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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Benedict Arnold: "The Blackest Treason"

Betrayal and Loyalty in the American Revolution

Evening Program on Zoom

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, May 5, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0581
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Treason of Arnold depicts Benedict Arnold (left) persuading John André to conceal papers in his boot, 1874; engraving by C.F. Blauvelt (Library of Congress)

The name Benedict Arnold is virtually a definition of a traitor and was no less so during the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton spared no sympathy toward the Continental Army general's spying for the British, calling it “the blackest treason” he could imagine.

The most famous turncoat in American history, Arnold was a skilled officer in George Washington’s Continental Army who led patriot forces to several important victories over the British, including the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. But while in command at West Point in 1780, Arnold began secretly communicating with British intelligence agents, giving them inside information, not just about the fort and its defenses, but about American strategy for the war.

When a British spy named John André was captured, Arnold’s treachery was discovered. A manhunt ensued, but Arnold made it to the safety of a British ship only to return to the field of battle wearing a British uniform. He led brutal attacks on patriot civilian communities in Virginia and Connecticut throughout 1781.

The question of course is why did he do this? Richard Bell associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, reconstructs the life and times of Benedict Arnold, the reasons for this treason, and the larger problems of betrayal and desertion that dogged the Continental Army throughout the war.

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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.