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Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, just 14 miles from New London, where even today calling someone a Benedict Arnold is a certain guarantee of a fist fight. He was a merchant who apparently made some of his money by investing in cargoes purchased in non-Brtitish ports, cargoes which included banned materials like molasses, such bans being one of the prime conflicts between the colonies and England.
When war broke out Arnold, out of business, joined a Continental Army being formed near Boston and distinguished himself through canny acts during battle. Promoted to the rank of general he captured Fort Ticonderoga.
Ticonderoga was to be the highlight of his career. After that he lost battles on Lake Champlain and at Ringfield, Connecticut, but was nevertheless promoted to major general and fought in the relief of Fort Stanwix in 1776, and took part of some pivotal battles at Saratoga that same year, where he suffered a leg injury that put him out of commission for several years.
While recuperating, Arnold was passed over for promotion. He bitterly claimed that other officers were being given credit for things he had done. At the same time, charges of corruption and malfeasance in office were filed against him. Although he was acquitted in some of the formal inquiries, others determined that he was indebted to Congress for a considerable sum of money.
Like many revolutionaries, Arnold had spent some of his own money during the war and he felt that the charges against him were unfair, though there was no question about the fact that he had pocketed money that was not his. In 1779, four years after the acme of his career at Ticonderoga, angry and frustrated because of his leg injury, his lack of promotion, the results of the inquiries against him, and the money he owed, he plotted to change sides and opened secret negotiations with the British.
In July 1780, he was offered command of West Point by Congress. He accepted the offer, plotting to turn over the fort to the British for a commission in the British Army and the payment of an unknown sum. However, his plot was discovered when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers that revealed it.
(Next, the rest of the story. The part we are never told.)
Upon learning of André's capture and execution, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.
The British repaid him by awarding him a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, an annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of over £6,000. He then led British forces in raids in Virginia, where he nearly captured Thomas Jefferson. From there he pillaged and burned New London and Groton in Connecticut.
In the winter of 1782, Arnold arrived in London with his second wife, Margaret Shippen Arnold. He was well received by King George III and the Tories, but the Whigs refused to have anything to do a man who had betrayed his own people.
In 1787, he left England and reentered the mercantile business with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick, but he returned to London to settle permanently in 1791, where he died ten years later.
When he died, his last words, speaking of the Continental Army uniform he had worn during the revolution, were, "Let me die in the old uniform in which I fought my battles for freedom, May God forgive me for putting on another."
There's something for you to think about.
What do you have to say about it?
A traitor with regrets in the end.
It is regrettable that he was passed over for a promotion. However, he should not have allowed his disappointment/anger lead him to accept British money, a commission in their army, and lead raids in Virginia and pllage New London and Groton.
We all have to remember to control anger and never make important decisions when angry.
I'd like to know more about Benedict Arnold. I may go out and see if there is a definitive book on his life. There are a few unanswered questions:
First of all, what kind of person was he? Why did he get involved in the revolution?
Then, how could he expect to be promoted when he was not on active duty, and might perhaps never again been on active duty?
Also, if he really did pocket money as the investigating bodies found, what does that say about him in general? It was very rare in those days for someone to be charged with such things and actually found guilty, so it had to be quite obvious.
And finally, since Norwich, where he was born, is so close to New London, and was in fact in competition with Norwich where mercantile interest are concerned, did he select New London as some form of revenge?
Of course, there's always the question of whether or not he was one of those who thought they were more than they are. There are strong hints of that, especially in the fact that he began complaining that others were taking credit for what he had done.
I think I'll go out and see if there's a book.
Those final words, though. Wanting to be buried in his Continental Army uniform. They are heart breaking, aren't they?
There's another story here too. Very few people know how much support we had in the English Parliament. I'd like to write a column about it some day. Did you know that some whigs actually went about in the colors of the American army during the Revolution? They thought we were right, and had they had their way we would probably have had some form of "home rule" and no need for a revolution.
I don't know if anyone is interested, but I have researched and identified three books** on Arnold that I am ordering. I'll get back to you one of these days.
** I make it a habit to never read just one book on a subject. I try to find one that is pro, one that is con, and one that is rated as being even-handed.
I ordered three books on Benedict Arnold, and I'll read all three of them, but I'll only do it because I enjoy reading the details of history.
Unless a miracle occurs my mind is already made up about what kind of creep Arnold was. After reading just 34 pages of the first book, which is supposed to be the most positive of them, I can't stand him.
Check these facts:
Benedict Arnold, who should properly be called Benedict Arnold V, was a member of an elite New England family. He was named after the original Benedict Arnold, who served ten terms as governor of Rhode Island.
His father, Benedict Arnold III, left Rhode Island for Norwich Town, Connecticut, for reasons unknown. When he arrived there he spotted a sleek sloop that caught his fancy, and he somehow managed to worm his way into the confidence of its owner, one Captain King. Arnold went to work for Captain King and eventually sailed with him on the voyage on which King died of causes not given; thereby BA III became Captain Arnold.
BA III then befriended King's wealthy widow, married her, and become owner of King's ships, wharf, warehouse, house, and fortune. Hannah Waterman (King) Arnold gave birth to a boy named Benedict Arnold IV, who died. She then, in 1741, gave birth to another boy. He was named Benedict Arnold V, and is the Benedict Arnold we know.
Arnold's family was the wealthiest and most notable family in all of Norwich Town. They sat in the front pew in the town church, and lived in a large, white, gambrel roofed, 12 room, 8 fireplace home on five acres on the outskirts of town.
I'll now quote from a 19th century author I know well because she wrote the definitive history of New London, of which I own a copy--Francis Manwaring Caulkins. New London is just 14 miles down the river from Norwich, and she says of Arnold that as he grew from a child to age eleven he became a well known "show-off" as he ice-skated on the thames River, which used to freeze over each year in those days.
("Show-off." That was my first clue.)
Benedict Arnold III was unable to manage the business left to the widow of his former employer, Captain King, and took to drinking as a result. He soon began spending most of his time in the town pub.
Embarrassed by her husband's failing reputation, Hannah sent her darling son away to a private boarding school. He stayed there just two years, during which time he constantly wrote home for more spending money, but with his father now the town drunk and earning very little, most of his money came from his doting mother.
In 1754, the headmaster wrote to Hannah about her son, telling her he was bright, but "full of pranks and plays." One of his "pranks and plays" occurred when the barn caught fire. While everyone else was carrying buckets and sloshing them on the barn, young Benedict Arnold V thought it entertaining to climb atop the barn and walk the length of its ridge-line to the horror of the headmaster, who was responsible for him.
Back home, Arnold found that his drunken father had gone out of business and was now having to run away at times to avoid arrest for non-payment of debts. They still lived in the same mansion, however, and still occupied the same front pew in church.
Now 13 years old, Benedict Arnold V, a brawling, fist-fighting youth, took to donning indian clothing, making mock attacks on Norwich Town with a group of cronies he collected, and doing other things, such as riding horses through local hayfields, stealing apples from the orchards surrounding the town, and engaging in endless pranks, one of which was sneaking aboard a docked vessel, climbing the mast, leaping out onto a line, slithering down it, thumping down on deck before the astonished crew could move, swiftly diving overboard, and swimming to shore before he could get caught.
His comment on all this was, "I was a coward until I was 15."
(If I needed a second clue, that was it.)
One day, on a dare from his gang of cronies, he grabbed the slow moving waterwheel at the mill, rode it under the water and back up. Luckily--for him, but not for us--he didn't drown. Everybody in Norwich Town knew about his idiotic stunts. One thing he loved to do was to go to the middle of town and do a handspring over a wagon loaded with groceries.
On Thanksgiving Day of his first year home from boarding school the townspeople gathered for a baked-bean dinner and happy bonfire at Atop Bean Hill. While they were busy, Arnold and his cronies stole barrels of tar from the empty waterfront, carried them atop the hill where the people were enjoying a happy day together, and set them afire, creating a huge blaze that threw clouds of black smoke. When constables charged up the hill to fight the fire, instead of running off with his cronies Arnold stayed to fight, not the fire he had started, but the constables.
His mother, embarrassed by what he had done, and distraught over having given birth to an incorrigible, apprenticed him to a wealthy apothecary in town, hoping B.A. V would finally settle down and become something other than the town nuisance. By coincidence, at the same time that Arnold signed the articles of apprenticeship, his father, now the butt of jokes by men who used to work for him, was finally arrested for non-payment of debts.
It may be, however, that Hannah King Arnold made a serious error in her choice of a guiding light for her son. Dr. Daniel Lathrop was not known as a person who hated money, and as Colonel of the local militia he was the subject of a jingle the local townspeople used to sing to the tune of Yankee Doodle.
Colonel Lathrop staunch and true,
Was never known to balk it;
And when he was engaged in trade
His always filled his pocket.
(Thinking of the fact that Arnold later sold out to the British for £6,000 pounds, I doubt he had been turned over to the best influence in town; since Lathrop was wealthy and influential it may be a case of "birds of a feather.")
In 1757, French-led indians invaded Champlain Valley located between New York and present day Vermont. It was against the law in Connecticut for anyone who had signed articles of apprenticeship to join the militia without permission, so Arnold, perhaps not thrilled with learning the trade of an apothecary, asked for, and received, permission to join up. His tour of duty was short, however. After a week of marching to and from the area, where no fighting took place, he was back home.
However, In March of the next year Arnold sneaked off to New York where he was not known and enlisted without asking for permission, declaring as he raised his hand and swore allegiance that he was free to do so. His distraught mother had him tracked down and brought back.
One year later almost to the day he ran off and enlisted again. This time Dr. Lathrop had him hauled back.
In spring of 1759, now 18, he tried it again and got away with it. The record shows that he "impressed his messmates with his abilty to jump over wagons, wrestle, and march long distances," but when it came to military matters such as learning the close order drill that was an essential part of combat in those days, or clearing forest trails, working on the stockade, standing guard, or obeying orders he was less than satisfactory. He deserted the militia and sneaked back home.
Since there was a 40 shilling reward out for his arrest, and since deserters were routinely hanged or shot in those days, Arnold hid out in the homes of his mother's friends, but when his mother died in March of 1760 he went back to his militia unit and was forgiven his year's absence without leave, probably because it was unimportant now that the fighting was now over. Whether or not the end of hostilities had anything to do with his return to his unit is not known, but in any event he was mustered out after a couple of weeks.
Okay. We can quit right there as far a I'm concerned.
That's the first 34 pages of a 600 page biography. I'll read the rest of it, but I have to be honest with you. As far as I am concerned, by the time he was 19 years old Benedict Arnold V had already proven that he was a worthless piece of s--t.
I'll let you know what I learn after I read the other 570 pages, but for now I'd be curious to hear what you think of him after his first nineteen years.
I read another 30 pages.
Arnold was a dishonest and unscrupulous person right from the beginning. Having been released from his apprenticeship, he went off London, bought some stuff, came back to New Haven and set himself of as:
Apothecary & al
"B. Arnold of London" my foot! He was there for three weeks.
When the pre-Revolutionary problems began he started a "Sons of LIberty" group of 50, of which he, of course, made himself "Captain." What did they do? They a. Donned fancy red coated uniforms and b. tarred and feathered some poor guy whose only crime was that he didn't disagree with their wild views. In other words, his idea of "liberty" was "you better agree with Benedict Arnold V or else!"
Despite the fact that he spoke like a rabid patriot, before he and his fancy suited "Sons of Liberty" went to Massachusetts, Arnold took the time to write a letter to the British telling them in flowery terms how his only reason for joining in the disagreement was in hopes that the colonies could be reunited with Britain under King and Parliament, and that his most fervent hope was that the colonies would once again become part of the British Empire. He did not, however, advertise his letter to his men, who would not doubt have tarred and feathered him too.
When he and his fancy suited group got to Boston they found themselves faced by the pointed muskets of the real Sons of Liberty, who thought they were redcoats. Having sorted that out, Arnold, who had no military experience, except considerable experience with desertion, and who had awarded his captain's rank to himself, managed to bulls--t himself into a commission as a colonel, winning an assignment to go to Fort Ticonderoga, a fort in upstate New York that the British had taken from the French in the French and Indian War.
Fort Ti was falling apart so badly the Brits couldn't even get the gates to close, and they only had a handful of men there. Joined by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, who outnumbered Arnold's handful of men by twenty to one, the Americans took the fort, another smaller one, and one at the upper end of the lake.
Then followed months of wrangling over who was in charge, which obviously should have been Allen. One of Arnold's own officers resigned saying that "[Arnold's] god is money," and others also left him as well.
Then, after having been sent a letter to get his butte back to Boston and explain himself, Arnold was asked to account for the funds he had been given, which he couldn't do, ending in his resignation. After a while he was reinstated, but again resigned--twice--and each time he was reinstated there again occurred wrangling of who was in charge of what and where the money had gone.
Once again having resigned, he wormed his way in Washington's good graces somehow or other. When Arnold was reinstated by Washington, who was only partly aware of Arnold's obnoxious personality, the general in charge of the area to which he was going to be assigned wrote Washington saying that Arnold had to be told in no uncertain terms, and in writing, who would be in charge if and when he arrived. Then Arnold led 1,000 Continental troops on a doomed attack on Quebec through what would now be called Maine. The attack was doomed from the beginning because it was based on the lunatic idea of getting to Canada by traveling up the Kennebec River and then down another, smaller river to Quebec.
Arnold sold an attack plan to Washington that was based on the slimmest evidence that such a voyage could be made in just 20 days. And he foolishly planned to make his attack too late in the year to succeed. Starting out in September, he failed to arrive at Quebec until November, arriving with only two thirds of the men he had started with, and was soundly beaten, barely escaping with his life. Nevertheless, by placing the blame on everyone except the person who planned the attack, rushed it so badly that his boats, made of green lumber, leaked like sieves and ruined his food and gunpowder, and who failed at every turn to do what he had boasted he could do, he was promoted to Brigadier General by an unwary Washington and Continental Congress.
I skip read ahead again and came to the part where he was once again asked to account for funds he had been issued, this time he could not account for £55,000 out of £66,000. To put that in context, oars were sold by the foot in those days. The cost of "900 feet" of oars was £15.
Again a resignation and another skip read. Now he is Pennsylvania. A unit of Redcoats attacks and loots some villages, filling three wagons with their loot. Arnold in is charge of a unit of Colonial soldiers. He attacks the Redcoats and recaptures the wagons.
And what does he do with them? Does he have the loot returned to the people it which it was stolen from? No. He takes it back to his headquarters, sells it, and pockets the money.
I don't think I need to trouble you with any more about this scuzzball. I'll just add one last comment. When you and I went to school we were taught that Arnold was a disgruntled patriot who became a turncoat, but a stack of letters uncovered in England after the history books we used were written shows that he was negotiating the price of his treason with the British "TWO YEARS" before he tried to surrender West Point to them.
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