoga. If the serious wound he sustained there had killed him, his military glory would be immortal. Yet few remember today his feats of arms in behalf of the Revolution, while any child knows that “a Benedict Arnold” is a traitor.
Background. Born in Norwich, Connecticut, Arnold was brought up in a strict religious household and attended boarding school for three years before being apprenticed to an apothecary in 1755. He joined the militia in the French and Indian War, deserted, returned to duty and deserted again. In 1762, when his parents died, he opened an apothecary shop in New Haven. Five years later, when he married into a prominent family, he was a successful businessman, trading and perhaps smuggling in the West Indies and Canada. He became captain of a Connecticut militia company in 1775 and participated in the Siege of Boston.
Years of Glory. Soon Arnold had wangled a colonelcy in the Massachusetts militia with the task of raising a regiment with which to capture Fort Ticonderoga. Ethan Allen had already set out on that mission, and Arnold joined him as a volunteer. His wife having died on 19 June, Arnold assuaged his grief by leading an expedition through the Maine woods to link up with Gen. Richard Montgomery in an attack on Quebec. The attack, launched on the last day of 1775, was unsuccessful; Montgomery was killed and Arnold wounded. Holding his position and continuing to threaten Quebec, Arnold was promoted to brigadier general. In May he had to retreat to Montreal in the face of British reinforcements. By July all American forces had been driven out of Canada and were trying to fore-stall a British offensive down the Lake Champlain and Hudson River valleys to New York. Arnold patched together a makeshift flotilla of gunboats on Lake Champlain and led them into battle at Valcour Island. In two sharp fights on 11 and 13 October 1776, his boats were destroyed. Nonetheless, he had held up the advance, and it was now too late in the year for the British to march any farther. For this feat Arnold expected promotion to major general. When it was not forthcoming, he threatened to resign but was persuaded not to by George Washington. The promotion came after he repulsed a British landing at Danbury, Connecticut, in April 1777. His finest hour came at Saratoga. Under the command of Horatio Gates in the Battle of Freeman’s Farm on 19 September, Arnold’s troops hurled back Gen. John Burgoyne’s attack on the colonial left and might have destroyed the British if Gates had released troops for a counterattack. When he protested to Gates after the battle, he was relieved of his duties. The British attacked again on 7 October. Without a command, Arnold raced to the battlefield and led an attack that broke the British, sustaining a crippling wound in the process. Saratoga was the turning point of the war, and Arnold was the turning point of Saratoga.
Years of Shame. When he was able to walk again, Arnold was assigned to the command of Philadelphia. Soon he was accused of corruption and subjected to an investigation. Though he married Peggy Shippen, daughter of a prominent Loyalist Philadelphia family, he was blackballed socially. Enraged by this treatment, in May 1779 he opened a treasonous correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in chief. Although he received only a mild reprimand as punishment for his activities in Philadelphia, Arnold, now commanding the American stronghold at West Point on the Hudson River, determined to revenge himself by giving up the fortress to the British. After his British contact, Maj. John André, was caught, Arnold defected to the British on 25 September 1780. He was commissioned as a brigadier general of provincial troops and commanded a force that burned Richmond, Virginia, early in 1781. His last command was in his home state of Connecticut, where he burned New London. In December 1781 he sailed for London.
The Wages of Sin. As a traitor, Arnold was valuable to the British but not particularly well liked. His fellow officers disdained him, and the British government rewarded him with a small pension. In 1787 he moved to St. John, New Brunswick, and tried to emulate his former success in trading between Canada and the West Indies. His reputation for treachery was an immense obstacle to any business success. His explanation that he had acted to hasten the demise of a revolution that was politically rotten and doomed to failure was too self-serving to be convincing. It was all too evident that whatever problems Arnold had with the Congress in being slighted for promotion and being court-martialed were the fault of his own towering ambition and greed. Moving back to London in 1792, he lost heavily on privateering ventures during the 1793-1800 hostilities against the French. He even tried to obtain a command in the British Army but found himself an object of loathing in military circles. He died of dropsy in 1801.
Brian Richard Boylan, Benedict Arnold: The Dark Eagle (New York: Norton, 1973);
James Kirby Martin, Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered (New York: New York University Press, 1977);
Randall W. Stern, Benedict Arnold: Patriot or Traitor (New York: Morrow, 1990).
Although he fought with skill and courage in many campaigns during the American Revolution, Gen. Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) is best known as the man who betrayed his country.
Benedict Arnold was born on Jan. 14, 1741, in Norwich, Conn., of a prominent family. As a young man, he worked for a druggist, fought in the French and Indian War, and engaged in trade with the West Indies. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield.
Career as a Soldier
When news of the battles of Lexington and Concord reached Arnold in April 1775, he set out at the head of a company of Connecticut militia for Cambridge, Mass., where George Washington was gathering an army to fight the British forces. His first engagement was the attack the next month on Fort Ticonderoga, where the British had a concentration of artillery. The operation was successful but Arnold got little of the credit, which went mostly to Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. His second assignment was with an expedition against Canada. Leaving Cambridge on Sept. 19, 1775, Arnold led his troops the length of Maine, by land and water and in snow and storms, reaching Quebec in early November. There he was joined by another column under Gen. Richard Montgomery, which had come by way of Lake Champlain and Montreal. Together the two forces assaulted Quebec on December 31, but the attack failed, costing Montgomery his life and Arnold a severe leg wound. Arnold next went to Lake Champlain to prevent the British from using it as a highway from Canada to New York. He lost two naval battles on the lake in October 1776, but he had effectively delayed the British in their southward advance. In the same month Congress made Arnold brigadier general.
The winter of 1776-1777 was an unhappy one for Arnold. His hot temper, impulsiveness, and impatience had earned him many enemies, who now made all sorts of accusations against him—of misconduct on the march through Maine, of incompetence on Lake Champlain, and more. Worse yet, Congress in February 1777 promoted five brigadier generals, all Arnold's juniors, to major general. Only Washington's pleas kept Arnold from resigning from the army. Fortunately, the coming of spring gave him the chance for a successful operation. While visiting his home in New Haven, Arnold heard of a British attack on American supply depots in Danbury, Conn. He rounded up the local militia and raced to stop the enemy. Although he got there too late to prevent the destruction of the supplies, he did rout the British. A grateful Congress advanced him to major general on May 2, but he was still below the other five in seniority. Meanwhile, he faced a formal charge of stealing goods and property from Montreal merchants during the Canadian campaign. He was exonerated, but his anger at the charges moved him to resign his commission in July 1777.
Once again Washington pleaded with him, and Arnold reconsidered. Washington needed him for service in northern New York to block a bold British plan to split New England from the other colonies by sending Gen. John Burgoyne from Ticonderoga down the Hudson River to New York City. Burgoyne not only failed in his mission; he lost his whole army, which he surrendered at Saratoga, N.Y., in October 1777. Arnold played a major role in the two battles that culminated in the British defeat. Burgoyne himself said of Arnold that "it was his doing." Congress rewarded Arnold by restoring his seniority among the major generals.
Arnold's next assignment was command of the garrison at Philadelphia, which the British had evacuated in June 1778. He married Margaret Shippen, daughter of a wealthy Philadelphian, in April 1779. (His first wife had died some years earlier.) Moving in aristocratic circles, Arnold lived lavishly and beyond his means, and he soon found himself heavily in debt. At the same time he was being charged with a number of offenses connected with using his military office for private gain. He demanded a court-martial, which Congress convened in May. The verdict handed down in December found him not guilty of most charges but ordered Washington to reprimand him. The general did this, but mildly, in April 1780.
End as a Traitor
By this time, however, Arnold had already started on the road to treason. Personally hurt by Congress's treatment and sorely in need of money, he had begun to funnel information on troop movements and strength of units to the British in exchange for money as early as May or June 1779. Early in the summer of 1780, he conceived the idea of turning over the strategic post at West Point, N.Y., to the English for £10,000. He persuaded Washington to place him in command there, but Arnold's plan fell through when his contact, Maj. John André, was captured on September 21 with incriminating documents. André was executed and Arnold fled to the British lines.
Arnold spent the rest of the war in a British uniform fighting his own countrymen. In 1781 he went to London, where he died 20 years later on June 14, despised in America and forgotten in England.
The best biography of Arnold is Willard M. Wallace, Traitorous Hero (1954). Arnold's Canadian campaign is well presented by Justin H. Smith, Our Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony: Canada, and the American Revolution (2 vols., 1907). For his role in Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga see Hoffman Nickerson, The Turning Point of the Revolution (1928; rev. ed. 1967). Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (1941), discusses Arnold's treason. □
(b. January 14, 1741; d. June 14, 1801) General of the American Revolution; traitor.
Benedict Arnold, born in Norwich, Connecticut, and who died in England, was one of America's most courageous generals during the Revolution. He became, however, a symbol of treachery, and his name has come to mean deceit and treason in American culture.
Arnold's early years were just a taste of the upheaval and difficulty that would mark much of the rest of his life. He was still a young man when his father managed to squander a great deal of the family fortune (much of it had come to Hannah Arnold, Benedict's mother, from a former marriage) on ill-advised business ventures. In despair, the elder Arnold drank himself to death. Soon after, young Arnold was removed from school and fell into the sort of trouble typical of boys who lack discipline and structure. He was adrift.
Rescue came in the form of an apothecary (the precursor to today's pharmacy) owned by two cousins who were willing to take Arnold in and make an apprentice of him. It was during these years, too, that Arnold made his first attempts at soldiering, in the colonial militia in New York and during the French and Indian Wars. In 1762 he opened his own apothecary in New Haven, Connecticut, and prospered. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield, and the couple would have three sons. In possession of his own ships, he became one of the wealthiest citizens in New Haven. Never one to shy away from trouble, Arnold even dabbled in smuggling.
Shortly after the start of the Revolution, Arnold was named colonel of the new patriot army. In 1775 he led American forces into Canada but failed in his attempt to occupy Quebec, in addition to taking a bullet in the leg. Nevertheless, his courage—some would say stubbornness—under impossible conditions led to his promotion to brigadier general.
More victories and defeats followed. Particularly useful to Arnold was a knowledge of ships acquired during his years as a merchant. His feats with the burgeoning American fleet at Valcour Island, New York, earned him widespread recognition and led some to predict that he would become the grandfather of American naval warfare.
He fought other, more personal battles as well, and it may have been these that proved Arnold's undoing. In 1777 Arnold watched as several junior officers were promoted ahead of him. It took the special pleas of Arnold's friend, George Washington, to persuade him not to resign his commission. Throughout his career, Arnold was often at odds with his fellow officers. Because he was at times openly hostile toward official opinions and orders, he faced several courts-martial.
In 1778 Arnold, now unable to fight because of injuries suffered in the fight against British General John Burgoyne during the Battle of Saratoga, was named commander of Philadelphia. Margaret had died some years earlier, leaving Arnold free to marry a young woman named Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a family with loyalist tendencies. By then, it may have been that Arnold's own tendencies had been irretrievably altered. In addition to his combative relationship with Congress and many of his fellow officers, the decision of the French to ally themselves with the patriots seems to have turned him against the Revolution.
In 1778 Arnold was court-martialed for misuse of government property and received a reprimand from Washington himself. Nevertheless, Arnold was given command of the fort at West Point, New York. Shortly thereafter, he agreed to hand it over to the British for 20,000 pounds sterling. His disloyal tendencies, long festering, now became an act of treason. Unfortunately for Arnold, the courier given the task of relaying his schemes to the British was apprehended in possession of incriminating documents, and Arnold was forced to abandon his plans and flee. For this service, though incomplete, the British Crown named Arnold brigadier general to command forces against his former compatriots.
In 1782 Arnold journeyed to England to hold court with an appreciative George III. But he was never trusted again, even among his new friends, who balked at giving him important or sensitive work. Returning to the merchant trade, Arnold split his exile between England and Canada, where the British government had rewarded him with a sizable estate. Over the years, he volunteered again for service, but no one would have him. In 1801, his merchant business in collapse, Benedict Arnold died.
It has often been said of Benedict Arnold that, had he died early on in the Revolution—during the doomed but courageous Canadian expedition or after being wounded (again, in the same leg) at Saratoga—his historical fortunes might have been better. As he did not,
his name has become a byword for treason and inconstancy of the worst order, a name reviled.
Brandt, Clare. The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold. New York: Random House, 1994.
Fritz, Jean. Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold. New York: Putnam, 1981.
Randall, Willard Sterne. Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor. New York: Morrow, 1990.
Wilson, Barry. Benedict Arnold: A Traitor in Our Midst. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.
Laura M. Miller
Benedict Arnold was a patriot during the American Revolution (1775–83). Although he fought heroically for the American cause and earned the rank of brigadier general, he is most remembered for his acts of treason.
Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut , in 1741. His parents, Benedict and Hannah King Arnold, were well established, and young Arnold had a good education. The household was strict and religious, and he was a bit rebellious against the constraints of home. He twice ran away from home to join a militia fighting in the French and Indian War (1754–63).
In 1762, Arnold's parents died. He moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he became a druggist and bookseller. He was quite successful and began another business trading between Quebec, Canada, and the West Indies. In February 1767, he married into a prominent family from New Haven. He and his wife, Margaret Mansfield, would have three sons between 1768 and 1772.
Arnold became a captain in the Connecticut militia in 1775 and participated in the siege of Boston. It was the beginning of a notable army career. When his wife died while he was on a mission, Arnold devoted himself entirely to the Revolutionary cause. He served with distinction and earned the rank of major general.
Arnold's military career was plagued with inadequate recognition for his performance and accusations of misconduct. He prepared his resignation several times, but the personal pleas of General George Washington (1732–1799) prevented him from actually resigning. The American cause had many victories as a result of his bold and determined leadership.
Change of sides
In May 1778, Arnold was assigned to be the commander at Philadelphia after the British evacuation from that city. He met and fell in love with a socialite, Margaret Shippen. Over time they would have four sons and one daughter.
In attempting to entertain and live as an aristocrat, Arnold fell deeply into debt. Soon after his marriage, Arnold began the treasonous relationship with the British for which he is so well remembered. It is assumed that a combination of his need for money and resentment of the authorities responsible for his difficult career motivated him to sell military information to the British.
In 1780, Arnold obtained a command at West Point. This was a strategically important military base, and Arnold offered to turn the fort over to the British for a financial reward. The plot was foiled when his contact, Major John André (1750–1780), was caught on September 20 with incriminating documents. André was executed, but Arnold managed to flee to the British in New York. He was received into the British Army and given the rank of brigadier general of provincial troops. He continued to fight in the war, though now opposite his countrymen.
End of life
In 1781, Arnold sailed with his family to England. His personality and reputation for treason made him quite unpopular in England. Although he attempted to continue military service and a number of business ventures, he had little success. He failed as well to gain sufficient recognition and compensation for the services he rendered to the British during the war. It proved to be difficult to establish himself socially as well as economically in the new country. The time until his death in London in 1801 was unhappy.
Benedict Arnold, 1741–1801, American Revolutionary general and traitor, b. Norwich, Conn. As a youth he served for a time in the colonial militia in the French and Indian Wars. He later became a prosperous trader. Early in the Revolution, his expedition against Fort Ticonderoga joined that of Ethan Allen, and the joint command took the fort. Arnold pushed on to the northern end of Lake Champlain, where he destroyed a number of ships and a British fort. In the Quebec campaign, he invaded Canada (1775) by way of the Maine forests. After a grueling march, the exhausted force reached Quebec. Richard Montgomery arrived from Montreal, and the two small armies launched an unsuccessful assault on Dec. 31, 1775. Arnold was wounded but continued the siege until spring, when Sir Guy Carleton forced him back to Lake Champlain. There he built a small fleet that, although defeated, halted the British advance.
In Feb., 1777, Congress, despite General Washington's protests, promoted five brigadier generals of junior rank to major generalships over Arnold's head. This and subsequent slights by Congress embittered Arnold and may in part have motivated his later treason. Although he soon won promotion by his spectacular defense (1777) against William Tryon in Connecticut, his seniority was not restored. In the Saratoga campaign, his relief of Fort Stanwix and his brilliant campaigning under Horatio Gates played a decisive part in the American victory. He became (1778) commander of Philadelphia, after the British evacuation, and there married Peggy Shippen, whose family had Loyalist sympathies.
In 1779 he was court-martialed because of disputes with civil authorities. He was cleared of all except minor charges and was reprimanded by Washington; nevertheless he was given (1780) command of West Point. He had already begun a treasonable correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton in New York City, and now arranged to betray West Point in exchange for a British commission and money. The plot was discovered with the capture of John André, but Arnold escaped. In 1781, in the British service, he led two savage raids—against Virginia and against New London, Conn.—before going into exile in England and Canada, where he was generally scorned and unrewarded.
See biographies by O. Sherwin (1931), M. Decker (1932, repr. 1969), C. Brandt (1994), and J. K. Martin (1998); C. Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (1941, repr. 1968); J. T. Flexner, The Traitor and the Spy (1953); W. M. Wallace, Traitorous Hero (1954, repr. 1970).
A prominent merchant in New Haven, Arnold in April 1775 led his militia company to Massachusetts. In May, Massachusetts authorities commissioned him a colonel, and he helped lead the expedition that captured Fort Ticonderoga. In September, he led an army through Maine toward Quebec. The conquest of Canada failed, but Arnold's wilderness march and his later defense of Lake Champlain secured his reputation as a dashing, talented leader. After being wounded at the Battle of Saratoga (1777), Arnold commanded the Philadelphia garrison in 1778. Rampant corruption in Arnold's command led to his court‐martial in 1779, and a reprimand from Washington. Furious, and desperate for money to support a lavish lifestyle, Arnold plotted to betray West Point to the British for £20,000. The plot was uncovered in 1780. Arnold fled to the British, who commissioned him a brigadier general and gave him command of a corps of deserters, the American Legion, which he led on raids in Virginia and Connecticut (1780–81). His name remains a symbol of treason in U.S. national history.
[See also Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Treason.]
James Thomas Flexner , The Traitor and the Spy, 1953; 2d ed., 1975.
Clare Brandt , The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold, 1994.
James Kirby Martin , Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, 1997.
Jon T. Coleman