Benedict Arnold: Life in the American Revolution

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Arnolds father, also named Benedict, had a drinking problem and his mother Hannah often worried.  Arnold received his schooling at Canterbury. (B Arnold) While away at school, a few of Arnolds siblings passed away from Yellow Fever. (B Arnold) Arnold was a troublesome kid that would try just about anything. (B Arnold) As a rebellious 14-year-old boy, he ran away from home to fight in the French and Indian War.  Later, Benedict Arnold deserted and returned home through the wilderness alone to work with his cousins. (B Arnold) The army had excused him without penalty because of his tender, young age. In 1762, when Benedict was just twenty-one years old, he went to New Haven, Connecticut where he managed a book and drug store and carried on trade with the West Indies.

In 1767, he married Margaret Mansfield, a daughter of a sheriff of New Haven County. (B Arnold) They had three sons together. (B Arnold) When the Revolutionary War was just beginning to break out, Benedict Arnold became a prosperous ship owner, merchant, and trader. (Lake Champlain) Within days, Arnold became very interested in the war once again and joined the American Army. All of the battles Arnold commanded over showed immense courage and bravery, but he was soon known as Americas greatest traitor due to his betrayal of the Americans. As the Revolutionary War broke out, Benedict Arnold decided to volunteer to head over 1,000 men up to Maine. (Lake Champlain) He asked for additional men from his companies to join the army. Arnold then became a captain in the Connecticut Militia.

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General George Washington had his favorites, which Arnold was among the very few. So, Benedict Arnold was sent on a infernal 500 mile march to Maine by Washington also known as “The Rock”. There, he met up with General Richard Montgomery. The relentless Benedict Arnold and only about fifty percent of his original soldiers made it to the St. Lawrence River where they met up with General Montgomery. Their plan was to attack the British Army by surprise in Quebec City, Canada. Both Montgomery and Arnold arranged to start on the lofty mountain sides of Quebec. Arnold and his soldiers found themselves trapped by the British. A member of the British Army shot a musket ball directly towards Arnolds leg. His leg was badly broken and he had to be taken to a hospital bed almost a mile away from the attack. The courageous and brave Arnold relentlessly hollered orders from his bed, as his hard working troopers were overthrown by the British Army.

The attack had lasted fifty days and the secret journey resulted in a catastrophe for the volunteer soldiers who marched away. (Lake Champlain) The conditions were horrendous. It was said that almost fifty percent of the men froze, starved, and even made broth for nourishment by boiling leather from their shoes. (Lake Champlain) Forty, of the fifty percent of the worn out men died before returning home. (Lake Champlain) During this time, Arnold had tremendous leadership and courage in those woods. Many people believed that they would have all perished if it were not for dauntless and extraordinary field general-ship. (Lake Champlain) The Massachusetts Committee of Safety became suspicious of Arnolds behavior and conduct. Benedict was fed up so he resigned his commission at Crown Point, New York. (M. Flynn) While Benedict was on his way back to Connecticut, he first dropped by Albany, New York where he talked with the commander of the Northern Army, Major General Philip Schuyler. Arnold tried to persuade the General into letting him invade Quebec.

Arnold understood that he would later face consequences with the Massachusetts Committee because of his actions, but he prepared himself. Benedict came up with a petition and accumulated over 500 signatures from Northern New Yorkers. (M. Flynn) The petition showed the Americans appreciation of his accomplishments and good deeds. (M. Flynn) The petition soon became useless. Arnolds wife had been sick with an illness for quite some time.The news soon made it to him that Margaret had passed away. (M. Flynn) Arnold proceeded back to New Haven to bury his wife and sort through her belongings. (M. Flynn) He soon returned to the same spot, but this time he had a new method of taking control of Quebec. Arnold met with General Washington once again and informed him of his plan to invade Quebec City for the second time. Both Arnold and General Philip Schuyler, a well-educated man from the upper class, would take different routes up to Canada.

Arnold would go up the Kennebec River into northwest Maine and would then travel through the woods, while Schuyler would head directly north.  Washington thought Arnolds plan was brilliant and told him to go ahead with it but under two conditions. First, Arnold had to talk to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety in regards to previous accusations. Second, Benedict had to obtain General Schuylers permission to accompany him on the invasion. Once these two circumstances were met, Arnold would become a colonel and serve in the Continental Army. After meeting with the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, Arnold was dismissed of any errors. While patiently waiting for Schuylers decision, Washington ordered Arnold to stay on campus until the word came through.

Arnold didnt bother to listen to anything Washington had to say so he left for a close-by journey to Watertown. He soon found out that General Philip Schuyler would be setting out to attack Montreal on August 30. Arnold was overjoyed with the news. Colonel Arnold and General Washington validated sixteen thousand men on September 2, 1775 before heading off to Canada. Arnold ended up choosing a little under one thousand men to take with him on the attack. Washington had additionally added three hundred more soldiers from Pennsylvania and Virginia to proceed with Arnold. Arnold carefully followed a map to the mouth of the Kennebec River. He soon realized that the map had been altered by British authorities before it had been printed. Arnold also found out that the man he chose to replicate the map was an undercover Tory. The man had changed the map around even more and handed them out to all of Arnolds men.

Now, Arnold was facing an extra two hundred and twenty miles to march. The weather soon became horrendous. There were raging rainstorms and strong winds, almost like a hurricane. (M. Flynn) Part of Arnolds men backed out and returned home with most of the Armys food. The left over men were subdued to eating tree bark, leather from their shoes, Newfoundlander dogs, and anything that could be digested. The men were spread out and it was difficult for Arnold to keep count. (M. Flynn) The first men to arrive at the St. Lawrence River in Quebec were only a week and a half late, even with the extra miles added on. (M. Flynn) Montreal ended up surrendering to General Richard Montgomery on November 13th. Montgomery had replaced Schuyler for an unknown reason.

The British were completely aware of Arnolds plan to attack Quebec once again. Arnold had written General Schuyler a letter updating about the soldiers advancements. Benedict gave the letter to a well trusted Indian so he could bring it to Schuyler. The Indian betrayed Arnold and Schuylers trust by handing over the letter to the British. Thats how Arnolds plan was discovered by the enemies. On New Years Eve, in the middle of a snowstorm, Montgomery and Arnold started their attack on Quebec City. Within minutes, the British were alerted. Montgomery was killed by a cannon ball. Without a leader, Montgomerys forces headed off. Arnold was quickly made Brigadier General by Congress and Washingtons approval.

An additional two thousand and five hundred soldiers were sent up due to the low number of men left. About two hundred and ninety men were taken hostage as prisoners, thirty-five were hurt, and fifty had died. A new British Army from England disembarked and ended the invasion. The war was successful. Arnold was the head of the evacuation of Montreal. Arnold was the last person to leave the Canadian border to head down south. Benedicts return back to the colonies with his soldiers started in June of 1776. Arnold discovered exactly how much his home country had changed since he was away. For example, Virginia became independent and his church had been arrested because they were British spies. The war has ended. Americans said, “Arnold showed himself as the most enterprising man among the rebels”.

Arnold was determined to fight near Valcour Island, which is comfortably up against the shoreline of New York. (Lake Champlain) In June of 1776, while the Battle of Valcour Island just began, Arnold had hurt himself badly. (Lake Champlain) Despite his pain, Arnold managed to lead his soldiers the rest of the way to Lake Champlain. (Lake Champlain) July 7, 1776, Benedict and his men headed to Lake Champlain. They found refuge at the southern end of the lake. It turned out that Arnold led his men into the exact spot they wanted to be in, which was Fort Amherst on Crown Point. (Lake Champlain) They were all glad that the their travels were over. Benedict and his soldiers rowed just about one hundred miles to reach their destination. (Lake Champlain) It was a long and stressful journey. While Arnold had previously fought in Canada, he picked up strategies to win wars just by watching every little move of the British soldiers.

The British were powerful and compelling. Arnold knew there was no possible way to defeat the Northern Army, at least not in 1776. He told his fellow officers that the only thing America could hope for was to delay the Northern Army. (Lake Champlain) Arnolds ongoing energy and positive enthusiasm kept his men on their toes. (Lake Champlain) A tiny group of fifteen boats finally formed by late September. Arnold urged, prayed, badgered, and pleaded to Washington to put together a navy of about five hundred men. (Lake Champlain) Arnold did not care whether the men were unskilled or half-naked, he was desperate. Washington approved Arnolds needs, he sent the boats up north. Arnold sailed the boats on the Richelieu River, which was near a British preparation site.

Arnold ordered his men to fire the cannons to let the British know they were there. (Lake Champlain) Although Arnold lost the Lake Champlain battle, he never gave up. He alone created a far reaching “victory” for his country. (Lake Champlain) In 1776, Benedict Arnold was associated with a number of different summer battles.  These battles were involving any kinds of war, they were legal matters. Arnold was taken to court for stealing goods from numerous stores in Montreal after a battle. In Arnolds defense, he accused Officer Hazen of not taking command. After that, Arnold felt as if he was the one who had to take control. Hazen was brought into the court. Arnold and Hazen started a vicious argument that became hot. The court was in favor of the officer and they demanded Arnold to apologize to Hazen. Arnold was furious and refused to apologize to anybody.  To get revenge, Arnold decided to challenge the court.

In retaliation, the court demanded to arrest Arnold. On Lake Champlain in New York State, was an important place during the Revolutionary War. It was an easy access route by water for the invasion of Canada. A group of Americans put together an expedition to take over Fort Ticonderoga. The group included Ethan Allen, a Vermont colonial leader and Benedict Arnold, a colonel from Connecticut. Arnold trained his own militia force for the capture of the fort. Arnold and Allen met up in Bennington. Arnold accompanied Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, also known as Vermont soldiers, before heading off to Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775. Benedict Arnold shared the command with Allen. Allen and Arnold led the Green Mountain Boys in a surprise attack.

The capture was successful. Not a single person from Arnold and Allens troops had died while taking over the fort. The Green Mountain Boys celebrated their victory by breaking into rum stores and getting drunk. The Green Mountain Boys and Allen basically ignored Arnold during and after the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. Benedict went to Colonel Easton to complain about the way he was treated. The two ended up in an argument and nothing was ever solved. Arnold was even spotted spending time with the officers from the other side instead of his fellow soldiers. Soon enough, Arnold eventually gained some status by his knowledge about sailing ships.  Easton returned from Massachusetts where he went to announce the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. At this time, Allen and Benedict were making a plan to invade Quebec City, Canada.

While in Massachusetts, Colonel Easton had just about destroyed any knowledge about Arnolds participation in the capture. Arnold was furious and once again the two engaged in an argument which further resulted in a physical fight. The British recaptured the fort in 1777, but abandoned it in 1780. The fort was left behind because the British gave up hope of using the invasion route in later years. At Saratoga National Historic Park in Stillwater, New York, rests a monument to Benedict Arnolds leg. The monument sits on the exact spot of where Benedict was knocked down and wounded when the Battle of Freemans Farm was in progress.  Benedict Arnolds leg was pinned beneath his own horse. His leg was extremely wounded and bled immensely. Although Arnolds leg was badly broken, it survived the battle.

While being appointed to command over the city of Philadelphia in 1778, Arnold met a young woman named Peggy Shippen.  Peggy was a society girl and the daughter of an important Tory. She had three daughters by her husband Edward Shippen who was a judge. Soon enough, Arnold and Peggy began to have a close relationship. The two were inseparable and Arnold asked Peggy for her hand in marriage. Peggy was only eighteen years old and Benedict was thirty-eight years old when they tied the knot. Both were beginning their second marriage. Arnold began to receive high social status after marrying into the Shippen family. Thats what Arnold had longed for his entire life. He and his wife lived generously and extravagantly, and Arnold drew criticism for living beyond his means.

Benedict found himself in debt most of the time and was on the look out for scams that would entitle him money to spoil his wife. (Only Arnold knew the two lived beyond what they could afford and Benedict soon realized that his new social status was too difficult to pay for. Arnold was involved in some risky business involving him using government supplies for his own needs. Congress always kept a close eye on Arnold because he had been accused of numerous accusations previous to his marriage. The executive council of Pennsylvania accused Benedict of Tory leanings and of using military soldiers as his own personal servants. He was soon brought to a marital court where he was found guilty on two different charges. He was guilty of issuing a pass to a ship he later invested money in and for using government owned wagons for his own personal use.

The court ended up dismissing him without any wrongdoing, but he was scolded for using poor judgment by General Washington. Soon, Arnold became enraged and irritated with his own country. He thought he deserved to be recognized for his money, rank, and glory. Only a year and a half after Arnolds heroic courage at Saratoga, he offered his services to the British Army. Arnold convinced General George Washington to give him command over West Point, a fierce American fort in which he was soon to take over. The West Point fort guards the Hudson River, which is north of New York City. (Macks 118 and BAs Leg) In May of 1779, Arnold became in command of West Point, but he worked out a plan to surrender the fort to the British general, Sir Henry Clinton. Benedict had arranged to hand over the keys to West Point.

He had been corresponding with the British for almost sixteen months. In September of 1780, a group of thieves trapped a traveler in the woods right outside of West Point. American forces captured the man. He was turned over to the American Army where his true identity was revealed. The “traveler” turned out to be Major John Andre, who was part of the British Army. He was Benedict Arnolds connection with the British. The scandalous scheme was quickly detected. The Americans found a map and many letters in his boot. (Macks 119 and BAs Leg) The letters that were found, implicated Benedict. Arnolds scheme to surrender West Point was fully uncovered. Before General Washington could arrest, then later capture and kill Arnold for being a traitor, he escaped from the Americans and went to New York City where he became a Brigadier general in the British Army.

The British sent a frigate called “Vulture” so he could disappear without harm. A frigate is a fast, medium sized sailing war ship of the eighteenth century. Soon after his escape, Arnold began to conquer British forces. Arnold demanded 20,000 pounds from the British for the losses he suffered in joining them. He received only 6,315 pounds. Now a British officer, he led his new men on expeditions that burned Richmond, Virginia and New London, Connecticut, his native state. Thankfully, West Point was saved. The British agent, Major John Andre, was soon hanged by the American Army. (Macks 120 and BAs Leg) The British lost the battle and Arnold became dismayed at the mistake of switching sides. The once great Benedict Arnold, was referred to as a “businessman turned ruthless, ambitious soldier”.

Arnold was recognized kindly by King George III when he went to England in 1781, but others there looked down upon him. In 1797, the British government granted him 13,400 acres in Canada. The land was of little use to him. Benedict spent most of his remaining years as a merchant in the West India trade, just like he had once done. His second wife Peggy was faithful to him through all of his troubles. Arnolds wife was considered an innocent person throughout Arnolds betrayal. People believed that Peggy indeed played an extremely important role in knowing what was going on with her husband and the British. Peggy had been close friends with Major John Andre before she met Arnold. (B Arnold) It was said that during the winter of 1777 and 1778, the young woman held many parties in her Philadelphia home.

By this time, Peggy had made many friends. Her parties and balls were strictly for people of high status. Lots of British officers and Tories attended. (B Arnold) It was thought that she may have encouraged him to become a traitor but it is not a proven fact. In Benedict Arnolds last days he was burdened with debt, became discouraged, and was basically distrusted by most people. Arnold soon passed away in England in 1801.  He left behind a total of eight children. (B Arnold) Five of the children were from Peggys first marriage and the other three were from his first marriage to Margaret. (B Arnold) His four sons then became members of the British military. America now has their first despicable traitor!


  1. “The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.” Online. May 1775. 28 Feb. 2000. .
  2. “Benedict Arnold.” Online. 19 March 2000. . “Benedict Arnolds Leg.” Online. 7 March 2000. .
  3. “Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain. The Battle of Valcour Island.” Online. 7 March 2000. . Flynn, J. Michael.
  4. “Benedict Arnold: The Traitor Who Saved America.” Online. 18 March 2000. . Kenneth, Dave C. “Say You Want a Revolution.” Dont Know Much About History. U.S.A: Avon Books, 1995. Mack, Stan.
  5. “Redcoats and Guerrillas.” Real Life American Revolution. USA: Avon Books, 1994.

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