If there’s one name in United States history that’s synonymous with treachery, it’s Benedict Arnold. He's widely regarded one of the great historical turncoats. In fact, one of the most famous American Revolution stories centers around Arnold. Most American citizens who've taken a sixth grade history class know that Arnold was a spy for Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, a formerly courageous general who attempted to undermine the war in the Colonies.
Among the colorful cast of characters that populate the Revolutionary War, Arnold is treated like the Joker to George Washington’s Batman. Beneath that black-and-white definition, however, lies a complex historical figure. Most people are fuzzy on actual Benedict Arnold facts. He was a man who was betrayed by his family, fought tenaciously for recognition, and ultimately found himself allied with the wrong side of history. This is the story of Benedict Arnold, America’s scorned son.
Arnold’s Family Life Was In Shambles By The Time He Was 20
Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut on January 14, 1741. The son of a prominent businessman, Arnold’s early life consisted of study at some of the Continent’s best private schools. An epidemic of yellow fever ravaged Arnold’s family in the 1750s, however, killing three of his siblings. The deaths proved difficult for Arnold’s father. He began to drink heavily. His business suffered as a result, and Arnold was forced to leave school at the age of 16.
Two years later, Arnold’s mother also died of yellow fever. The loss destroyed Arnold’s father, and he spent the rest of his life in and out of jail for public drunkenness until his death in 1761. By the time he was 20, Benedict Arnold had lost both parents and three siblings. The young man was forced to assume financial responsibility of his remaining family members.
Benedict Arnold Was Once A Passionate Member Of The Sons Of Liberty
By the time he was 23, Benedict Arnold had become one of New Haven, Connecticut’s most successful businessmen. His position as a pharmacist and bookseller earned him enough money to partner with a merchant named Adam Babcock. Together, the pair established profitable trading routes to the West Indies.
Of course, like most of the Founding Fathers, Arnold’s position as a wealthy merchant made him particularly susceptible to taxes and tariffs. Thanks to the one-two punch of the Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765, Arnold began feeling the pinch from a foreign power to whom he’d never felt any particular allegiance. As a result, Benedict Arnold happily joined the Sons of Liberty, a clandestine organization opposed to Parliament’s rule.
He Was The Hero Of Fort Ticonderoga (But No One Knew)
Before his name was attached to a high-end furniture brand, Ethan Allen was the leader of a scrappy militia unit from Vermont, colloquially known as the Green Mountain Boys. Allen is most remembered for rallying less than a hundred of his men to win the first rebel victory of the Revolutionary War.
In the early morning hours of May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys stormed into the fort to catch the sleeping British troops unaware. The rebel victory was a huge morale boost for the fledgling Continental Army. Benedict Arnold also played a pivotal role in the attack.
Arnold not only first recommended the idea of attacking the base, he provided the initial intelligence required to assault Fort Ticonderoga. Then, when he joined with Ethan Allen and the Boys, he supplied the entire militia with food.
When the fort was captured, Arnold was the one who set up a garrison to hold the place while the Green Mountain Boys plundered it sideways and then wandered off when the booze ran out. In the aftermath, both Allen and Arnold wrote accounts of the battle. Since the two men were both narcissists (and hated each other), their accounts tended to put the emphasis on their own heroics while largely dismissing the other’s role. Allen’s memoir doesn’t even mention Benedict Arnold.
One of Allen’s lieutenants, James Easton, was charged with delivering both generals’ account of the battle to Congress. Easton “accidentally lost” Arnold’s notes, ensuring that Ethan Allen emerged with all the glory.
Benedict Arnold Lost The Love Of His Life Suddenly
At the age of 25, Benedict Arnold met Margaret Mansfield, the woman who would become the love of his life. They married quickly and had three children over the course of five years. Though Arnold was obviously smitten, historical documents indicate that Mansfield didn’t reciprocate that love as passionately.
As Arnold himself once wrote to her, “I am now in the greatest anxiety and suspense not knowing whether I write to the living or the dead, not having heard the least syllable from you this four months. I have wrote you almost every post somehow. My dearest life, you cannot imagine the troubled fatigue I have gone through since here ... I shall be very unhappy if I have not the pleasure of hearing you and our dear ones are well ... My heart is anxious and aching.”
Then, in 1775, Margaret died suddenly. She was only 34 years old. The loss destroyed Arnold, and he threw himself into the Revolution to avoid confronting his pain.