THE MOST UNFORGETTABLE LETTER I HAVE EVER READ

The most humanly revealing letter I have found in my twenty years of research on American history is one written to Benedict Arnold by his sister Hannah seventeen days before the traitor met the British agent, John André, on the banks of the Hudson.

Daughter of a drunken, bankrupt father, Hannah Arnold developed as a young girl hero worship for her slightly older brother. She was handsome and charming, but failed to encourage most suitors--and the one whom she did encourage Benedict frightened away at pistol point. She came to live with her brother in New Haven where, when he was away on merchantile voyages, she handled his tempestuous business affairs. For a while, she was pushed aside--Benedict took a bride--but the marriage was unhappy and the wife died. Foster-mother to Benedict's three little ones, Hannah ran the general's house during the years in which he shone as a hero.

Crippled at Saratoga, embittered, and heading for disgrace, Arnold became commandant at Philadelphia. By the time Hannah joined him, he had set up an impossibly extravagent establishment and was moving in high Tory-minded society. He soon bundled two of Hannah's little charges away to school, and married a fashionable beauty, Peggy Shippen, who was young enough to be his daughter. Without Hannah's knowledge--she was a firm patriot--Benedict and Peggy offered their services to the British.

When Arnold secured the command at West Point with the intention of betraying it, Hannah and her sister-in-law were left behind in the Philadelphia house. Peggy continued to communicate through the British lines with André, received nervous letters from her husband, wondered every hour if the treason had been consummated, and was feverishly gay. Finally, she decided to join Benedict and be in at the kill. He sent his dandified aide, Major Franks, to get her.

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