Today In History: Benedict Arnold Betrays America

September 21, 2017 | Matt

Today in 1780, Benedict Arnold, an American General, met with a British Major named John Andre to talk about giving West Point to the Brits in exchange for a large payoff and significant promotion in the British military. Thankfully, Arnold’s attempt to sell out his countrymen was defeated. His name would forevermore be shorthand for treason in the United States.

Arnold was born on January 14, 1741, in Connecticut. He was a militiaman during the French and Indian War and later joined the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

In the war, Benedict Arnold was a well-esteemed military leader. He helped Ethan Allen capture Fort Ticonderoga and then attempted and failed to attack British Quebec during the same year, 1775. For his efforts, he was promoted to brigadier general.

Arnold won further accolades for himself during campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga. He even gained the esteem of George Washington.

Benedict Arnold was not beloved by all. In 1777, five men, all of lower rank than Arnold, were promoted above him.

Smithsonian Magazine

Arnold lived a somewhat opulent life in Philadelphia with his second wife. His tastes resulted in significant debt. Historians speculate that the personal debt, coupled with bitterness over the five men being promoted over him, fueled his decision to court the British.

Arnold was granted command of West Point in 1780. West Point, while now known as a military academy, was a fortress on the Hudson River at the time.

Arnold’s contact in the British military was Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces. Arnold suggested handing over the fort, as well as his men. The deal was formally sealed, almost, on September 21 when Arnold met with Major John Andre.

The plot was rumbled and Andre was executed. Arnold, however, escaped and joined up with the British. He was paid a yearly pension of 360 pounds, as well as a lump sum of 6,000 pounds, to be a brigadier general in the British Army. He commanded British troops during raids in Virginia, as well as raids on New London and Groton in Connecticut.

After the War, Arnold moved to London in 1782 with his wife, Margaret Shippen Arnold. He was welcomed by the Tories and by King George III, but was castigated by the Whigs.

He resumed his pre-war work as a trader in 1787, going into business with his sons Henry and Richard in Saint John, New Brunswick. He moved back to London in 1791 and died there a decade later. He is remembered as one of the great villains of early American history.

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