Biography >> History >> American Revolution
- Occupation: Revolutionary War General
- Born: January 14, 1741 in Norwich, Connecticut
- Died: June 14, 1801 in London, England
- Best known for: Being a traitor when he changed sides from the United States to the British
Where did Benedict Arnold grow up?
Benedict Arnold grew up in Norwich city in the American colony of Connecticut. He had five brothers and sisters, however, all but one sister died from yellow fever at a young age. Benedict's father was a successful businessman, but began to drink and soon lost his entire fortune.
Benedict had been attending a private school, but when his father lost his money, he had to quit school and take up an apprenticeship as an apothecary. Benedict's mother died in 1759 and his father passed away a few years later in 1761.
Benedict Arnold by Henry Bryan Hall
Arnold began his business career as an apothecary and bookseller. He was a hard worker and became a successful merchant. He began to branch out, investing in a trading company with partner Adam Babcock. When the British imposed the Stamp Act tax on the colonies, Arnold became a patriot and joined the Sons of Liberty.
The Revolutionary War Begins
At the start of the Revolutionary War, Arnold was elected as captain of the Connecticut militia. He led the militia north to Boston after the Battles of Lexington and Concord to help with the siege of Boston. He then received a colonel's commission to attack Fort Ticonderoga. Together with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, he took Ticonderoga in one of the first major victories for the colonies.
The Continental Army
Arnold then joined the Continental army under George Washington. As a colonel he led an attack on Quebec City. The Americans lost the battle and Arnold was wounded in the leg. However, Arnold was promoted to brigadier general.
Arnold was angry when Congress did not promote him to major general. He tried to resign from the army, but George Washington would not let him. Washington considered Arnold one of his better generals. Soon Arnold was promoted to the rank of major general.
It was at the Battle of Saratoga that Arnold became somewhat of an American hero. He bravely led the attack on the British, wounding his leg again. When he returned to the army at Valley Forge, the soldiers welcomed him as a hero.
Arnold made many enemies within the Continental army and Congress. He was often accused of being greedy and using his power to make money for himself. Other generals like Horatio Gates did not like Arnold at all. Arnold even came under military court martial at one point.
Becoming a Spy
In 1779, Arnold began to sell secrets to the British. Secret correspondence passed between him and Major Andre, the British spy chief. They used Benedict's wife Peggy to pass letters written in code and invisible ink.
Arnold passed the British all sorts of important information including the locations of supply depots, troop movements, and the number of troops. In 1780, Arnold became the commander of the fort at West Point. Arnold agreed to surrender the fort to the British for 20,000 pounds.
He's a Spy!
Arnold met with Major Andre to discuss the takeover of West Point. He had systematically been reducing the defenses of the fort to make it easy for the British to capture. However, a few days after their meeting, Major Andre was captured by the Americans. He had papers on him revealing Arnold's plot to surrender West Point. Arnold heard about Andre's capture and was able to escape to the British.
Commanding for the British
After changing sides, Arnold became a general for the British. He led attacks against the Americans at Richmond and New London.
After the Revolutionary War
After the war Arnold moved to England. He became a merchant trading with the West Indies. At one point he moved to Canada. However, after a number of shady business deals, a mob burned him in effigy in front of his house. He moved back to London where he died in 1801.
Interesting Facts About Benedict Arnold
- He was named after his great-grandfather Benedict Arnold who was once governor of the colony of Connecticut.
- His fellow conspirator, Major Andre, was hanged by the Continental army for being a spy.
- Arnold never received all of the 20,000 pounds he was promised by the British for becoming a traitor.
- He is considered one of the biggest traitors in the history of the United States.
- The name "Benedict Arnold" is often used as a synonym for "traitor".
Learn more about the Revolutionary War:
Biography >> History >> American Revolution