Benedict Arnold Commits Treason
Benedict Arnold Commits 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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