Benedict Arnold Commits Treason

Item #93120 – Commemorative cover marking 200th anniversary of Arnold’s treason.
Item #93120 – Commemorative cover marking the 200th anniversary of Arnold’s treason.

On September 21, 1780, American Revolutionary War General Benedict Arnold met with the British as part of a plan to hand over West Point – an act of treason.

Born in Connecticut on January 14, 1741, Benedict Arnold served in the French and Indian War before becoming a successful trader. Arnold owned and operated merchant ships when the Revolution broke out in 1775. He quickly joined in the fight and earned recognition for his bravery and providing crucial intelligence. This intelligence showed there was a large amount of supplies left at Fort Ticonderoga.

U.S. #1071 was issued for the 200th anniversary of Fort Ticonderoga.
U.S. #1071 was issued for the 200th anniversary of Fort Ticonderoga.

In return for this information, Arnold was awarded a colonel’s commission by the Massachusetts Committee of Safety and placed in charge of a secret mission to capture the fort. Although Arnold had formal authorization for the capture, when he learned of Ethan Allen’s similar plan to take the fort, they agreed to work together. The two men and their troops peacefully took the fort, but would later argue publicly over who deserved the most credit. Arnold went on to serve with distinction at Valcour, Ridgefield, Fort Stanwix, and Saratoga before suffering an injury that would keep him out of combat for years. Despite his successes, other officers frequently took credit for Arnold’s victories and he wasn’t given the promotions he believed he deserved. This, coupled with the rising debt created by his wife’s lavish lifestyle, led to a growing anger and resentment.

U.S. #1728 pictures the British surrender at Saratoga.
U.S. #1728 pictures the British surrender at Saratoga.

In May 1779, Arnold met with loyalist Joseph Stansbury and asked him to tell British officer Sir Henry Clinton that he offered his services. Instead, Stansbury went and met with other loyalists and British Major John Andre, who had recently been made the British spy chief. Andre and Arnold then began a lengthy correspondence. When Sir Clinton learned of Arnold’s offer, he gave Andre permission to accept it. Their correspondence was sent through women’s circles and used code and invisible ink.

By July, Arnold began giving the British information on troop strengths and locations. He was also making monetary demands. During this time, he was court martialed over financial concerns, but was ultimately cleared of all but two minor charges. When Congress declared he owed them £1,000 for undocumented expenditures, Arnold angrily resigned from his military command of Philadelphia in April 1780.

U.S. #789 – A fort at West Point was once named after Arnold, but was changed following his treason.
U.S. #789 – A fort at West Point was once named after Arnold, but was changed following his treason.

Shortly before this, Arnold had been approached with an offer to take command of the Hudson River Fort at West Point. The British were planning a campaign up the Hudson and were very interested in the fort.   Arnold inspected West Point and sent the British a detailed report on it. He then began secretly transferring his assets to London and informed Clinton he might be able to provide him with enough information about West Point that he could take it without losing a single man. Arnold anxiously sent letter after letter, worried they didn’t trust him, making demands, and threatening to end his help if they didn’t answer. He took command of West Point on August 3 and received the final offer from the British on August 15 – £20,000.

U.S. #39 was often used on packages sent over 2,500 miles to foreign countries.
U.S. #39 was often used on packages sent over 2,500 miles to foreign countries.

Arnold intentionally weakened West Point and other forts in the area he had authority over. He delayed repairs and hastily used up supplies, so a siege would be more successful. By early September, Andre wanted to meet him face-to-face, to make the deal official. After their first attempt to meet failed because unaware gunboats fired on Arnold, they met on September 21, 1780. Meeting at the Joshua Hett Smith House in West Haverstraw, New York, the men agreed on Arnold’s role and the amount he’d be paid. The following day, Americans attacked the ship that was to bring Andre back to New York and he was forced to walk back. He was captured near Tarrytown on September 23 and the Americans found his papers revealing the deal he’d just made with Arnold.

Arnold received word of his capture the next day, shortly before he was to meet General George Washington for breakfast. Arnold then fled to New York, behind British lines. Washington offered to trade Andre for Arnold, but Clinton refused and Andre was hanged. While Americans were outraged at his betrayal, British were also upset at the loss of their respected Andre.

Arnold went on to serve as a brigadier general in the British Army and led raids in Virginia and Connecticut. Among his targets was the family home of future President William Henry Harrison. Harrison’s plantation was raided – family portraits, antiques, and much of the plantation itself were all burned. The Harrison family narrowly escaped just before the start of this raid.

Item #59710 – West Point Coin First Day Cover.
Item #59710 – West Point First Day Coin Cover.

After the war, Arnold spent time in Canada and London and never received the full payment he was promised. He died on June 14, 1801. Though Arnold’s name is synonymous with treason, his early efforts in the Revolution have been honored at select sites. But few use his name. At Saratoga, there’s the Boot Monument, which doesn’t use his name, but states it is “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution, and for himself the rank of Major General.”

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  1. Too bad they didn’t reveal the turncoat’s name. And today’s traitors consist of the likes of illegal immigrant Barry Soetoro aka B Obama and Hell-liar-y Rotten.

      1. I agree with your sentiments…unfortunately some people either can’t or won’t respect the intentions of an interesting blog such as this one…they just spew their venom indiscriminately.

    1. Take your crap elsewhere. This is about our heritage, not what a drooling idiot like you scribbles in crayon. So go self-fornicate.

    2. Such ignorant and useless name-calling reflects negatively on its author; Obviously Noah, you don’t dare use your own full name! Ashamed?

  2. The problem with Generals in the Revolution was that they were appointed by Congress and they were either dedicated to the Cause or themselves. Arnold wasn’t the only one dealing with the enemy. There is no doubt that he was a gallant and brave soldier but his motives were self aggrandizement. In addition to his (Privateering) shipping business, he was a druggist. He was wounded twice in the same leg and may have use his drug knowledge and influence to overcome the pain which may have enhanced his decision to play with the enemy. Washington,, as well as all Generals during that time, had the same option to use their position to make money. Washington chose to lean on his integrity and came away the better for it.

  3. It appears that Arnold sold out for money to keep his wife in tow. Luck seems to have played into Washington’s hands on numerous occasions. A hero turned traitor very sad.
    Great history.

  4. Excellent behind the scene details often left out in history lessons. This truly gives history a more human side however flawed they happened to be. Many wealthy men spent all they had for our liberty & should be remembered for their contributions. Thanks to Mystic Stamp for keeping it fresh in our hearts & minds.

  5. Responders to the rescue. Your stories are a treasure and the stamps are the central issue behind the events that inspired them. We in turn protect these as if they were our own. Do you sense an all-gender inclusive fellowship developing?

  6. Good account, but it fails to mention that Arnold’s second, Peggy, was the daughter of the richest Tory in Philadelphia when they married. She is often portrayed as the agent behind his betrayal. BTW, the British considered all the Patriots traitors. Just depends upon whose side you are on.

  7. General Horatio Gates took unto himself the honors of the victory at Saratoga,
    though he had little to do with the victory. It was Arnold whose brilliant tactics
    routed John Burgoyne’s troops and sealed the victory. Too bad Arnold did not
    get the recognition due him because things might have turned out differently,
    Horatio Gates’ shortcomings came to the front in the Southern Campaign 3 years

  8. Mystic, please remove “Noah’s” inappropriate comments from this blog and those hateful remarks shouldn’t get past the moderation stage! Disrespecting our elected leaders, Democrat or Republican, sounds like treason to me.

    1. It is probably best to let people like Noah speak his mind, or how else would we know what people on the low end of the spectrum are thinking.

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