Benedict Arnold was a U.S. general who is infamous for becoming a traitor and defecting to the British side during the American Revolutionary War. Before he betrayed America, Arnold fought brilliantly for his country of birth contributing significantly in several battles most prominently at the crucial Battles of Saratoga. The acts for which he is remembered though is his plan to betray the American fort at West Point to the British; and fighting against his former comrades. Know about the life, family, accomplishments, treason, death and probable reasons for Benedict Arnold’s defection through these 10 interesting facts.

 

#1 The death of his siblings and mother made his father an alcoholic

Born on 14th January 1741 in Norwich, Connecticut, Benedict Arnold was the second of six children of Benedict Arnold and his wife Hannah Waterman King. Like his father, Arnold was named after his great-grandfather Benedict Arnold, an early governor of the English Colony of Rhode Island. From his maternal side Arnold was a descendant of John Lothropp, an ancestor of at least six U.S. presidents. Out of Arnold’s five siblings, only his sister Hannah survived till adulthood. The others succumbed to yellow fever in childhood. Arnold’s father was a successful businessman but he took up drinking due to the death of his children and his alcoholism worsened after the death of his wife in 1759. By the time he died in 1761 he had squandered the family estate leaving the 20 year old Arnold in difficult circumstances.

Grave medalion of great-grandfather of Benedict Arnold
Grave medalion of Governor Benedict Arnold, great-grandfather of Benedict Arnold

 

#2 He was a member of the secret organization Sons of Liberty

Arnold’s relatives from his mother’s side, the Lathrops, helped him establish a business as a pharmacist and bookseller in New Haven, Connecticut. Arnold was a successful businessman and soon repaid the Lathrops. He was however frustrated with the British trade restrictions and taxation like the Stamp Act of 1765. He continued trade as if the act didn’t exist and also joined the Sons of Liberty, a secret society of American colonists to protect their rights and to fight taxation by the British government. On 22nd February 1767, Benedict Arnold married Margaret Mansfield, daughter of the sheriff of New Haven, Samuel Mansfield. The couple had three sons – Benedict, Richard and Henry. Margaret died on June 19, 1775.

Sons of Liberty flag
Nine stripe Sons of Liberty flag

 

#3 His contribution in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga helped in the Siege of Boston

When he was 16, Arnold had served briefly in 1757 during the French and Indian War between the colonies of British America and New France. The American Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies in April 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Benedict Arnold had been elected as captain in Connecticut’s militia earlier in March. After the battles, Arnold’s company marched to assist in the Siege of Boston that followed. Arnold proposed to seize the poorly defended Fort Ticonderoga in New York. Along with Ethan Allen, he then led a small force to capture Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775. The heavy artillery captured at the fort played a key role in the British evacuating Boston on March 17, 1776.

Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 by Ethan Allen
1875 engraving depicting the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 by Ethan Allen

 

#4 He led an ill-fated expedition to capture the British Province of Quebec

Partly on Arnold’s suggestion, the Continental Congress authorized a two-pronged invasion of the British Province of Quebec in Canada. Colonel Benedict Arnold led a force of 1,100 Continental Army troops from Cambridge, Massachusetts in September 1775. The expedition ran into difficulties amid poor weather conditions and by the time Arnold reached Quebec in November, his force was reduced to 600 starving men. Joined by the other expedition led by Richard Montgomery, Arnold led an attack on Quebec City on December 31, 1775. The combined assault failed disastrously. Montgomery was killed and Arnold was severely wounded. He was however rewarded for his effort with a promotion to brigadier general. His route through northern Maine has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Arnold Trail to Quebec.

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec
The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec by John Trumbull

 

#5 He commanded the American fleet at the Battle of Valcour Island

In late 1776, the British planned an invasion of New York from Canada. Arnold correctly predicted that British General Guy Carleton would sail an invading force down Lake Champlain. He hastily supervised the construction of a flotilla on the lake. In the ensuing Battle of Valcour Island on October 11, 1776, Arnold inflicted severe losses on a greatly superior enemy fleet. Although the British won the battle, Arnold’s action delayed Carleton long enough to hamper the British plans. Despite his heroic efforts, Benedict Arnold was overlooked as Congress promoted 5 junior officers above him. He resigned and it was only due to George Washington’s personal persuasion that he rejoined the Continental Army.

1776 Battle of Valcour Island depiction
Depiction of the 1776 Battle of Valcour Island

 

#6 Benedict Arnold’s most famous contribution to US came at the Battles of Saratoga

In 1777, Arnold participated in the defense of New York from an invading British force under General John Burgoyne. In the battles against Burgoyne, Arnold served under General Horatio Gates. Gates and Arnold had a hostile relationship. On October 7, 1777, during the Battles of Saratoga, Benedict Arnold defied Gates’s authority and took command of a group of American soldiers to lead an assault that threw the enemy into disarray and contributed greatly to the American victory. He was severely injured during the battle. American victory at the Battles of Saratoga is considered a turning point in the American Revolutionary War as it contributed greatly in the formation of the formal Franco-American alliance.

Benedict Arnold in the Battles of Saratoga
Benedict Arnold leading the charge during the Battles of Saratoga

 

#7 His tenure as the governor of Philadelphia was tainted by accusations of corruption

Peggy Shippen Arnold and her daughter Sophia
Peggy Shippen Arnold and her daughter Sophia – Portrait by Daniel Gardner

Due to his wounds, Arnold was temporarily incapable of a field command. George Washington thus appointed him military commander of Philadelphia in June 1778. As governor Arnold lived extravagantly and socialized with families of Loyalist (a supporter of Great Britain’s control over U.S.) sympathies. He also misused his position for personal gains and was involved in business deals designed to profit from war-related supply movements. On April 8, 1779, 38 year old Benedict Arnold married the 18 year old Peggy Shippen, who belonged to a prominent Philadelphia family with Loyalist tendencies. The couple had seven children, of whom five survived till adulthood.

#8 Benedict Arnold is most infamous for his act of treason

By mid-1779, Benedict Arnold had changed his loyalties and was assisting the British against America. Factors responsible for his decision might have been his resentment over not being sufficiently recognized for his contributions in the war, others including Horatio Gates claiming credit and benefiting from his accomplishments, his being in great debt due to his extravagant lifestyle as governor and his marriage to Peggy Shippen. By July 1779, Arnold had become a traitor and was providing the British with troop locations and strengths, as well as the locations of supply depots. He also informed them of a proposed American invasion of Canada.

 

#9 He planned to betray the American fort at West Point to the British for £20,000

By the end of 1779, Arnold had started secretly negotiating with the British to surrender the American fort at West Point, New York, in return for £20,000 and a command in the British army. On August 3, 1780, he obtained command of West Point and began to systematically weaken its defenses and military strength. On September 23, Arnold’s British contact, Major John André, was captured by the Americans and the plot was exposed through the papers he had been carrying. Benedict Arnold was able to escape on a British ship and evade capture while Andre was hanged as a spy in October 1780.

Benedict Arnold
Engraving of Benedict Arnold by H.B. Hall

 

#10 Arnold’s name became synonymous with the word “traitor” in the United States

The British gave Arnold a brigadier general’s commission but only a portion of the promised money as the plot had failed. Arnold fought from the British side against America at Richmond and New London. After British lost the American Revolutionary War in 1783, Arnold tried to gain positions with the British East India Company and the British military, but was denied. He then pursued business ventures in Canada including land speculation and trade with the West Indies. He returned to England in 1791. Arnold’s health began to decline in January 1801 and he died in London on June 14, 1801, at the age of 60. Following his death, Benedict Arnold’s name became synonymous with the word “traitor” in the United States. Though he is still most known for treason, there are several monuments which refer to his contribution in the American Revolution, but they don’t bear his name.

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

 

To the Inhabitants of America

In October 1780, shortly after his plan to betray the American fort at West Point was revealed, Benedict Arnold’s open letter was published in newspapers. It was titled To the Inhabitants of America and was first published on October 11 in New York by the Royal Gazette. In it Arnold gave justifications for his actions. He wrote that he was troubled by the corruption, lies, and tyranny of the Second Continental Congress and the Patriot leadership. He also wrote against America’s alliance with the French and depicted Catholic France as “the enemy of the Protestant faith”. Many newspapers published responses to Arnold’s letter criticizing his actions as treacherous and justifications as lame.

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