The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800

By Carol Sue Humphrey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

Benedict Arnold, 1780–1781

If George Washington was the ultimate hero, then Benedict Arnold was the ultimate traitor. Even today, his name is synonymous with the worst kind of treachery. What made Arnold’s treason so dastardly and horrible was the fact that it was so unexpected.

Early in the war, Benedict Arnold was an up-and-coming military leader with seemingly endless potential. He participated in the invasion of Canada and helped lead the attack on Quebec. Although the attack ultimately failed, Arnold came home a hero and was promoted to brigadier general. His fame continued to increase as the war progressed. The June 20, 1780, Maryland Journal described Arnold as “the celebrated Major General Arnold, (styled in Great Britain the American Hannibal),” indicating how much of a public hero he had become.

But, somewhere, somehow, something went wrong. It is still not clear why Benedict Arnold sought to betray the American cause. George Washington placed him in command of Philadelphia in June 1778. While in Philadelphia, Arnold was accused of violating state laws and military regulations to his own personal benefit. He also married Margaret (Peggy) Shippen, the daughter of a Loyalist, on April 8, 1779.

Sometime in May 1779, Arnold first made overtures to the British (apparently after being encouraged to do so by Peggy and her family). Nothing came of these contacts until Arnold was court-martialed for violating regulations. Although only receiving an official reprimand for his conviction, Arnold was highly offended. He once more contacted the British and offered to surrender control of the fort at West Point, New York. His treachery was discovered only when his British contact, Major John André, was stopped while trying to return to the British lines in New York. Because he was in civilian clothes, André was hanged as a spy. Arnold managed to escape to New York, but the taint of his treason followed him for the rest of his

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The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Chronology of Events xix
  • Chapter 1 1
  • Chapter 2 33
  • Chapter 3 49
  • Chapter 4 67
  • Note 79
  • Chapter 5 81
  • Chapter 6 93
  • Chapter 7 105
  • Chapter 8 119
  • Chapter 9 127
  • Chapter 10 137
  • Chapter 11 161
  • Chapter 12 181
  • Chapter 13 189
  • Chapter 14 201
  • Note 210
  • Chapter 15 211
  • Chapter 16 223
  • Chapter 17 233
  • Chapter 18 243
  • Chapter 19 253
  • Chapter 20 263
  • Chapter 21 277
  • Chapter 22 295
  • Chapter 23 303
  • Chapter 24 313
  • Chapter 25 323
  • Notes 335
  • Chapter 26 337
  • Selected Bibliography 349
  • Index 353
  • About the Author 359
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