Arnold, Benedict

Born: 1741-01-14 Norwich, Connecticut

Died: 1801-06-14 London, United Kingdom

Benedict Arnold was a merchant, sea captain, army officer, and traitor. Arnold's parents sent him away for school at the age of eleven, but he return to two years later when his alcoholic father lost the family fortune. Arnold then apprenticed as an apothecary in his hometown of Norwich. During the French and Indian War, Arnold volunteered for military service, eventually deserting to care for his dying mother. The death of his father left Arnold with massive debts, but his employer/master paid his debts and set Arnold up in business in New Haven, Connecticut. Arnold became a merchant, trading in horses and other livestock with Canada and the West Indies. Arnold gained the reputation of a roughneck and trouble-maker, and was soon dogged with charges of smuggling. Arnold became involved in the colonial resistance during the imperial crisis, joining the New Haven Sons of Liberty and becoming captain of a company of New Haven militia. Upon commencement of the American Revolution, Arnold commanded a force that captured Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775. In 1777, he participated in the American victory at the two battles of Saratoga--though his exact role is unclear. General George Washington appointed Arnold military governor of Philadelphia, which proved a disaster, as Arnold's lavish lifestyle, private business dealings, and lack of political sense embroiled him in disputes with local and national government officials. In February 1779, city officials charged him with corruption and abuse of power, and Arnold resigned his Philadelphia command. In May 1779, Arnold initiated contact with the British with plans to defect to the British side. In January 1780, Arnold escaped court-martial with a reprimand, and in August, he received command of American forces at West Point, New York. Arnold agreed to surrender West Point and his command to the British, but the plan misfired, and Arnold escaped down the Hudson River. Receiving a commission in the British Army as a brigadier general, Arnold then raided the Chesapeake region and captured Richmond, Virginia. Following the end of the war in 1781, Arnold moved to England, where involved himself in various schemes to revive his business and military career.

John Shy, "Arnold, Benedict" in American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1:629-32.