Benedict Arnold- Biography and Facts of an American Traitor

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold Biography and Facts

Benedict Arnold was a U.S military leader in the Continental Army who initially fought for America but later sold out his country by joining the British Army. This happened in 1780 when the Revolutionary War was being fought.

The question that has puzzled historians for over 200 years is: how and why did someone like Benedict Arnold, a patriotic war hero that was once held in high esteem by George Washington himself, end up stabbing his own people in the back? What were some of the factors or circumstances that led to this betrayal?

In order to answer the above questions, we must first of all take a brief look at the biography and facts of one of America’s most dishonorable traitors — Benedict Arnold.

Birth and Early Life

Arnold’s birth took place in January of 1741, at Connecticut. He grew up in a business-enthused family. Under the care of his father, Arnold attended non-governmental schools during his early days. Tragedy broke when a killer disease wiped away his three siblings. The trauma of losing his children forever changed the life of his father. His father ended up a drunk.

At the age of 16, Arnold joined the colonies’ militia (Connecticut) and fought the French in New York during the Seven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War).

After his mother’s death crippled his dad’s ability to stabilize himself financially, Arnold became a breadwinner who fended for the family.

Business Venture

Arnold established a new life at New Haven, Connecticut. At New Haven, he found a career in book dealership, pharmacy and later entered into a partnership with Adam Babcock. The two business pals pooled their resources and acquired ships for trading purposes. They kept a good trading relationship with West Indies. Their business boomed and enriched Arnold Benedict.

A major setback to his business was the tax policies and restrictions imposed on their trade by the British. The British rulers signed unsavory acts (example the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765) which limited the free flow of goods in the American colonies.

Seeking a way to oppose the unfair tax policies of the colonial government, Arnold Benedict became a member of the Sons of Liberty, a group with secret revolutionary motives.

Around that same period, in 1767, Arnold tied the knot with Margaret Mansfield. She bore 3 sons for Arnold within a period of 5 years.

Journey to Half War “Hero”

Arnold rose to the top and became a captain of the militia that fought against British rule in America. The Revolutionary Wars sparked off at Lexington & Concord.

However, Arnold would experience a personal tragedy. His wife died while he was on battlefields. The personal loss did not stop Arnold from fighting and doing his best to halt British attacks. 

The U.S Continental Army got permission from Congress to raid Quebec, under the influence of Arnold Benedict. Arnold suggested a route for George Washington to plot an invasion on Canada. Coupled with unfavorable weather and wrong timing, the plan flopped as it got leaked.

Before the Canada invasion fiasco, Arnold Benedict got severely wounded in the leg and retired from the battle. Arnold fought in various wars with all his might, but there were few problems- he simply was not in good terms with some of the senior officers in the militia. Arnold complained that, despite his war achievements, America did not give him the needed recognition. This marked the beginning of an uncertain future for Arnold in the Continental Army.

Arnold flips sides and becomes a traitor

When his first wife died, Arnold remarried Margaret Peggy in 1779. She was an avid sympathizer of the British forces. A month later, Arnold secretly visited British strongholds and had communications with them. His actions increasingly compromised American safety and troops’ positions.

As time went by, Arnold began leaking plans and military intel about the Canada invasion to the British. Hungry for money and blinded by his wife, he demanded $20,000 from the British after offering to let the British take control of West Point. He also fed the British sensitive information that had the ability to derail American soldiers’ operations. When luck eluded one of Arnold’s British accomplices (John Andre), he was nabbed by American forces and hanged to death.

Fearing that he was about to be apprehended, Arnold escaped to England by boarding a British ship. As if his defection wasn’t enough, Arnold returned in 1781 to lead an attack against  his own country.

Possible Theories about why Arnold Betrayed the U.S.

The million dollar question on everyone’s mind at the time was: why did Benedict Arnold defect? The troubling story of Arnold’s betrayal of America got many historians wondering about the actual reasons that motivated such a treasonous act. Some of the reasons are stated below:

  • Mistreatment from the Pennsylvanian Authorities

Many people were of the view that Joseph Reed, a supreme council member, targeted Arnold’s businesses. In 1779, Reed made an attempt to have Arnold prosecuted for dealing in illegitimate goods. There was also trumped up charges filed against him for being a friend to British sympathizers. Reed’s unjustified allegations stemmed from his personal hatred for Arnold. This may have pushed Arnold to react badly.

  • His Wife’s Role in the Betrayal

At the time of his marriage to Margaret Peggy, Arnold was in hard financial troubles. His wife came from British loyalist backgrounds that thrived well from the British rule. The prediction was that, Arnold’s wife may have influenced him to try to make money from the act while supporting the British. She couldn’t just afford to live a low level life as result of Arnold’s financial troubles.

  • Letter Evidence Blamed Arnold’s Personality

One author (Eric. D), scanned through old letters written by Arnold. In his shocking discoveries, Arnold had a character problem. He had an antisocial behavior springing from his childhood.

The letters showed that Arnold had a hot temper and lacked feelings. His self-centered character killed his self-esteem. Eric believed that Arnold’s character and his actions ought to be analyzed properly before conclusions can be made.

Why did the British not fully trust Arnold Benedict?

After joining the British, Arnold openly fought for them and received a sizable paycheck. But there were trust issues between him and the British. As a result, he was denied higher military commands in the British Army.

After the British lost the Revolutionary Wars, Arnold opted to go back and establish his home at England. After struggling to find his feet in the British Army, he and his family moved to eastern Canada to restart a business with the West Indies.

Latter Years, Death and Humiliation

Arnold resettled in London and continued to do businesses with the West Indies. He was captured and imprisoned by France for a while. During French Revolution, they suspected him conducting espionage activities.

While staying in London, Arnold slowly lost his fitness. He passed away in June 1801, at the age of 60. Arnold was buried in London.

To this day, Americans rate Arnold’s treacherous behavior as the highest form of  treason. For most Americans, Arnold Benedict will forever be remembered as a traitor, even though he was once an American war hero. It is for this, and many more others, that his name has been intentionally left out from revolutionary monuments across the U.S.

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