182: Benedict Arnold Flees West Point

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold

On this date in 1780, American general Benedict Arnold abandoned his post at West Point when it was discovered that he had made a deal with the British Army to surrender the fortification.

Here are a few things you may not have known about the man whose name has become a synonym in the United States for traitor.

He was born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1741. He was the fifth member of his family to bear the name Benedict Arnold after his great-grandfather. His older brother, who died in infancy was also named Benedict. Of his parents’ six children only Benedict and his sister Hannah survived to adulthood. The rest of the children died of yellow fever.

The deaths of his children led Arnold’s father into alcoholism, poverty and arrests for public drunkenness. The elder Arnold was also refused communion by his church. He died in 1761.

The next year the younger Arnold went into business as a pharmacist and bookseller in New Haven, Connecticut. He married his first wife in 1767 and they had three sons.

In 1775, Benedict Arnold joined the Connecticut Militia as a captain. He was instrumental in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga along with Ethan Allen and the raid on Fort Saint-Jean in Quebec. While he was fighting at Ticonderoga, his wife died at home.

In 1777, Arnold was passed over for promotion to major general. He offered his resignation to George Washington, who refused it. He later was promoted to major general, but his seniority was not made retroactive, so he attempted to resign again. Washington again refused to accept it. Arnold was wounded in the second Battle of Saratoga, which left his left leg two inches shorter than the right.

In 1778, Arnold med Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a loyalist judge. They were married in 1779. Arnold had become disaffected with the war and the country, predicting an American defeat. The same year he married his second wife, Arnold began discussions with the British about helping them. In July of 1779, he began providing information on American troop movements to the British. A year later, after being named commander at West Point on the Hudson River, he began negotiations to turn the fort over to the British.

When British spy chief Major John Andre was captured with papers detailing his plot, Arnold abandoned West Point to seek refuge in British-controlled New York City. George Washington offered to trade Major Andre for Arnold, but the British refused and Andre was hanged.

After switching sides, the British commissioned Arnold as a brigadier general. He led troops in Virginia, where they captured Richmond and then in Connecticut, where his troops burned the city of New London. Arnold then went to England where he found himself out of favor with the Whig party and was unable to find a posting with the British East India Company.

After being rejected in England, he moved to Canada for six years before again moving to London. He died of dropsy in 1801.

Our question, what is dropsy better known as today?

Today is Constitution Day in Cambodia, Heritage Day in South Africa and Independence Day in Guinea-Bissau. In the United States, it’s unofficially National Punctuation Day. It’s the birthday of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, Muppets creator Jim Henson and actor Phil Hartman.


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