Benedict Arnold is one of the most infamous and least respected figures in American History. Everyone knows his name, but not everyone knows the history behind the man who came to be known as the traitor to America. Born before the American Revolutionary War to a wealthy family, Benedict seemed to have a great life ahead. However, he encountered dozens of roadblocks and difficulties beginning when he was very young, resulting in his eventual abandon of the American army to join the British soldiers. The facts below give more background about what influences formed Benedict into the man he became including the hardships he endured and reasons for his downfall.
1. Benedict Arnold is most well known for being a traitor of the American continental army during the Revolutionary War
Arnold felt he was slighted more than once from being promoted to Major General ranking. It was this, and other factors that led him to strike up correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, a British army general. The two plotted to take command of West Point and surrender the area to British troops. Arnold gained hold of West Point in 1780 and arranged the surrender. The Capture of John Andre revealed the plan and thus, the British victory never occurred at West Point. At this time, Arnold transferred his loyalty to the British army.
2. Before switching sides during the war, Arnold advanced through the ranks of the army due to several victories and acts of bravery
Benedict Arnold was an important army figure at the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. He had recently been promoted to army colonel. Arnold decided that the next move should be an invasion of Quebec. He let an army of 1,100 men through the backwoods of present-day Maine. 300 men turned around and returned to Boston before reaching Quebec. Another 200 men died en route. Those that did make it to Quebec joined Richard Montgomery’s army and launched an assault on Quebec City on December 31, 1775. Montgomery was killed in the battle, but Arnold maintained control of the city until Major General David Wooster arrived in April 1776 to relieve him of his duties.
3. Benedict Arnold had a coded communication book between himself and John Andre, a spy chief for the British forces in America
The book was called the Arnold Cipher. Both Benedict Arnold and John Andrew wrote back and forth in the book using combinations of three numbers that were separated by periods. Each of these number combinations referred to a key book (which was either Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone or Nathan Bailey’s Dictionary). The first number stood for a page number, the second stood for the line number of the page and the last number represented which word on that line to use.
Oftentimes, Benedict Arnold’s wife, Peggy Arnold, would write the letters according to her husband’s instruction and embed the messages in letters with invisible ink.
4. Benedict Arnold was almost cleared of all his treason charges, but after the court martial was over, Washington published a statement discrediting Arnold
On January 26, 1780, Benedict Arnold was told he was only found accountable for two very minor charges relating to treason during the war. He was elated, and worked very hard to spread the word and clear his damaged name and reputation. Soon after, though, George Washington published a notice stating the following: “The Commander-in-Chief would have been much happier in an occasion of bestowing commendations on an officer who had rendered such distinguished services to his country as Major General Arnold; but in the present case, a sense of duty and regard to candor oblige him to declare that he considers his conduct as imprudent and improper.”
5. Benedict Arnold was born to a wealthy family and was the second of six children
Tragedy was rampant in the family, however, and young Benedict was one of only two of the children that lived past childhood. Four of his brothers and sisters died of yellow fever when they were very young.
6. Unfortunately, after losing so many of his children, Benedict’s father succumbed to alcoholism, and lost most of the family fortune
Benedict intended to attend Yale after completing studies at Canterbury, the private school he attended when he was ten. However, when Arnold’s father took up drinking, most of the family’s wealth was used on alcohol, and the mercantile business that his father ran failed. Young Benedict never attended university.
Luckily, Benedict’s mother was able to find him an apprenticeship at an apothecary that belonged to his second cousins. He worked at the shop for seven years.
Prior to his wartime experience, Arnold was a pharmacist and bookseller in New Haven, Connecticut
After his seven-year apprenticeship at the apothecary of his second cousins, Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, Benedict decided to open his own pharmacy in New Haven in 1762. The business grew and he was able to repay his debts from starting the business within one year. In addition to paying off his debts, he repurchased his family home that his father had long ago sold. He resold the home one year later, and used the profits from the sale, along with a partner Adam Babcock, to purchase three ships for trading goods between America and the West Indies.
8. Benedict Arnold is Buried in St. Mary’s Battersea Church in London
The American expatriate, who lived in London until he died in 1801, is buried in St. Mary’s church alongside his wife and daughter. His burial site is not grand or monumental, and is called out only by a small headstone located in the corner of the church basement next to a fish tank. The basement is used by church playgroups for children during weekly services and can only be viewed by special appointment.
9. There is a monument to Benedict Arnold at Saratoga National Historic Park
The monument is called the Boot Monument, and stands to commemorate the American Revolutionary War. It is located in Saratoga National Historic Park in New York. The boot represents the injuries that Arnold sustained, first at the Battle of Quebec, later at the Battle of Ridgefield and last, at the Battle of Saratoga. The last injury took place near the place where the monument was erected, and was a serious injury that ended his career as a fighting member in the American Revolutionary War.
10. Benedict Arnold’s name has (unfortunately to some who believe he was more than only a traitor) become synonymous with the word traitor
In fact, people often refer to a traitor today as a “Benedict Arnold”, substituting the word altogether for the Major General’s tainted name. Handfuls of thesauri list Benedict Arnold synonyms, including Brutus, Judas, archtraitor, betrayer, cockatrice, conniver, conspirator, double-crosser, double-dealer, informer, machinator, plotter, rat, snake, traitor, treasonist and turncoat.