Benedict Arnold Biography
ARNOLD, BENEDICT (1741-1801). An Amercan general known in the annals of the American Revolution as "The Traitor." He was descended from a prominent Rhode Island family and was born in Norwich, Conn., Jan. 14, 1741. He received a fair education, but, being ambitious and reckless, twice left his home and joined the Provincial troops on the northern frontier. In 1762 he established himself at New Haven, as bookseller and druggist, embarked in the West India trade, prospered, and in 1767 married Margaret Mansfield, a lady of good family, who died in 1775. On receipt (April 20, 1775) of the news of the battle of Lexington, Arnold led a military company to Cambridge and proposed an expedition to capture Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and was commissioned as colonel to raise troops in western Massachusetts, but was obliged to join as a volunteer the expedition under Ethan Allen, already on the way thither. Prevented by the Connecticut authorities from taking command of Ticonderoga after its capture, he armed a vessel and with a few troops took St. Johns, together with a royal sloop and several bateaux. Jealous persons in Connecticut prompted the Continental Congress to question his capacity and conduct, and, while planning the conquest of Canada, he was superseded, but was selected by Washington to head an expedition against Quebec. Late in 1775 he led 1100 men through the forests of Maine, enduring great hardships, and on December 3 was joined by General Montgomery. In the daring but unsuccessful assault, December 31, in which Montgomery fell, Arnold was wounded, but, recovering, took command at Montreal, Congress having made him brigadier-general. In June, 1776, he retreated by way of Lake Champlain and was immediately selected to construct and command a fleet to control that important body of water. On October 11, near Valcour Island, he attacked a British fleet twice the size of his own; held his position until night, and then, aided by the darkness, stole with his crippled flotilla between the enemy's lines and escaped.
In spite of Washington's confidence in Arnold, the latter's enemies influenced Congress, and in 1777 five of his inferiors in rank were made major-generals--a slight which his sensitive and ambitious nature could not forgive-yet at Washington's request he did not resign. The British having invaded Connecticut, he joined the militia raised to repel them, and at the battle of Ridgefield showed remarkable courage, barely escaping death. Congress now appointed him a major-general, but still denied him proper relative rank. He cooperated with Washington in opposing the advance of Howe toward Philadelphia, and was appointed to act with General Schuyler in checking the progress of Burgoyne through eastern New York. He raised the siege of Tort Schuyler (Stanwix), and at the battle of Bemis's Heights, Sept. 19, 1777, was recklessly prominent, but General Gates, who by intrigue had superseded Schuyler, became jealous of Arnold; a quarrel ensued, and Arnold was deprived of his command. Upon the earnest solicitation of his brother officers be remained with the army and, despite Gates's effort to keep him in the background at the second battle of Saratoga (October 7) , he played a brilliant part in it and was severely wounded. Congress gave him a vote of thanks and at last his proper relative rank. In May, 1778, he joined the camp at Valley Forge, but, being incapacitated for active service, was placed in command of Philadelphia after the British retired. Here he married, April, 1779, Peggy (Margaret) Shippen, a beautiful and cultivated woman, youngest daughter of Edward Shippen, a loyalist, and afterward chief justice of the State. Moving in fashionable society
and living extravagantly, Arnold naturally incurred criticism, and to this the executive council of Pennsylvania added definite charges of arbitrary exercise of military authority and of favoritism to Tories. At his request a courtmartial was appointed, but nearly a year elapsed before it was held (January, 1780) , when he defended himself without counsel and was acquitted of intentional wrongdoing, but was sentenced to be reprimanded by Washington, who, while rebuking Arnold urged him to regain the esteem of his countrymen; but this disgrace, added to the injustice of Congress and the feeling that his sacrifices of health and property were unappreciated, led Arnold to reconsider the overtures of treason made some months, if not years, before. In August, 1780, he took command of West Point, which through a correspondence with Major André (q.v.) he offered to surrender to the British; and to consummate the plan, Arnold and André met at midnight on the shore of the Hudson (September 21) ; but the capture of André, September 23, frustrated the scheme, and Arnold fled to the British sloop of war Vulture.
Having been made a brigadier-general in the British army, Arnold in December headed a naval expedition against Virginia, but did little besides destroying property along the James River and burning Richmond. In 1781 he led another expedition against Connecticut, which resulted in the burning of New London and the massacre of the surrendered garrison of Fort Griswold. In December, 1781, he sailed for England with his family, who were pensioned by the British government. He himself received £6315 (about $31,755) for his alleged losses in joining the British, was kindly treated by the royal family, and at the King's request prepared a plan for reconciling the colonies; but received either neglect or abuse from both political parties, and, failing to get a position in the army, was forced to take up his old trade of merchant. The years 1787-91 were chiefly spent at St. John, N. B., where he carried on trade with the West Indies, but he returned with his family to London in the summer of 1791. On the breaking out of the war between England and France he was exposed to great risks in prosecuting his West India trade, and on one occasion was captured by a French ship, but escaped with his customaxy daring. The government still refusing to give him active service in the army, he strove, by fitting out privateers against France, to recover his lost fortune, but being unsuccessful, weighed down by debt, and despised by two continents, he sank into a state of melancholy, and died June 14, 1801, regretting, tradition says, his treason.
His wife, who appears to have been guiltless of any complicity in his treason and who had great strength of character, died in 1804. By his first wife Arnold had three sons, and by his second wife, several other children. His eldest sons received commissions in the British army: and his second son by his second marriage, James Robertson, who inherited his father's daring and military ability, rose to be a lieutenant-general, was made aid-de-camp to King William IV and was created a knight. Others of Arnold's children held honorable positions, and one of his grandsons, Capt. William Traill Arnold a brave fighter, was killed in the Crimean War.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. II (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 168-169.